Reading is FUNdamental?

The History of Reading course I taught this semester for the first time turned out to be one of my favorite classes ever for a lot of reasons, very much including the students in the course.

In the middle of the semester, I asked the students to write a reflective personal account of their own reading experiences. I rarely give prompts like this one, though I’m usually perfectly open to a student choosing to write a more personal or introspective paper on a more analytic prompt. I may think about assigning more of these kinds of papers, however, given that the reading memoirs that the students produced were so interesting in stylistic and argumentative terms.

However, I’ve also been thinking a lot about one theme that ran through almost half of the papers, that the pleasure that the students had taken in reading earlier in their lives had been lost to them sometime in between childhood and young adulthood. There were a variety of reasons why: other media becoming more compelling, traumatic personal experiences that indirectly involved reading. The culprit at the top of the list, however, was reading as it is practiced in college. Not just the amount of reading, but also the work we do through and with texts, that professors and students approach reading with a kind of grim productivism, pushing out interpretations like widgets on an assembly line.

I’m predisposed to listen to that complaint, so maybe I’m making too much out of it. At least half the papers made no such accusation against our institutional ways of reading. I think there’s a real issue here, however, which is part of the reason I wanted to teach the class in the first place. (Another qualifier: as one student observed, maybe the students attracted to taking the class were drawn to it because they’re malcontents in the same way that I’m a malcontent.)

I found some of the specific complaints really evocative, that it’s not just that we routinize the act of reading, but also that some of the interpretations we produce out of texts are predictable from course to course and have little to do with the specific content of any individual book or reading. But I also just found the description of a kind of joylessness in college reading, a kind of listless intensity, uncomfortably on the mark in some respects.

One of the many reasons I miss the Invisible Adjunct’s transformative weblog is that she succeeded in creating a “big tent” conversation which has since fractured into a more political and spiteful debate that I think is increasingly driven by the money and patronage of outside culture-warriors who have no interest in academic values, intellectualism, scholarship or anything else besides scoring points with their respective peanut galleries.

One of the themes in that big tent conversation that I was really sympathetic to, when I first encountered it, was the alienation and frustration of employed professors, current graduate students, and people who had rejected or been rejected by academia who had worked in the humanities because they felt wanted to deepen and enrich a love for literature, art or other expressive medium. I thought, and still think, that much of that frustration with what the academic humanities are rather than what they could be is completely warranted. I think that sentiment is related to what some of my students were talking about when they said that college had wounded their ability to take pleasure in reading.

My problem with the frustrated critics of the academic humanities as I’ve continued to read their work is partly that I think some of them have allowed their complaint to be used for cruder political or partisan purposes. It’s also that we don’t seem able to get past the initial complaint, that we’re recursively stuck with the mere declaration that scholarly study and scholarly teaching should strengthen a passion for expressive culture.

When I think about how I want to make the act and experience of reading in my classes create delight, pleasure, discovery, I have to also think about how I want that reading to require my guidance and how I can guarantee that this reading is knowledge-producing as well as pleasurable. In short, to justify the value of taking a course here with me, an experience which doesn’t come cheap. I can’t just say, “Let us talk about how this book pleases us”. You can have that experience in any book club in any middle-class community in America if you can just get a quorum of readers together. You can have that experience all by yourself. In fact, that is one of the humbling things I learned by teaching Jonathan Rose’s amazing The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes this semester, as recommended by a number of commenters at this blog. (Thanks, guys!) Rose describes numerous autodidactical experiences of reading that strike me as profoundly creative, surprising, and energizing, often far more so than what highly institutionalized intellectuals were capable of in the same time period.

Bringing the pleasures of reading into a college environment has got to mean more than just making classrooms more like a book-of-the-month club. We do have to add value to reading that can’t be added any other way, or we might as well get rid of the humanities altogether. Having an avowedly conservative literary critic do close readings of a great work of literature is not reliably superior to a relentlessly historicist professor grinding race-class-gender out of a text. Making room for loving literature does not mean banishing historicism, forbidding postmodernism, crushing theory. Nor does it just mean teaching the canon or sticking to a “great books” list.

