The Fourth Reader

The Fourth Reader is the one to whom one starts speaking, when one has emotionally gone beyond the people who are actually listening. Say at the kitchen table, after the dishes are cleared–and some subject has come up. One has the floor, and one is overtaken by their ideas, flooding their consciousness in such a manner that they are speaking as if to a wider audience. As if it is more imperative to get the ideas out, while talking now, than to make it clear for anyone listening. This is the incipient automatic talker in all of us, who starts drawing from some invisible power, as if supplied by an invisible . . . other.This is the Fourth Reader who shows up in the mind of the talker, egging him on, supplying him with material which needs to be expressed. This is what makes the talker desperate (and happy), ecstatic!, and requires him to overwhelm any objections. The people at the table are going to naturally divide into two camps, forming two opinions right away as if for self-defence. They take sides, for and against the thesis. But! Is the thesis even fully stated? No it isn’t, it is just that there is a feeling of general insecurity in the air, as if our sudden lecturer had taken leave of his senses . . .

Here, a person finds themselves speaking not to the assembled, but like an orator, however shyly, however grandly, as if to someone all comprehending. This happens all the time–it is familiar–do not say it isn’t! In fact this happens every time one tries to develop an idea, express a conviction, whatever the subject. It happens to the person speaking, that they become reckless in regards to whether those actually present understand them, and they begin to express themselves for the Fourth Reader instead. The Fourth Reader is the one outside the group, not at this kitchen table, for whom one is expressing . . . the inexpressible. I mean the highly expressible, but not yet clearly organized, thesis, to which the people present might object, for one reason or another. But who cares about them–when one has the other, the Great Other Listener who I call–the Fourth Reader.

Because it seems vital for a person to say what they are saying at all cost, and they erect and begin to appeal to, a listener who is attuned to their new vocabulary, who knows what they are saying regardless of whether the actual people in the room have an understanding of it. But this Listener is more properly described as a Reader, for this is not a human listener, but a co-supplier. And it isn’t God, don’t make that mistake; even if God is there, as you can say, well God is everywhere, it isn’t God that is the Fourth Reader. Emphatically, the Fourth Reader is neither God, nor present to the scene. So we can’t be sure Who this Fourth Reader is, except to note his function as mediator, and facilitator, a human-like spirit like calling on the speaker to keep building.

And this is situational. It happens in a group, and yet I think, it has to do with the fact that the truth is always lacking the occasion. (Do I say too much?) That it seems, and it is, is impossible to communicate directly. That it is always a random evening, after the dishes are cleared, and yet it a colossal novelty, that barges into that evening when certain subjects come up. Every time a person gets an idea that inspires them to expound upon it for any length, they start talking to the Fourth Reader, who is invisibly rooting them on to express the idea. For it is a novelty, this world . . . Immediately the address becomes punctuated with the phrase, “if you see what I mean,” and the “you” being so addressed is not there, but in their mind. Because the mind can entertain a listener greater than any of us, and the speech to that invisible listener ensues.

See what happens. The people in the kitchen, they skirmish into two camps, half of them for and half of them against what is being said, or what they think is being said. And the speaker is holding forth. That makes three parties, three camps. But there is Another, and it is the one for whom the speaker is talking. There must be a fourth consciousness–by this schematic I prove it! I say it again: once an idea is presented, there are four parties involved. There is the speaker, the two possible reactions for an against what is being said, which makes three, and the Fourth Reader who comprehends the creative possibility of exploring the subject itself. For this world is in the making, friends. And this Fourth Reader is never present, for that is the situation existing when any one of us attempts to articulate an idea.

Because . . . all ideas are original.

All ideas come from nowhere, are not licensed to exist, and challenge the holder of them to speak. Once launched, it seems an opinion; and the people present take a view of it. One is for it, and one against. And the speaker is holding forth for the Fourth Reader who is always egging them on to make the thesis more impossible. For this is where we are in the world. Exploring the possibilities of a description of life never heard before.

I will go through it again. Do not try to stop me! The best or most familiar situation to illustrate the existence of the Fourth Reader is when you, or I, are speaking to others, say at a dinner table, and in trying to make a point find ourselves making that point articulate as if for another listener than those in front of us. It seems important to articulate the point regardless of how well it is being understood, and this effusive phrasing of the idea is being backed up strongly by, precisely, another consciousness, called for in the ENTHUSIASM (look up that word) that the speaker has. Already two listeners are in play, two judges upon the idea itself, and the speaker is there–these are the three at the table; but the fourth reader is the one driving the speech now. This is what is familiar, it happens every single time a person takes on a subject and then, while expounding upon it, leaves, as it were, his immediate audience behind. Becomes infatuated with the subject itself, and starts to address an audience, begins a lecture of their own making . . . doomed to originality–we are doomed–need I say it again?

4 Comments on “The Fourth Reader

  1. antoniale Says:

    lovely piece. yes i think that comes close to what Novalis tried to express. not sure whether it’s the same really, but it sounds similar. I also had the idea that it needs abandon, not only one abandons the two that are for and against the idea, but also the abandon of oneself, or a sort of selfforgetting and one has is only speaking to this fourth reader. a little bit reminds me of Kleist that one always needs another person to get thinks thought out ir across or thoughts expressed, whatever shape that second person has, whether it is a fourth reader like you describe or anything else. The Kleist essay is this, also very lovely (and short): On the Gradual Production of Thoughts Whilst Speaking.

  2. antoniale Says:

    oh yes. Krasznahorkai”s War and War, this beginning is interesting in this respect too, the person there just talking for talking’s sake, or so it seems, without an actual listener and the language or the ability to speak seems to take over.

  3. suburbanlife Says:

    I have met the fourth reader, that is not so much having met it as having seen it operate during discussions, with me and with others involved. Sometimes various fourth readers tangle and interact, bounce off each other and create sparks. And the communication is marvellously satisfying. What an elegant and brilliant construct – this fourth reader. G


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