Four Types of Readers

On the four types of readers according to Barthes in “The Pleasure of the Text”: Fetishist, Obsessive, Paranoiac, Hysteric.
The Four Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter by Paul Cezanne (1861)


What is it that draws us to quick personality tests? 

A,B,C,D,E. Please circle the most appropriate answer in the following five to twenty inane, but unbelievably insightful questions. 

The result either tells us what we already know, in different words, or what we didn’t want to hear, in diplomatic words. 

Beyond that:

A. Is the test about a sense of belonging?
(a bot says we’re two of a kind, we should hang out)

B. Or about a sense of difference?
(a bot says we’re apples and oranges, it’s okay to keep quarrelling)

C. Or is the test just a bit of fun?
(tests, fun, really, since when)

D. Or is it fun that can be used as an excellent conversation starter?
(the best we’ve got, really)

E. Or is it fun that can be used as conversation starter, while feeling smug that we lied on it because in truth we believe it’s a sneaky marketing tool sites use to poll their visitors?
(really paranoid)

F. Write-in answer: _______________


Joshing aside, the pleasure is there, and as an ardent meta-reader, I immediately took to mulling over Barthes’s typology of readers. Psychoanalytic, he says. Let’s see (the bold is my own):

We can imagine a typology of the pleasures of reading—or of the readers of pleasure; it would not be sociological, for pleasure is not an attribute of either product or production; it could only by psychoanalytic, liking the reading neurosis to the hallucinated form of the text. The fetishists would be matched with the divided-up text, the singling out of quotations, formulae, turns of phrase, with the pleasure of the word. The obsessive would experience the voluptuous release of the letter, of secondary, disconnected languages, of metalanguages (this class would include all the logophiles, linguists, semioticians, philologists: all those for whom language returns). A paranoiac would consume or produce complicated texts, stories developed like arguments, constructions posited like games, like secrete constrains. As for the hysteric (so contrary to the obsessive), he would be the one who takes the text for ready money, who joins in the bottomless, truthless comedy of language, who is no longer the subject of any critical scrutiny and throws himself across the text (which is quite different from projecting himself into it).

—Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, translated by Richard Miller.


So which one are you? 

A. Fetishist.

B. Obsessive.

C. Paranoiac.

D. Hysteric.

E. More than one.

F. None (I took the test by mistake).


My apologies to F.
Birds and flowers of the four seasons by Kanō Eitoku (1573–1590)


If you enjoy multiple-choice tests with a difference, Alejandro Zambra wrote a whole book in that format. I blogged about it in Mortality and the Multiple Choice Test.

Author: A Quiver of Quotes

Jousts with words, jaunts through all genres. In favour of hendiadys, synaesthesia, and the transferred epithet. Books, books, books. Writing. Author of

9 thoughts on “Four Types of Readers”

  1. Another nice piece. Indeed we all read in different fashions. The combination not of ‘all of the above’ or ‘none of the above’ might contrast with ‘some parts of some of the above’ … this appeals to me. Then, I am probably reading in a writerly fashion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I liked Barthes giving us his view on the division, though of course we all have our own.

      I find “reading in a writerly fashion” to be a fine, paradoxical skill: you have to forget yourself to read fully, but you also have to analyse (compare, dissect, reconstruct etc) what you’re reading by applying a different part of the creative (active) brain. (And sometimes it can only be done on a second or third reading.)

      I’m curious to hear how you think about it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I look at it more from the creative writing side: how the writer achieves what they are doing, structure, characters, language, metaphors, rhetorical tricks, creation of atmosphere and readers’ expectations etc. That said, deep creative analysis allows and encourages the reader to write better. AS for your analysis of the actual thought-process, very good. The deconstruction – reconstruction process is important too. Plus the ability to take what you can use and filter out what you can’t. I am talking creatively here. The academic arguments are slightly different, but I will stay well clear of them!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s part of what I meant, too — QQ was built around the idea of the meta-reader/writer-reader who appreciates rhetorical and linguistic tricks in real time, for what they are, and for what the author was trying to achieve with them (hence the “dissect” part). The “comparison” relates to comparing with other authors; the “reconstruction” relates to following the author’s internal thought process i.e. why a simile and not a metaphor? or why does the simile have to become a metaphor at a particular point? or why the zeugma was a good choice, the epizeuxis necessary, the diacope absolutely crucial? etc

        Barthes’s Quote about readers worked on a slightly different level. Indeed not so much as a realistic classification, but as an idealised exercise into which categories readers could be divided depending on the type of pleasure they derived (and to my mind they have to be rather writerly readers in the first place to be considered suitable for any particular category).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I think I am all of the above – at different times. It is like a painter who goes to look at a painting one day to study a particular brush technique and on the way out sees a painting that he just stands in front of and just looks at the whole thing with enjoyment. Then he might attend a gallery to get an overview of a particular artist collection and so on and so on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear that! (I suspected as much given that you’ve stuck around QQ for as long as you have—I run the gamut of reading experiences and transmit them to the blog whenever I can.)

      Also, a neat painting analogy, thank you.

      Which reminds me: I’m reading Ruskin now, in particular, his paean to Gothic architecture… and he actually compares the study of architecture to the reading of books. Explicitly. Also neat.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have learned a lot about looking at art from different points of view from my daughter who is just about to complete her degree in Art History and Curating – she gets me to proof read her written work.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. g – None of the above. I rarely set aside quotes but I devour them, wanted the plot. Wanting to know what happens next. Complexity can be consumed on occasion, but rarely. I do enjoy etymology, so perhaps the obsessive would be closest to me.

    Liked by 2 people

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