What we see when we read

The writer and illustrator Peter Mendelsund wrote a book that asks us plainly: what do we see when we read? What does our mind conjure when reading a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter? As Oliver Sacks reminds us: “One does not see with the eyes; one sees with the mind.”

I bring up this book because his insights on reading a text can be easily transported to astrology - the chart being seen as text. As the same book will play out differently in each mind, so each chart presents itself differently to each astrologer who has to render the symbolic constellation into a plausible narrative whole. (The client, again, will take in a version of his or her own).

Here are some of his musings plucked from the book.

He notes that we can read novels quickly, as if driving through them, or slowly, as if walking, and have distinct experiences. “The best book for me: I drive through it quickly but am forced to stop at occasion, to pull over and marvel”.

“We perform a book - we perform a reading of a book. We perform a book, and we attend the performance.”

“As in viewing art, there is no ‘innocent eye’. There is no such thing as the naive reception of imagery. Like painters, or writers, we make choices - we have agency.”

He observes that in fables the characters, a fox, a hare, a grasshopper, are transparently generalized types. This “...allows such literary systems to function properly. What is important in these cases is their universal applicability - as opposed to, say, psychological detail.” Astrology partakes in the fable’s richness by presenting its own players: Taurus, Leo, Scorpio…


Peter Mendelsund ' What we see when we read', 2014

Peter Mendelsund ' What we see when we read', 2014