Of the arts, some are performing arts and some are not. There are performances of musical works, but not of paintings. Literature, in this regard, is a mixed bag. Plays are performed; novels, short stories, and narrative poems are not. And although one can read a play to oneself, or read a novel aloud as a kind of performance, a play is intended to be performed while the contemporary novel is intended to be silently read. But the printed word in its earliest days did not signify silent reading. And in the ancient world, those who could read would read aloud to themselves. The advent of silent reading is relatively new in our history. In this insightful and provocative essay, Peter Kivy argues that there are distinct analogies between "silent" reading and performance. Readers have an "experience" when they read silently to themselves akin to the experience one would have had when the rhapsode recited Homer to the citizens of Plato's Athens. Kivy makes the case for a deeper understanding and appreciation of literary works by suggesting that readers are performers of the works they read, their performances recitations to the "inner ear."
Peter Kivy is Board of Governors Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University and a past president of the American Society for Aesthetics. He is author of The Possessor and the Possessed: Handel, Mozart, Beethovern, and the Idea of Musical Genius (2001), New Essays on Musical Understanding (2001), and Introduction to a Philosophy of Music (2002), and editor of The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics (Blackwell, 2004).