I think for me, it’s about playfulness in how we read in courses, about being able to switch channels from weighty historicism to aestheticism to personal reflection to information extraction without relentlessly or ideologically demanding any of those as exclusive practices of reading. It’s about how we choose our books and articles for students. As I’ve said before in this blog, I would rather teach a non-scholarly if intellectually lively book that I see as wrong or incomplete than a book which is an exemplar of impeccable scholarship. It’s about getting away from the fetish of quantity, as if a weekly page count that surpasses 500 for a given course is a guarantee of productivity or accomplishment. It’s about not using reading to deliver information that can be delivered more clearly and compactly through a lecture or an outline. Reading should never be ploddingly informational if we also want it to be pleasurable and generative. It’s about leaving room for different kinds of minds to get different kinds of value from reading a kind of text, and mixing up the types and modes of writing that we use to explore a subject. It’s about the expectation of surprise, about structurally requiring the unpredictable to happen when we read.

It’s about not taking ourselves so goddamn seriously as academics and intellectuals that we react to every challenge as an affront to our dignity, but taking ourselves seriously enough that we’re not ashamed to love reading or knowledge or ideas. I mean loving the whole kit-and-kaboodle: I’m tired of people who want us to love literature, but only their literature. I have enough room in my brain and heart to read and be pleasurably stimulated by the great books and postmodern critical theory, to play and work with Shakespeare and Space Ghost and everything in between them.

It’s pedagogy, not politics. Pedagogy as art, not technics. You can’t get back to loving reading by cheerless attacks on whatever academic fashion annoys you. Love and pleasure require generosity. No miser will ever know them as they can be known.

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35 Responses to Reading is FUNdamental?

  1. k8 says:

    Exactly! I enjoy my students’ literacy narratives quite a bit. And I find many of the things you mentioned. Even though I’m in an English department, most of my students don’t feel like they have to discuss just ‘high literature’ in my presence. Of course, that could be because they know I work with children’s literature and they sometimes see the evidence on my desk;-)

    I checked out your syllabus. I would have enjoyed the class as an undergrad. I taught a few chapters of the Manguel book this semester in my intermediate composition course (our focus was on print cultures) and my students really enjoyed it. I noticed that you had your students read Goody and Ong early in the semester. Did they ever read any of the current research that discounts theories of autonomous literacy practices? Goody’s work, in particular, isn’t really considered very relevant anymore among literacy scholars. Issues with cultural prejudices and that sort of thing. Anyway, just curious.

  2. Timothy Burke says:

    Goody and Ong strike me as now being wrong, so they’re good places to start! It lets us rediscover the same reaction that people had to them over time.

  3. CMarko says:

    I wasn’t in your History of Reading class, but I would not have read any fiction this semester if you had not assigned it in Production of History. I fortuitously wound up assigned to read James Clavell and Octavia Butler, neither of whose work I probably would have read otherwise, and they were terrific. So thanks.

    I have no problem with the majority of readings I’ve been assigned at Swarthmore, and many of them have even been addressed in a playful or creative way. (Disclaimer: almost all of the classes I have taken at Swarthmore have been social sciences, and I’m not familiar with how English and art classes work with their materials.) The problem for me has generally been time. I like to read all of what I’m assigned, rather than skipping around or skimming, and I am rarely able to do that with my readings. Learning to skim for content is a skill I’ve acquired since coming to college, and it’s useful, but it’s also part of why I don’t enjoy my course reading as much as I could. Really reading, as in one word after another, is a leisure activity for me; skimming is work. Since I don’t read books for pleasure during the academic year, that means that most of my time spent reading feels like work.

    Also: it’s not that I don’t have time to read books outside of class. It’s just that once I do my course reading and keep up with the news (which for me entails the NY Times, The Economist,, and The New Yorker), I just want to veg out.

