Literary Ramblings: Literature Is A Rorschach Test

I wonder what this is supposed to look like?

I wonder what this is supposed to look like?

Dr. Hermann Rorschach, essentially working under the premise that everything is a self-portrait, developed his renowned inkblot test which employs ambiguous designs (ambiguous that is with the exception of Card VI which is not the least bit vague) with the aim of engaging, and evoking a response from the subject in order to then analyze the subject’s perceptions of the seemingly indistinct images. Words on the page are not always as ambiguous as Rorschach’s ink blots are meant to be, and in

Hermann Rorschach is widely regarded as the Brad Pitt of psychology.

Hermann Rorschach is widely regarded as the Brad Pitt of psychology.

fact truly great writers carefully craft their writing, placing precise intent into each word selection. Though not as ambiguous as the Rorschach ink blots, literature, being explicitly dependent on the reader/author relationship, is not dissimilar to the Rorschach test and very much relies on the reader, who is not entirely unlike the subject participant of the Rorschach test in that both the subject participant and the reader are expected to have a response, and that the response will be formed and framed by the reader’s/subject participant’s perceptions. The reader’s responses is not meant to be analyzed of course, but the responses will still be shaded by the individual’s perceptions and will be a reflection of the reader; a self-portrait of sorts.

Had Rudy G simply claimed the painting "stunk",  or stated it was "shit" he may have been quantifiably correct.

Had Rudy G simply claimed the painting “stunk”, or stated it was “shit” he may have been quantifiably correct.

In 1999, for example, when then mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani saw Chris Ofili‘s art exhibit “Sensation”, and claimed that the piece Holy Virgin Mary (a depiction of the Mother Mary that incorporated elephant dung, a traditional Africa method of artistry) was “anti-Catholic”, his statement spoke less to the actual piece and more to Giuliani’s ignorance of art history and culture’s outside of his own. His response was reactionary, weighed down by faulty assumptions and devoid of critical thinking and contemplation. If Giuliani had been an active participant, or an active viewer, or if he had stopped to ask questions to fill the void left by his ignorance and correct the misconceptions created by his faulty assumptions, then he could have walked away from the piece with a better understanding. Instead his comments illustrated how ignorant he was on such matters.

Chuck Palaniuk once' wrote that "everything is a self portrait", while Chris Ofili once used elephant dung to make a painting of Mary.

Chuck Palaniuk once’ wrote that “everything is a self portrait”, while Chris Ofili once used elephant dung to make a painting of Mary.

Much as art requires an active viewer, literature requires an active reader. If the reader is to come away from a piece with a strong understanding of a given work, the reader must go past their initial response, the reactionary corollary and consider the implications suggested by the text, the questions it poses, and any possible alternate readings. This means more than simply examining what is present in the text, as the reader must, for example, pay attention to “the absence”, because what an author chooses to exclude from a given work, what remains absent, is as important as what the author chooses to include. Likewise it is important to read “the negative”, to examine the thesis presented and polarize it, consider its antithesis, or negative, because even when the antithesis is not explicitly defined and outlined, it is ever present and in the case of the unreliable narrator, reading “the absence” and considering “the negative reading”, and reflecting on what is not on the page can offer as much insight into a piece as what is on the page. Some works evoke a reactionary response, and while some writers may create a work with the express intent to invoke a reaction, others have purposes other than simple shock when writing on potentially volatile themes. If the reader/subject is not an active participant and does not consider “the absence” and “the negative reading”, they may fail to engage in the key aspects of a given work and their response may speak to their own reactionary tendencies and limits as a reader, rather than the characteristics of the given work.  Ultimately, what a readers comes away with after reading a work, often says more about themselves than it does about the author.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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