Reading between the lines

A glossed manuscript of Juvenal’s Satires from the 11th century. The smaller words between the lines explain the words of the poem by way of synonyms and paraphrases, St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 871

What a curious expression, to read between the lines. To seek the space between the lines in search of the essence, the crux, the apex, the nexus, the heart of the matter. To read between the lines is to see what can’t be seen, to assume the stance of the discoverer, to be suspicious of those who say: check the lines, that’s all there is.

But the question remains: what lies between the lines? Though the lines are straight, the mind seizes the space between the lines circularly, moving around till the meaning is woven together into a furball. The text is textus, the woven fabric, the textile threads along the lines, spun and loomed.

The void may not be void after all.

In medieval manuscripts, the space between the lines was often taken up by glosses – explanations of the words on the line. These glosses could be synonyms, small paraphrases or even words translated into the language of the reader or the intended reader. This was a space of meaning-formation, of engagement, an arena of semantic wrestling – a moving forward of the mind beyond the text together with the text. To read between the lines is to orbit within the interval where the canon is bracketed in favour of the helpful paraphrase. In this context, the ‘in between’ is a necessity, the only way to come to grips with the text, not a means of ‘getting the gist of it.

It remains that reading between the lines releases unsuspected energies from within the text, inviting the reader to join her reading to the read text. To read between the lines is to collapse the barrier between the writer and the reader, to let the text breathe implicit meanings, those folded into (im-plicit) the fabric of the text.

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