English 50: Close Reading

Finding meaning in literature has routinely relied on close reading, but close reading, depending on who you ask, or when you ask, is out of date and out of style. The practice, for some, can reveal the “hidden riches” of a text, when “one phrase after another lights up and appears as the heart of it.” Others view close reading as an arbitrary and constricting form, the highbrow obsession and tool of campus readers overinvested in books, canons, the OED, and literary criticism. Its practice, epicenters, history, revolutions, protagonists, detractors, embattlement, endurance are situated at the center of this seminar, which requires meditation and reflection on and response to several readings on close reading as well as select primary texts.

You’ll read texts while highly aware of reading texts, whether poetry or prose, a novel such as Morrison’s Beloved, a poem like Eliot’s Wasteland, a film like Dreyer’s Ordet, a painting like Picasso’s Guernica, a bridge like the Golden Gate, a monument like the 9/11 Memorial, a refrain from a religious spiritual. We will read many other objects, discourses and worlds, pressuring interpretation, ambiguity, misreading, pleasure, “dead” authors, absence, and reading against the grain. What is the point of close reading? Who is responsible for this phenomenon? How do we read its history? How does close reading create strategies for reading society and culture? What is the relationship between close reading and literary theory? What is the status of close reading in global capitalist postmodern worlds?