Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Entering: To write is to enter the space of the text.


Often writing is best done in special places that we seek out. The physical environment has to be conducive to writing. The business office may not be the best place. Too many interruptions. Look at your present space. Is this where you work best? This is where you write. So is this then the space of writing? Yes and no. When we are actually typing on the keyboard or staring out of the window, then I seem to be somewhere else. Where are we then? One might answer: inside our thoughts. The writer dwells in an inner space, inside the self. Indeed this is a popular way of spatially envisioning the self: an inner self and an outer self. But phenomenologically it is probably just as plausible to say that the writer dwells in the space that the words open up. Again, in this sense writing is not unlike reading a story. First we have to find a space that is good for reading this book. It must be a space that is comfortable for the body, but not too comfortable. It does not need to be quiet as long as the sounds or people do not draw attention to themselves. Once we have found this physical space conducive to reading, we are ready, so to speak, to enter that other space, the space of the words that transports us away from our everyday reality to the reality of the text. When I have entered this world of the text then we are somewhere else. So there is a doubling of space experience here. The physical space of reading or writing allows us to pass through it into the world opened up by the words, the space of the text.


But is this not a misleading way of speaking? after all, the space opened up by the text is not a “real” physical dimensional space. Is the idea of textual space not just a metaphor and therefore a gloss for how we actually experience the process of reading and writing? This seems to be true. We are using a spatial/temporal phenomenology. But the term space itself possesses rich semantic meanings. Etymologically it does not just refer to physical extension and perspective. The term space possesses the meaning of lapse or duration in time. It refers both to the time and the distance between two points. So space carries the meaning of temporal and physical expanse as well as the time spent in an experience. When we enter the perspectival space of the text we enjoy a temporal experience in the world evoked by the words of the text. Language and experience seem to coincide in this lived meaning of space. And for the writer this is where insights occur, where words may acquire a depth of meaning, where the author may experience human understanding. But this is also the place where writing shows its difficulties, where we find out what language really is, where writing may become impossible, where language ironically seems to rob us of the ability to say anything worth saying or saying what we seek to say.