Posts Tagged ‘Experience’

At the End of the Day

Monday, April 28th, 2014

In everything that I have thus far said about the experience of reading and my own experience of reading, there is only one notion that I want everyone to constantly bear in mind: this is only one possible potential of understanding reading. The analogy of understanding the world as a text may be understood in a plurality of contexts. All I offer is one possible method and whether or not this reader wishes to take it to heart depends on the heart of the reader.


“What is given form here is not the totality of life but the artist’s relationship with that totality, his approving or condemnatory attitude towards it; here, the artist enters the arena of artistic creation as the empirical subject in all its greatness but also with all its creaturely limitations.”

—György Lukács


The beauty of the analogy of a text is that it allows for the reader to choose between understanding the text as a thing created by a person, taking that person into consideration; or taking the text as its own entity, which only truly comes into becoming when engaged in participation with a reader. Regardless of which text appeals to one’s sensibilities more, both texts are created by language, which by itself calls for the most intricate plurality known. Language is the simplest whole that is simultaneously a multitude of disconnected parts. This idea can be traced back as far as Genesis. When God destroyed the Tower of Babel, he wasn’t destroying mankind’s creation of language and his achievements. He destroyed mankind’s attempt to unify all the languages, because language isn’t meant to be a perfect unification. It urges its own tension and to deny that is like denying one’s own self-awareness. What texts do is they take this language and utilize it in order to create a poetic rendering of the world. And despite the fact that by creating this rendering, this reflection, the image created is merely an appearance, a portrait of what is truly attempting to be represented, and we are able to get more from this image than from anything else.


“Why couldn’t the world that concerns us—be a fiction? And if somebody asked, “but to a fiction there surely belongs an author?” —couldn’t one answer simply: why? Doesn’t this “belongs” perhaps belong to the fiction to? Is it not permitted to be a bit ironical about the subject no less than the predicate and object?”

—Friedrich Nietzsche


A frequent topic of conversation these days is where the direction of literature is headed, especially printed literature, in this technological Internet age. But what is rarely considered is the fact that literature is merely one medium for language. Similar questions are also asked about poetry, which seems to be suffering a more brutal battle than prose. But at the end of the day, poetry and prose are merely forms for the content of language. If the Internet and technological age are as threatening to the mediums of poetry and prose as people are making them out to be, then what will merely happen is that language will find a new form, a new vehicle. The only reason it’s difficult to imagine the type of vehicle it would be is because we have lived in constant mediums of language since before the time of Homer.  Now we have the Internet, something maybe vaguely conceptualized before its time, and we have absolutely no idea what the potential form of language will be in relation to the world that the Internet has created for itself. We’ve already gone through the times of Leet speak and Internet shorthand (LOL, OMG); but that’s just the evolution of conversation. The evolution of the poetic rendering of the world in the world of the Internet is, for now, a difficult thing to conceive.


“A whole world will envelop you, the happiness, the abundance, the inconceivable vastness of a world. Live for a while in these books, learn from them what you feel is worth learning, but most of all love them.”

—Rainer Maria Rilke


Marina Manoukian, Sarah Lawrence College

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The First Time You Meet the Text

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Experience is like that river that can’t be stepped in the same way twice. Just as college discounts and college savings are perpetually in a state of motion, so is a text.

The experience of reading can be split into three sections based on time; the first reading of the text, the aftermath and residue, and the rereading of the text. Each reading is particular, while the general text stays the same. It’s like that line in the song from Pocahontas, “You can’t step in the same river twice”. But instead of just the water flowing and changing, the reader is constantly changing and becoming, and because the reader is constantly changing, their constructions of the same text change as well. After reading a text, the direct effects and impressions begin to fade, but when a text profoundly affects the reader, the relationship that the reader forms with the text will change the reader. It’s like meeting a new person, falling into a deep and complex relationship immediately, and then having to say goodbye to them, because they do not exist without you. There will always be the memory of the experience, and you are changed by that memory from that moment on.

