GRE Reading Comprehension

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Source: magoosh reading medium

To describe a style as Faulknerian or Beckettian or Nabakovian conjures up a host of literary moods, dispositions, and temperaments that coalesce to form an imprint as distinctive as a genetic code. This imprint, a trace-code of the authorial DNA, is our primary way of distinguishing the focused person who writes from that "bundle of accidents and incoherence that sits down at breakfast," as Yeats somewhat comically described the writer of prose.

Yet however expert we become in deciphering the authorial code, we can never know the person who writes directly through her writing. This is an odder claim than it may initially appear, when you consider that the writer may divulge the most intimate secrets of her inner life through the very things she chooses to write about and by the way she writes about them. I want to make an even odder claim and insist that the person who writes never appears to us except as a figment of our imagination.

So this is what I am conveying in the case of Virginia Woolf, when I say I am "imagining" Virginia Woolf. I do not mean by this that I am making her up or attributing qualities to her that she may not indeed possess. Quite the opposite. It is Woolf who makes things up, who makes herself up—that is what it means, at a very fundamental level, to have an imagination and to use it in your writing. What I fabricate is an image of her that has slowly formed in my mind—a figment I call it—from the impressions, some more concrete than others, that I collect as I am reading her. This figment of the author may coexist with, but should never be mistaken for, the "figure of the author." I suspect it matters little to most readers whether the author as a literary figure is dead or alive or temporarily missing in action. On the other hand, the figment, being a subjective creation and not a rhetorical or literary personification, has a different reality and possesses a different importance in the mind of the reader. The figment of the author that attends us in our reading tends to be evanescent, but is never insubstantial in its impact upon us.

It was Woolf who alerted me to the inevitability of these figments, of their power to shadow and ultimately affect our intellectual and emotional relation to what we are reading. The first concrete piece of advice she gives the reader in "How Should One Read a Book?" is to try to become the author, but then, in a reversal that becomes more and more typical of her as she becomes confident in her own opinions that she can afford to qualify and, when necessary, disregard, she admits her inability to follow her own advice.

Question List: 1 2

The author of the passage ultimately finds a consummate understanding of authorial DNA insufficient for truly knowing a writer because

  • A the reader conjures up an interpretation of the writer that is not tantamount to the actual writer
  • B the writer often anticipates that readers will try to decipher deeper meanings in the text
  • C a distorted view typically emerged when a reader relies on figments
  • D the writer is incapable of projecting an unvarying sense of him- or herself
  • E oftentimes a writer, in attempting to project a certain self forward, comes up short in the effort

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