Cover image for Dreaming by the book
Title:
Dreaming by the book
Author:
Scarry, Elaine.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1999.
Physical Description:
292 pages ; 22 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780374143985
Format :
Book

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Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Central Library PN56.I45 S38 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

We often attribute to our imaginative life powers that go beyond ordinary perception Or sensation. In Dreaming by the Book, the noted scholar Elaine Starry explores the apparently miraculous but in fact understandable processes by which poets and writers confer those powers on us: how they teach us the work of imaginative creation.

Writers from Homer to Heaney, Scarry argues, instruct us in the art of mental composition even as their poems progress: just as painters understand paint, composers musical sounds, and sculptors stone or metal, verbal artists understand and deploy the only material in which their creations will get made -- the backlit tissue of the human imagination. In her brilliant synthesis of cognitive psychology, literary criticism, and philosophy, she explores the five principal formal practices by which writers bring things to life for their readers; she calls them radiant ignition, rarity, dyadic addition and subtraction, stretching, and floral supposition. The transforming power of these mental practices can be seen in their appearance in great literature, of course, but also in applying them to -- and watching how they revise -- our own daydreams.

Dreaming by the Book is not only an utterly original work of literary analysis but a sequence of on-the-spot mental experiments.


Author Notes

Elaine Scarry is Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics at Harvard University.


Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Best known for her 1985 study of torture and physical pain, The Body in Pain, and for her much-publicized contention, first expressed in the New York Review of Books, that electromagnetic interference caused the crash of TWA Flight 800, Harvard English professor Scarry turns her critical lights on the question of how we transform literature into compelling mental imagery. Given that imagination is, by definition, less vivid than actual perception, she asks, why should a poem by Wordsworth, say, or a novel by Charlotte Bront‰, bring the material world to life so palpably? Although Scarry bases her argument largely on close literary readings, her approach often recalls that of such Enlightenment philosophers as Descartes and Hume as she attempts to solve the riddle of how the mind works. Scarry is an original, interdisciplinary thinker. She writes like someone enraptured by both the natural worldÄespecially flowersÄand by language. Unfortunately, Scarry takes for granted that her reader is as obsessive a gardener as she. Is it really universally the case that "people seem to have long languorous conversations describing to each other the flower they most love that morning?" And is this observation a useful basis for a universal theory of the mind? In the long sections of the book devoted to the habits of a certain sparrow in Scarry's garden, or to charting every reference to vegetation in the works of Homer, Flaubert and Wordsworth, Scarry appears lost in her own lush imaginative world. (Oct.). FYI: In September, Princeton Univ. will publish Scarry's On Beauty and Being Just ($15.95 134p ISBN 0-691-04875-4), a pair of lectures intended to rescue the idea of beauty from academic neglect. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Scarry (English, Harvard Univ.), the author of the powerful and important The Body in Pain, has long been interested in ideas about creativity, imagination, and justice. In her groundbreaking earlier work, those themes were tied to the human experiences of pain and embodiment in strikingly original ways. In these two new works, she continues her explorations, using her formidable analytic talents to understand the function of the imagination in reading literature and to investigate the relationship between aesthetics and ethics, especially in contemporary academic discourse. In Dreaming by the Book, Scarry wonders how the best writing enables us to produce images and scenes in our minds that carry something of the force of reality. She deftly unfolds an answer by identifying and explicating several general principles and five formal practices by which authors invisibly command us to manipulate the objects of our imagination. While not everyone will be convinced by all of her conclusions, her analyses are always original and illuminating. The book is valuable not only for its insights but also for the pleasure of simply following Scarry through her explorations. Part 1 of the shorter On Beauty and Being Just is similarly engaging. Here, Scarry examines the experience of apprehending or misapprehending beauty in art, literature, or the world around us. But in the second half of the book, which builds to a claim about the relationship between beauty and justice, she casts her argument against an ill-defined set of "opponents of beauty" who are so generalized and obscure as to be straw men. Also, because of the reflective nature of her text (some of which was apparently presented in public lectures), she offers no citations or specific references to the individuals or philosophies she means to critique. The result is tiresome, misleading, and unfortunate, since the ideas she is exploring are important and provocative ones.ÄJulia Burch, MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

Part 1 Making Pictures
1 On Vivacityp. 3
2 On Solidityp. 10
3 The Place of Instructionp. 31
4 Imagining Flowersp. 40
Part 2 Moving Picturesp. 75
5 First Way: Radiant Ignitionp. 77
6 Second Way: Rarityp. 89
7 Third Way: Addition and Subtractionp. 100
8 Fourth Way: Stretching, Folding, and Tiltingp. 111
9 Fifth Way: Floral Suppositionp. 158
Part 3 Repicturing
10 Circling Backp. 195
11 Skatingp. 206
12 Quickening with Flowersp. 221
Conclusion: Teaching Made-up Birds to Flyp. 239
Notesp. 249
Acknowledgmentsp. 275
Indexp. 281

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