  4. Laura says:

    Even though I am soon to claim an advanced degree in English, it’s not a literature and there’s a reason for that. I have a tangled history of wanting to be someone who created texts (as a creative writing major) and then becoming someone who analyzed texts (M.A. in English), finally settling on becoming someone who teaches how to write other kinds of texts–creatively and analytically but not having much to do with literature.

    I am a voracious reader but mostly, these days of non-fiction, a love I could not effectively cultivate in college. Some of my most treasured moments, however, involve books. I remember clearly the first time I finished a book in a day. I remember sitting in an American History class (sorry Tim) with The Sound and the Fury tucked behind my text, finishing it and crying through the class.

    I think you’re right about the need for some playfulness. I think too often people read things because they feel they “ought” to and then feel terrible when they don’t like it. And faculty may make assignments this way too. When I picked books for my class in the fall, I picked things I loved, and I added a couple of things I thought I ought to assign. The latter went over like a lead balloon.

    I love the phrase you write here: Pedagogy as art. And I’m still wrestling with what that would look like. It sounds wonderful.

  5. withywindle says:

    But different people enjoy different sorts of reading. I *enjoyed* reading academic articles of history in college–this is part of why I became an academic after all. Various classmates complained that the readings were dry, because they had a somewhat different taste in reading. You’re never (rarely?) going to be able to assign a reading that everyone enjoys–and sometimes you want to assign something that you hope will spark a new sort of enjoyment. Then, if you become an academic, you presumably (like me) *enjoy* reading academic works, feel an urge to share that enjoyment, and sometimes have to remember that you have a minority taste. And, yes, I also enjoy academic analysis of literature, in addition to the more non-academic styles of enjoying books–again, it’s a question of remembering that my enjoyment isn’t what everybody has.

    I suppose I’m leary that you’re buying into the trope of Professor Dryasdust, when this may not be entirely true, and may be somewhat unfair to your colleagues. I think one should add the idea of professors who enjoy different sorts of reading to the idea of professors who forget how to enjoy reading–that if professors have a characteristic flaw, it’s not lack of pleasure in reading, but lack of perspective about the nature of other people’s pleasure in reading.

  6. ikl says:

    Honestly, I didn’t find this to be a problem at Swarthmore – if I thought that the reading was going to be a chore, then I just didn’t take the class. Graduate and professional school on the other hand . . .

  7. Thinking of literary texts, it seems to me that there is a difference between undergraduate courses in literature and the graduate and professional study of literature. The central value and purpose of undergraduate literature courses — especially the lower-level “non-major” ones — lies in simple exposure to the texts. Beyond that, there is the “value-added” issue, as you’ve indicated Tim, and that can be done in various ways.

    Graduate and professional study, however, seems to me to be rather different. It’s not primarily an extended exercise in the higher pleasures of full-time aestheticism. If that’s what you want, hustle up a trust-fund somehow or become a successful investment banker so you can retire early and live in your library. The professional study is for those who take pleasure in analyzing texts and figuring out how literature works, in the mind, in culture, in history. This necessarily involves much more than simply reading primary texts.

    There is a conceit that’s often entertained by literary critics that somehow the act of interpretation is supposed to bring us closer to texts, to initiate us into the deeper mysteries. I think this is nonsense. Writing an interpretive study means writing a text, one quite different in technique and purpose from the text or texts being interpreted. Such writing is hard work and should be undertaken for the satisfactions it affords, which are different from those of reading a novel or a poem or watching cartoons.