The first reading is just like meeting someone for the first time. And different books inspire different first impressions. The first time I read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, I could not put it down and stop reading until I had finished—roughly fifteen hours later. The words on the page pulled my eyes and my mind in to a point where my eyes could not keep up with my mind wanting to ingest every last morsel on the page. When I had finished, it was as though I had donned glasses and every particle of light that hit my eye was refracted by War and Peace.

I read novels quickly, preferring to absorb the novel as rapidly and intensely as possible rather than dragging the experience out over months. This applies especially to nineteenth century novels, mainly Russians works. I’ve been able to read War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, and Crime and Punishment in a single sitting because once I’ve stepped into the world I cannot bear to leave it until it had come to fruition.

On the other hand, when I read The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett for the first time, it was necessary for me to put it down and take a day or two before I picked it back up. It took me three separate sittings to finish it because of the physical toll it would take on me due to the overwhelming nature of the novel. His novels have always plainly spelled out the undercurrents of my own thoughts, and watching them be thrust to the surface and spelled out in language made me need to take a step back.

The beauty of these first readings is that when you look back at them, you realize that what struck you in the first reading is what you held as a priority when you first read it. When I spoke with Ilja Wachs, a teacher of nineteenth century literature at Sarah Lawrence College, he related his experiences reading Anna Karenina for the first time. He noted that in his early readings of Anna Karenina, “whenever Levin came in the scene, I’d say ‘Get out of here, I want my Anna!’ Anna was beautiful, Anna was hot, I was in love with Anna, really”.[1] As a young adult, the vibrant and lovely character of Anna was what drew him, and his reading was centralized around Anna. Now when he rereads, “every time Anna comes in the scene I feel depressed, ‘Get out of here, I want my Levin’. I want Levin mowing, I want Levin in the spring. You get there real changes”.[2] As a grown man, now in his 80s, he is no longer attracted to Anna’s tragic beauty; instead he wants the collectivity, universality, and “grounded substantiality”[3] of Levin. “I can no longer stand Anna, now I want Levin on the scene all the time”[…] the way he extracts meaning from work, I mean, I think that’s very fundamental for me, and wasn’t then”.[4]  As his priorities and way of looking at the world changed as he grew older, so did his readings and experience of reading. He compares it to a “wonderful mirror”,[5] reflecting back at you your values. As one changes, so does the readings of the text; the text initially offers a plurality of possible readings, and the reader ascribes to one and reconstructs it for oneself. The reader “relates the different views and patterns to one another [and he] sets the work in motion, and so sets himself in motion, too”.[6] This is why the definition of the text is not in the text itself, but in the experience of the reading and the actualization of the interaction between the text and the reader.


[1] Wachs, Ilja. Personal interview. 18 Apr. 2013.
[2] Wachs, Ilja. Personal interview. 18 Apr. 2013.
[3] Wachs, Ilja. Personal interview. 18 Apr. 2013.
[4] Wachs, Ilja. Personal interview. 18 Apr. 2013.
[5] Wachs, Ilja. Personal interview. 18 Apr. 2013.
[6] Iser, Wolfgang. The Act of Reading. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978. 21. Print.






Marina Manoukian, Sarah Lawrence College

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Reading From The Outside

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

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If one considers all speech to be poetic, and all worlds are framed by speech, a reader’s interaction with a text is an apt metaphor for one’s attempt to function and participate in the world.

When regarded from an outside perspective, the act of reading looks like an absolutely useless and monotonous activity. A person will sit for some duration of time, stare at an object, occasionally make a flipping motion with his/her hand, turn from one thin thing to another, and then resume staring at a different side. From the outside, it looks as though there is literally nothing happening; there is no activity other than the occasional hand motion, which does not seem to accomplish much at all. And when the act of reading is finished, there does not seem to be any discernible evidence that any semblance of an activity has occurred. Even Sartre admits that the writer’s activity is useless; “it is not at all useful; it is sometimes harmful for society to become self-conscious”.[1] The writer is useless because his activity is not, by all definitions, productive for a society, and the reader is useless because his activity is not even discernable as an activity.

