A Breathless Insight Into Reading


Dr Gavin Francis says a close examination of the eye is like gazing at the sky (Getty Images), as related in The Body Sphere.  More beauty abounds in the book I’ve been savoring over the past few days, being sure to read no more than a chapter at a time.  In Eye: A Renaissiance of Vision I related Gavin’s description of the feeling he had when looking inside the eye for the first time, and this marvelous interview carries a color photo of the black & white rendition in the book.  Gavin was originally drawn to geography as a career, although the photo he uses as a metaphor is meteorologic.

L’Atmosphere: Météorologie Populaire (Paris, 1888)L'Atmosphere

Much as the presence of life is deeply illuminated in the eyes, its absence can be seen in the eye’s vacancy.  As Gavin writes in Chapter 6:  “A glance at the desiccating surface of the eyes is usually enough to convince me that the dead are really dead.  The yawning emptiness of the pupils is another giveaway – a glimpse into the abyss.”

Then, turning to the lungs, Gavin presents a marvelous insight into reading.  I’ve always maintained that the act of reading is predicated on the reader reversing the process of the writer.  That is to say, a writer conjures certain   images, pictures, and concepts and formulates that into words on a pages.  A good reader, or at least one who enjoys reading, is able to reverse and thereby share in that process.  The eyes (or more aptly the visual system scanning the page) soak in the words that trigger the images, pictures, and concepts that the author brought to the page.  Consider this when you think of people who don’t enjoy writing, or find reading tedious compared to verbal communication.  I have often related this to a paucity of visual imagery, but Gavin’s prose adds another dimension when he writes:  “Written texts, even those never intended to be read aloud, are often punctuated according to the needs of a speaker to take a breath.”  That is part of the cadence of writing and reading; part of the magic that transforms the flow of words into fluency.

Let your eyes digest that slowly, if you will … perhaps even taking a deep breath as you inhale Gavin’s eloquence.

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