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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Is silent reading thinkable in India?

An old post by Péter-Dániel Szántó on Augustin's remarks about St. Ambrose, made me reflect about the subject of silent reading in India. Silent reading was virtually absent in the Ancient World (Augustin's very remarks about St. Ambrose show how extraordinary it looked to him) and around the 800 AD one could still distinguish only between low-voice self-reading or loud-voice reciting. What about India? The very idea of silent reading seems to conflict with some of the basic tenets of the Indian culture, for instance, the idea that one has to study with a teacher and that culture is propagated orally (written texts being only a support for orally transmitted notions). However, one might imagine that silent reading reports could come out of different milieus, such as that of kāvya (are there any instances of people reading on their own?). Buddhist milieus could also display a different attitude towards silent reading, since they display a different attitude towards book and orality in general. Finally, I expect a different attitude to be detectable in Tibet.
The issue is not a mere curiosity since silent reading deeply changed our way to read and, hence, to write. Writers tried to focus on the form of the verse (think at poetry from the XIX c. onwards) rather than (or: together with) on its sound. Private readers needed more books (one each instead of the single copy read and commented upon by the teacher during a lesson.


Amod Lele said...

Nitpicky little point: Augustine was talking about Ambrose, not Anselm. Anselm wouldn't be born for several hundred years. Thought I'd mention it because I was a bit confused by your post when I first read it.

elisa freschi said...

YES, of course! Thanks a lot for pointing it out! A lapsus really
embarassing for me, since I always believe to be well-trained in the history of philosophy!

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