  8. JasonII says:

    some problems in the “english” field come from what withywindle and WB said: coverage and you can’t please them all. many lit courses use anthologies (i’m thinking american, british, and world survey courses) and these anthologies often have works to which students have already been exposed–often many times over in a variety of courses. anthologies also follow trends–the contemporary lit section of the norton anthology of american lit looks like a rainbow of diversity, but i don’t think it’s necessarily the best work and it reeks of tokenism. there are some profs who don’t change their syllabi enough–that could lead to a stagnation in their teaching and enthusiasm as well.
    coverage also means that teachers will stuff their course in order to provide some basic exposure to a variety of works (the shotgun approach). this can lower the fun of reading. if one takes a victorian novel class in a semester and has to read a stack of books several feet high, it won’t be fun. i like dickens, but _bleak house_ in a week or two is painful.
    withywindle is correct: you can’t please everyone. while i do try to appreciate the various distractions students face and even relate the “great works” to pop culture, some students can’t be as open minded and this ruins reading for them.
    as an instructor i try to introduce my students to different kinds of good stuff–henry james, wallce stevens, william carlos williams, joyce carol oates, and paul bowles (there’s a crazy list). i also try to show my own pop culture interests to avoid the “snobby professor” cliche; for example, i usually describe freud’s three part psyche by using south park characters.

  9. kit says:

    short version: thanks. you, as usual, put it well.

  10. Timothy Burke says:

    Some Swatties (and students elsewhere) do seem adroit at finding the courses that don’t kill their reading pleasure, or at compartmentalizing successfully between different kinds of reading.

    Some students DO take pleasure in heavily scholarly stuff. I have a hard time getting some of the most hostile critics of critical theory to understand that there’s an aesthetic to that material, that some of it is just fun to read if you’re in the right frame of mind. Like Withywindle, I’ve also long enjoyed extremely scholarly writing. But I think it’s about frame of mind, exactly that, and about how we as teachers can help to get people into that frame of mind. When we teach for coverage, when it’s clear that a given reading is on our syllabus out of a sense of duty and obligation and not conviction, that’s when we do a small violence not just to that text but to the act of reading itself. It’s right to say we can’t please all of our students all of the time, but we can try to approach reading and texts from enough angles to reach most of them, and suggest pathways for their own intellectual satisfaction.

    I think that this is partly what alarmed me so much when Mark Bauerlein commented here a while back that he’d like to see a separate program of “conservative humanities” that taught the canon as a kind of fixed tradition (somewhat like making a lot of St. John’s Colleges inside of many institutions). I love that St. John’s has such a philosophically clear curriculum–that part is neat. But if you were to try and reproduce that in many places, and wall it off from the rest of the humanities, I think you’d end up largely with a sense of the canon as a bed of nails or as a flagellant’s scourging. I’m really struck that Bauerlein and a lot of the other self-declared conservative humanists have a hard time explaining why some of the works in the canon are great in such a way that students might be persuaded and excited by the explanation. You can’t just hand down the canon like the Ten Commandments and hope to create a passion for reading it in most students.

    Even in a survey of a major literary period, if I’m going to teach some of the understood canonical works of that period, I’ve got to find a way to make that experience of reading matter. To some extent, that’s what the historicists have done–if they feel they can’t make most students enjoy The Mill on the Floss as a “readerly” experience, maybe they can make the novel matter as a historical artifact, or as a window into a past moment, or as an insight into gender. I appreciate that as a pedagogical strategy and an intellectual claim, but it does make the experience of reading the literature itself into something epiphenomenal, almost.

  11. texter says:

    Really nice post. I was inspired when you first posted your syllabus for the Reading course. I have long been attracted to the side of Literature/Humanities known as “textual studies” – studying the formation of texts and the reception etc. You may already know, but S. Nuttal has an interesting article on the experience of reading among black south african women, and I see her article as contributing to and informed by a long genealogy of studies of reading (and pleasure) among non-academics. As a Literature scholar, I think it is healthy and useful to stay cognizant and self-conscious about the very act of reading – to remind oneself why one is doing it in the first place, to remind oneself of its pleasures, but also to estrange oneself from it at times – that is, reading is learned and partly a labor…
    And also, I assigned a reflective paper this semester that went over spectacularly. I think those sorts of invitations for the students to “find their way in” to a particular conversation or discipline is important. I also hear you though on the issue of whether a humanities class is a “book-club” – how to justify our existence! What is it we offer (when the student is not on the path toward professionalization in our field).
    Btw, I’m done. I’m Dr. Texter.

