Augustine of Hippo, a central figure in the history of Western thought, is also the author of a theory of reading that has had a profound influence on Western letters from the ages of Petrarch, Montaigne, Luther, and Rousseau to those of Freud and our own time. Brian Stock provides the first full account of this theory within the evolution of Augustine's early dialogues, his "Confessions," and his systematic treatises.
Augustine was convinced that words and images play a mediating role in our perceptions of reality. In the union of philosophy, psychology, and literary insights that forms the basis of his theory of reading, the reader emerges as the dominant model of the reflective self. Meditative reading, indeed the meditative act that constitutes reading itself, becomes the portal to inner being. At the same time, Augustine argues that the self-knowledge reading brings is, of necessity, limited, since it is faith rather than interpretive reason that can translate reading into forms of understanding.
In making his theory of reading a central concern, Augustine rethinks ancient doctrines about images, memory, emotion, and cognition. In judging what readers gain and do not gain from the sensory and mental understanding of texts, he takes up questions that have reappeared in contemporary thinking. He prefigures, and in a way he teaches us to recognize, our own preoccupations with the phenomenology of reading, the hermeneutics of tradition, and the ethics of interpretation.
[Stock] display[s] an enviable and intimate knowledge of the text of Augustine, above all of his Confessions and, as the book progresses, of the De Trinitate. -- Anthony Meredith, SJ Times Literary Supplement Through a comprehensive study of the primary sources and skillful textual analysis Stock has succeeded in producing a remarkable piece of scholarship and a very welcome contribution to both augustinian studies and the history of literary theory that opens up some exciting new avenues for future research. -- Andre F. Basson Scholia: Natal Studies in Classical Antiquity Stock brings to his study of Augustine the reader a wealth of literary theory and a sensitivity to language that makes this book a very valuable contribution to the growing number of good studies of Augustine's works. Anyone who reflects upon the central role played by reading in Augustine's account of his own life in the Confessions will realize that Stock has found a topic central to that work. -- Roland J. Teske, S.J. Theological Studies Stock's book, the first complete treatment of Augustine's position [on reading], traces the evolution of Augustine's doctrine through his early dialogues, the Confessions, and several of his more important later writings...This book is a creative and important introduction to a new way of looking at Augustine. It will interest philosophers, classicists, and students of literature. Choice This [is a] challenging and rich work. -- Justificatif/Bulletin Augustinien (France) [A]n important contribution to the literature on Augustine. -- Paul McKechnie Prudentia (New Zealand) This is the most insightful and careful reading of Augustine that has been produced in the last decade. Stock is an absolute master of Augustine's texts and his knowledge of the secondary literature in French, German, and Italian may be unparalleled in the history of Augustine studies. Stock ably sums up Augustine's intricate arguments, be they in the De Dialectica or in the De Magistro. Yet Stock feels comfortable in offering a critique of Augustine, e.g., when speaking about caput and sarabarae...I wholeheartedly recommend this work to Augustine scholars. For aficionados of Augustine Stock offers us a veritable intellectual feast. -- Richard Penaskovic Journal of the American Academy of Religion This is an impressively learned, thoughtful, elegantly written book. Writing clearly and simply about Augustine is a very difficult thing to do, both because he wrote (or dictated) so much that survives and because he was so consistently aware of the implications and cross-connections of the words he used...[Stock] opts for following [Augustine's] argument through sections (typically books) of his work, rather than for putting together short extracts or sentences from several texts on related subjects...His technique is to provide a narrative account of the text in such a way as to convey his interpretation of what the text is saying. The commentary thus offered is both lucid and rich, especially on Confessions, and makes even De utilitate credendi sound promising. -- Gillian Clark Classical Review Stock provides a sustained study of Augustine's theory of the text and meaning that is applied systematically to the study of Augustine's own texts...We are given a unique and provocative interpretation of the Saint in Stock's work, one that will generate much discussion and may even significantly reshape the future of Augustinian studies. Highly recommended. The Reader's Review