In reality, the exact opposite is the case. Not only is the act of reading an incredibly active process, one of the most active processes coupled with thought, but it also cannot be objectively defined. The reading of a text can only be defined with regards to the reader, as well as every potential reader. Far from being a solitary event, the act of reading is an incredibly intersubjective experience that can never be the same construction twice. A text is not an object; for a text to be an object, it must exist prior to its construction. But a text does not exist before it is constructed by a reader; it only exists in its ongoing construction, in its becoming. This is why, at least for me, whenever someone asks me what a book is about, I have an incredibly difficult time answering. I can tell you what the book is making me think about, but what the book is about depends entirely on however you read it. The black marks on the page will always be there, but they do not mean anything without a reader who forms a relationship with them and assigns meaning. The only reason these black marks mean anything to us, the only reason we call them words, is because the idea of ‘words’ has been so naturalized in society that it never occurs to us to disassociate them from our own usage. To take a step back and understand something outside our own usage of it creates a perspective that allows us to realize that more than one perspective may be valid. This is how a text gets reconstructed differently by different readers. And not only can the same text be constructed differently by different readers, but the same reader will construct a text differently every time he/she reads it. The text is not defined by the black marks or the different readers, but rather the specific relationship between the two, which encompasses a plurality of definitions, especially those contingent upon time.

Breaking away from objective/subjective and turning towards a framing of the world that relies upon relationships can not only explain the phenomenon of reading, but is an incredibly useful way when attempting to understand the world. There is no ‘you’ and ‘other’ in the world. All that exists and all that you can participate in is the relational activity that occurs between these two things. If you remove the notion of an objective world from your frame of understanding and instead focus on the relations that are happening between you and others, and participate on the basis of your understanding of those relations, a multitude of freedoms are opened up for you.



[1] Sartre, Jean-Paul What is Literature? Trans. Bernard Frechtman. New York City: Philosophical Library, 1949. 71. Print.



Marina Manoukian, Sarah Lawrence College

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Pushing Boundaries: How Traveling and Studying Abroad Have Changed My Life and Shaped My Career Path, and Why You Should Do It Too

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

At only 21 years old, I am no Confucius. I cannot give you sound and scientific advice that, if followed, will give you guaranteed success and happiness and all the things you’ve ever dreamed possible. I do not know everything; I don’t have all the answers. What I DO have is my own experience. One of my favorite lines from a book came from Arthur Japin’s In Lucia’s Eyes that reads, “The world is full of people who spend their entire lives seeking the miracle of love without ever seeing it. It’s actually very simple and self-evident, except to those who seek it. One need only have a different way of seeing things. That is not something you can teach people. All you can do is tell your story.”

Whether or not you’re looking for love, let that last sentence resonate with you. All you can do is tell your story. This is my story.


My mother was born and raised in Brazil and moved to the U.S. when she found her future husband who worked in San Francisco at the time. This man, my father, lived in the U.S. for several years already, but actually grew up in San Jose, Costa Rica.  Call them star-crossed lovers or whatever you wish, these two foreigners set out to make a new future in a new country for their new daughter, me!


Growing up, it was just my parents and me. No siblings, no relatives nearby, no pets other than the occasional goldfish won at a carnival with a lifespan average of two days.  I spent most of my breaks from school traveling, either to Costa Rica or Brazil, to see family and connect with cousins and friends my age, keeping up with both Portuguese and Spanish.

The language was never a barrier to me when I was in another country, but became an issue when I returned to the U.S. and had already started school. I would meet with friends and sometimes be unable to realize that I wasn’t speaking English with them because I was so used to being understood in another language.

In addition to traveling to see relatives, I was fortunate enough to have such hard-working parents who always wanted me to see the world, as was their goal for themselves.  We travelled to many places in Europe before I finished the 8th grade, even at which point it was very clear to me that studying abroad would be in my future, no question.

