Professors Monthly is a new monthly column on the official Southern Virginia University blog. Each month’s guest post will be provided by a Southern Virginia professor on a topic of their choice. This month, Dr. Iana Konstantinova, associate professor of Spanish, considers the important relationship between reader and literature.
Last Monday, my daughter and I went to see “Goosebumps.” The literature professor in me could not watch a kids’ movie without making connections to literary works that deal with the metafictional themes of authorship and the notion of reality vs. fiction. In the movie, the author of the original “Goosebumps” series, R.L. Stine, is represented as a fictional character, whose creations come to life and attempt to kill him in order to assure their existence in “reality,” outside of the books where they have been “imprisoned.”
My mind immediately wandered to Miguel de Unamuno’s “Niebla,” where the protagonist, Augusto Pérez, visits Unamuno in his office and explains to the author that he is less real than his own creation, pointing to a painting of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Augusto Pérez goes on to tell Unamuno that Cervantes may be dead, but Don Quixote and Sancho continue their existence because people read their story. Likewise, Augusto Pérez explains that he will continue to exist long after Unamuno’s death. The character’s claims that a fictional character is ontologically more “real” than the flesh and blood author that created him may seem far-fetched to those who, unlike me, do not find such metafictional paradoxes fascinating. Nevertheless, I do believe Unamuno has a point. It is neither the author nor the character that creates a novel’s “reality,” but the reader who brings his or her own experiences and further breathes life into the text.
Without readers, authors would be dead and forgotten, and characters would be nothing more than words on a page (or images on a film screen). It is our perception of the material that gives “life” to the characters and immortalizes the authors by way of their creations. Therefore, read and know that through reading you give life to the text, its author and its characters and they, in turn, influence you and your own reality. Do be careful, however, that you do not turn into a Don Quijote and allow madness to overtake you as a result of too much reading and not enough sleep.
(Post by Dr. Iana Konstantinova. Photo by Jordan Wunderlich ’15.)