  12. ikl says:


    I wasn’t around for the threat with Mark Bauerlein, so a I apologize if you’ve already been through this. But you should know that some universities actually do have the mini-St. John’s sort of program. At Yale, for example, it is called Directed Studies:

    I don’t know too much about this program, but I don’t have the impression that it is a miserable failure. In any case, it might be more helpful to look at success or failure of such programs than ot make generalizations about “conservative humanists” and their ability to motivate students.

    More broadly, I think that the “motivation” argument cuts both ways. At elite colleges at any rate, there are a non-negligible number of students who would be more excited about the canon sort of course than by a lot of what goes down in English departments these days. These students might have been lit. majors if they were in my parents (went to college in the mid-sixties) generation, but now are more likely to study classics or philosophy if they stay in the humanities at all. For me anyway, having a Prof. in a lit class structuring their teaching around motivating students who are not inclined to enjoy George Eliot for its own sake would probably be a turn off . . .

    Aside from this, with literature, I think that there is a structural problem, which is that it is hard to enjoy reading even really great novels on a fixed schedule when one is busy with all sorts of other obligations. This isn’t a problem of pedagogy. In my admitted rather limited experience in lit classes, I always found it better to try to read the novels over the summer before the class so that I could actually enjoy them properly. Unfortunately, if one were an English major and therefore had lots of lit courses at once, this might be difficult.

  13. ikl says:

    The first line should read “thread” not “threat.”

  14. Timothy Burke says:

    I completely agree that a great books program, or any other kind of strongly defined “canonical” form of literary studies, might well be a roaring success if done correctly (as I think St. John’s does)–perhaps precisely because it could help with the kind of ennui and alienation that I saw in some of the reading reflections. My main point would be that you can’t accomplish that by handing down the canon as holy writ, only by being as labile and creative and exploratory as the best professors in cultural studies departments might be when they teach television or film or video games.

    The schedule is also an issue, I agree. I don’t know quite what to do about it myself sometimes–I tend to overassign reading because I have texts I’m keen to teach, but if you break up a novel into appropriately small pieces over two weeks of a 75-minute class session, you also run into the problem of feeling after four such sessions that perhaps you’ve left enough time to read it all but had too much time to talk about it.

  15. withywindle says:

    Ah, the Dread Conservative Humanists …since the traditional canon didn’t do badly at inspiring a love of reading, and new works of literature, for the first few millennia, your sense of it as a procrustean bed seems unsubstantiated. Indeed, one could argue that it did better at these tasks than has the modern regime. But in any case, you need some sort of longitudinal study comparing St. John’s graduates with other students, to compare how the curricula affected long-term reading habits.

  16. Timothy Burke says:

    Let’s just say that a contemporary college classroom full of 18-21 year olds is a slightly different environment than Erasmus in his study, yes?

  17. Timothy Burke says:

    Not to mention that the “traditional canon” has never been any such thing, but that’s another discussion, I suppose. The Travels of Sir John Mandeville was a much bigger hit in the early post-Gutenberg world than most of what we would now regard as “the great books” of that and past eras of that time. I don’t recall seeing it on the list of required readings lately.

  18. Swatties have been complaining about the loss of reading for pleasure for generations. Partly, it’s connected to the “misery poker” phenomenon. There’s a lot of reading to do. It’s not enitrely voluntary, and that will lead to a sense of drudgery.

    Some of that drudgery also comes from being academic apprentices. Liberal arts undergrads can exercise enermous self-control about what they study on a course-by-course basis. But once they’re in the course, the instructor has an obligation to introduce them to academic debates that have been going on for a long time. (Wax on, wax off.) I can remember a few syllabi where it seemed clear the instructor was laying out the questions and the answers; our job was merely to learn the state of the field and regugitate upon request. Even though Swarthmore students are good at the game of school, generally speaking, it’s a bitter pill to swallow for a group that’s probably more internally motivated than most school populations you could find.

    Rule #1 for every educator should be to elicit interesting questions. Every class I ever loved started with an instructor who fanned the spark of interest. Once I had a question I cared about, it really didn’t matter too much what form the assignment took.