Before starting high school I KNEW I would be gone for sophomore year – I researched study abroad programs and took advantage of them.  Initially I wanted to go to countries like Italy or Spain, but I wound up finding a full-ride scholarship opportunity (sponsored by U.S. Congress and German Parliament) to study in Germany, so I applied. As I moved further through the selection process, it became surreal how competitive this was: out of 2500 applicants, only 50 would receive scholarships.

In April 2006, I learned I had received the scholarship. I turned 15 the next month and three months later was off to live in Germany for a year: no family, no friends, and didn’t  know a word of German. I was the youngest of all the recipients, and after 11 months I was fluent in German.

Before beginning my time at a University, it was clear to me I would study abroad again. I would have applied for the program right away if it weren’t for the window allowed for it by the study abroad office. I was the first to submit an application for that as well, and in the fall of 2010, I had one of the BEST semesters of my life in Bern, Switzerland. If I hadn’t graduated early, I would have studied abroad again.

I’ve now relocated from Arizona to New York and am pursuing a career here while considering my options for a Master’s abroad – perhaps Switzerland again.  I’ve even recently been asked to work with a European magazine for some press releases. My passion is traveling and connecting with people who have experienced this and exchanging cultures.  All the traveling and studying abroad I’ve done have brought me here and told me where I’m going.  You CAN and SHOULD do it too, and even if traveling isn’t something you want for your career, experiencing it now while you’re young is priceless and will teach you so much about yourself and the world.


Where to look for study abroad programs:

  1. Consult with your school’s study abroad offices: I realize these offices are becoming smaller and smaller in the U.S., but these guys know what they’re talking about. Ask which kinds of programs are available to you – some may have year standing or GPA requirements. Maybe there’s a specific kind of program you’re searching for – my school offered programs in which you travel with a group of students from the University while learning abroad. My school also offered a program where you didn’t pay a study abroad fee, just the same tuition you were paying while attending the school, which is how I was able to study abroad. Many study abroad offices even have information on scholarships. There are plenty of options; inform yourself!
  2. Check other programs: This gets tricky and is where fees come into play, sky-rocketing the price of your study abroad experience. My scholarship study abroad program was limited to high school students, but there are other groups out there! Check out: or
  3. Maybe you’re interested in the experience of it but don’t want to be studying: Check out things like where you can be a live-in nanny, earn some money, have a host family that could help teach you more about the culture, and be immersed in your new surroundings. You could take a semester off to do it, do it in the summer, or make time for it after you graduate. Another post-graduate option could be The Peace Corps.
  4. Degrees and Internships Abroad: These are other ways you can be productive in a new place. You can research schools in the areas you’re most interested in and see their guidelines for international students. My advice for those looking to study in Europe would be to check out OR where you can define your search based on degree subject, country, or tuition and GET THIS: tuition prices elsewhere could be as little as 4% what you’re paying now. What about textbook fees? That’s all an American scam so you can say “bye-bye” to that! As for internships, try or ask at your school’s study abroad office.  HEADS UP: this internship opportunity in China was just tweeted via @InternQueen that may be worthwhile:

5. If all else fails and you just want to travel abroad but want to do it sooner rather than later (excellent choice), check out for good deals on flights and hotel information – those prices keep going up these days so it’s good to know of a place that’s dedicated to finding competitive rates. I’d also recommend, which is where I found an affordable flight to NYC.


Even if traveling doesn’t give you insatiable wanderlust as it has to me, at the very least you’ll         broaden your horizons, learn something new and take these experiences with you in your next job interview, which could make all the difference. I encourage you to try something new, to not be afraid, and to learn a new language – there’s no better way than immersion! At the risk of sounding cliché, the world is truly your oyster so go out and open it!






Posted by Lauren A Ramires. Follow her blog, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (username: laurenaramires) for more lifestyle and inspiration posts.

If you’re interested in learning more of the experiences of a Peace Corps Volunteer, check out this blog for stories on the daily happenings of a PCV and things you could expect.