English 100

Junior Seminar: Close Reading?Theory, Practice, Ideology, Pleasure

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2007 Miller, D.A.
Miller, D.A.
MW 10-11:30 300 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Austen, J.: Emma; Barthes, R.: S/Z; Brown, D.: The Da Vinci Code; Doyle, A.C.: Adventures of Sherlock Holmes


"It may be argued that close reading is literary criticism. Certainly, it is its only technique and its most widely shared belief. If close reading is central to literary criticism, however, it has been made marginal almost everywhere else, with exceptions to be duly noted. Like other marginalized phenomena, it is selectively lionized and massively stigmatized; here, its mythic heroes such as Sherlock Holmes and, more recently, Robert Langdon; there, its regular demons, who are usually us. The aim of this course is not to teach students how to close-read, but to bring them to a more conscious (and self-conscious) understanding of what may be at stake in both the practice and the resistance to it. Accordingly, we will be both ?doing? close reading and engaging in assisted reflection on what it means, entails, or implies.

Our objects comprise a poem by Keats, a novel by Austen, and a film by Hitchcock, all of which spectacularly lend themselves to close reading, and some mass culture artifacts that categorically do not, but will receive it nonetheless (for the course harbors a certain desire to take close-reading out of the closet of English Literature into the streets of cultural analysis). Our topics include: the institutionalization of close reading, its past, present, and utopian rationales, historicist and other attacks on it, its rules-of-the-game, the problematic of ?getting close? (or, the critic?s ?intimacy issues?), and, not least, the pleasures of the text.

We start in medias res; I assume that the seminar members already have an experience of close reading that they wish to extend, and an ability in it that they are working to hone. Any student in doubt on the question of his or her qualifications for the seminar may self-administer the following test: Are you fond of asking your English teacher the question, ?Did the author really mean that?? If so, it is safe to assume that you are in a bad relation to close reading; I don?t recommend coming any closer. "

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