    That didn’t stop me from playing misery poker, though.

  19. The schedule issue became accute for me in graduate school. Reading with a view toward discussing is different from reading for pleasure.

    OTOH, as an undergraduate I was greatful for a professor who would open up a text for me through interesting commentary. Once someone else had opened it up, I could rummage around and find my own way of thinking about it. But getting started was difficult. Just what is it one is supposed to notice about a novel or a poem? What’s interesting? What line of inquiry is worth pursuing? Those things are not obvious. One has to learn how to get beyond casual chitchat.

  20. withywindle says:

    Mandeville wasn’t on the reading list of the medieval or early modern world either. And the writer presumably was acquainted with the standard educational canon, and wrote for people also familiar with said canon. Erasmus, after all, had his educational program aimed at people college age and younger–as did all the humanists, and medieval scholastics. The idea that they had no clue as to what would appeal to the carousing students of Paris, say, beggars the imagination.

  21. alkali says:

    It’s about not using reading to deliver information that can be delivered more clearly and compactly through a lecture or an outline.

    This post covers a lot but I wanted to highlight this little bit. I don’t teach academically, but I do train as part of my job, and some of the best training sessions I’ve ever conducted have involved my trying to cram everything I wanted to say about a subject on one 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper and then talking the group through it. Everything doesn’t have to be “I’ll hide the ball and you figure out where it is” all the time.

  22. Timothy Burke says:

    Definitely. That’s something that really hit me a while back: when I’ve got essential information that I absolutely want students to know, why mess around with trying to find the three or four readings that deliver it? Why not do it myself?

  23. jpool says:

    This brings up a related point for me. Like most Africanists I’ve used novels to supplement historical texts both to raise issues of historical meaning and to convey lived experience in a way that most history texts fail to do. This in general works extremely well (though there are of course novels, such as Armah’s _The Beautiful Ones are not Yet Born_, that are wonderful, but something of a chore to get through the first time), and I would never give it up, but it can produce a corollary problem where all of the history I have them read seems dull and remote by comparison. Again this is may well be a question of the particular students I’ve taught, but, being a relatively inexperienced teacher, I sometimes wonder if there isn’t also something that I’m doing wrong in terms of how I treat each type of text – whether I’m in advertently making the novels too much of a treat (even though they normally have to write papers on them) or not offering them enough imaginative ways to engage with historical texts.

  24. texter says:

    I just found this and wanted to share… You probably know about it already…

    2006 book: AFRICA’S HIDDEN HISTORIES: Everyday Literacy and Making the Self
    Barber, Karin. Editor
    Colonial Africa saw an explosion of writing and printing, produced and circulated not only by highly educated and visible elites, but also by wage labourers, clerks, village headmasters, traders, and other obscure aspirants to elite status. The ability to read and write was considered essential for educated persons, and Africans from all walks of life strove to participate in the new literary culture. This book uncovers a trove of personal diaries, letters, obituaries, pamphlets, and booklets stored away in tin-trunks, suitcases, and cabinets that reveal individuals involved in the new occupation of the colonial era. Taps into rare primary sources and considers the profusion of literary culture, the propensity to collect and archive text, and the significance attached to reading as a form of self-improvement. Index, b/w illus, 432pp, USA. INDIANA UNIVERSITY PRESS.

    2006 0253218438 Paperback

  25. jpool says:

    Thanks for passing that along. I hadn’t seen it yet. Could you also pass along the Nuttal citation?

  26. finlay says:

    My solution to this problem recently has been to flee the land of pure history and head towards religious studies. It’s very easy to know why you’re reading such a very technical, dry text when it has to do with beliefs on the level of, you know, salvation and sin and those other big topics. I sort of wish I’d taken Production of History – that seems like a good framework in which to think about history as something that really matters to people. That’s what usually causes me to throw a book away in disgust – I’m a chapter in, and the author is name-dropping theorists like there’s no tomorrow, and I find myself asking “why do I care about this?” and not having an answer.

