Studies in Symbolist & Modern Literature
Reading Matters: Histories, Methodologies, and Metaphors of Reading
"How do humans read? This question has preoccupied literary critics and historians alike, yet rarely do scholars of the two disciplines join in discussing this foundational question. In this seminar we will bring together theoretical and historical analyses and offer various modalities to conceptualize the practice of reading. Beyond disciplinary metaphors such as “close,” “distant,” “symptomatic,” “surface,” or “reparative” modes of reading, this seminar proposes that a renewed attention to the history of reading and history of the book, or to the foundational idea that reading has a history, could contribute to contemporary methodological debates in comparative literature around the discipline’s bread and butter – sitting down and reading texts.
We will work collaboratively to assess this proposition and use this seminar to deliberate on questions including: How to address the history of reading in relation to the consolidation of genres, or, how to think about the history of reading literature versus other textual forms? What to do with the imagined gap between professional reading and lay or pleasure-driven reading that has sustained literary criticism as a discipline and a profession? Why has scholarship on the history of the book concentrated on medieval and early modern texts, and how come in the modern period, with the abundance of books and printed matter, the material book as an object of study remains, so to speak, hidden in plain sight? Should the shift to digital reading alter our understanding of the practice? Does the emergence of new forms of artificial intelligence demand a new assessment of the act of reading? Finally, and more broadly, how can an attention to the historicity of reading guide our approach to the comparative study of literature? "