  27. Gavin Weaire says:

    I’d like to get a better handle on the problem. When students write about losing the joy of reading, do they describe that earlier joy in terms of the type of an immersive, empathic, all-absorbing, and rather private experience, a very close subjective identification with what is going on in the text? (This is what I associate with my own early childhood and adolescence.)

    If these aren’t the terms in which they describe the lost paradise, how do they describe it?

    I ask this because I’d be surprised if the joyless production of interpretations is actually joyless from the perspective of the instructor. S/he is probably pretty enthused.

  28. Timothy Burke says:

    At that level, it’s actually pretty complex, Gavin. I have a hard time easily typifying the dissatisfactions that popped up in the papers. Some of it is just as you describe, a loss of reading as private, absorbing and emotionally meaningful. Some were more frustrated by the specific kind of text-work being done in some of their classes. I don’t know that the instructors are joyless, exactly, but I do think there is a kind of predictability in the sorts of interpretative work that some of us do in the classroom that can shade into a sort of ennui.

  29. Gavin Weaire says:

    There’s not much that can be done about the exclusion of the type of reading I brought up from the classroom. I suppose that one can emphasize that reading is not a monolith, and reading for classroom purposes does not invalidate other types of reading in other contexts. But this is something that I would think that most students already know.

    The second type of objection seems to me to indicate a much more serious problem, because reading for the classroom shouldn’t be monolithic, either. What particular points are so predictable, and is this a genuinely cross-disciplinary thing?

  30. Timothy Burke says:

    No, in the cases I read about, it seems to me it’s a problem in the humanities and in some social sciences courses. I think to some extent it’s a specific issue with a certain kind of historicism, a use of texts-as-evidence, especially using literary works as a documentation of some external social terrain, and not so much as investigatory tool as a tool for repeating a kind of orthodox reading of that social landscape. So not really that texts get read historically, but that they get read ritualistically as affirmation of some already-known and somewhat ideological proposition about their contexts.

  31. k8 says:

    A late return, but what you said about the Goody texts sounds good. Every now and then, I run across recent work from outside literacy studies citing Goody as “the” word on literacy. Frightening, really.

    I do think it is interesting that most people associate English with literature. Some of us study writing and rhetoric:-) I do see advantages and disadvantages to Great Books-type approaches. But when it comes to discussions of the loss of pleasure reading/time to read, I wonder how much of this is rooted in the idea that this reading should involve a novel. I’ve run across students who claim they don’t have time to read for pleasure (that is, read novels), but they do read essays, nonfiction, online materials, graphic novels, comics, and other genres not typically associated with school.

  32. Timothy Burke says:

    Yes, that’s another thing that cropped up a lot in the class: the book (and novel) as icon versus the phenomenology of reading. If you think more about the latter, you’re likely aware of the other kinds of reading that do deliver another kind of engagement and pleasure that may not be “sacred” in the same way as fiction. One thing we talked about a lot is habitual reading in public spaces–reading advertisements, reading over the shoulders of strangers, and so on.

  33. Gavin Weaire says:

    I’m guiltily aware that much of what I do in class could certainly fall into that trap. (I’d like to think that I manage to shade a little towards the more investigatory side. I certainly don’t always know what I’m going to find in a text before I teach it, whether or not I’ve taught it before.)

    I wonder if this is more of a problem for, say, a class in modern American literature than it is for mine. In classics, unless I’m deceiving myself, delineating the social landscape through texts (and fortunately, we’re not much burdened with the notion of “literary texts”) has a kind of exotic appeal for many students (and more capacity to surprise?)

  34. texter says:

    To jpool. Sorry, I just read the rest of this thread…

    Here is the Nuttall citation:

    Reading in the lives and writing of black South African Women. By: Nuttall, Sarah. Journal of Southern African Studies, Mar94, Vol. 20 Issue 1, p85, 14p; (AN 9601120361)
    Times Cited in this Database(1)
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  35. abstractart says:

    Swarthmore was never at all successful at touching my love of reading.

    My love of writing, however, has died a painful and seemingly irreversible death.

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