Close reading and distance: between invariance and a rhetoric of embodiment

Cobley, Paul ORCID logoORCID: and Siebers, Johan ORCID logoORCID: (2021) Close reading and distance: between invariance and a rhetoric of embodiment. Language Sciences, 84 , 101359. pp. 1-22. ISSN 0388-0001 [Article] (doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2021.101359)

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‘Close reading’ of texts has become a central activity of humanities pedagogy and is carried out across different levels of education and through a number of disciplines. The analysis of texts as part of educational practice is sometimes claimed to be a very recent phenomenon, attendant on the formulation of the idea of the text in the early 1960s (Lotman, 1964; Barthes, 1977 [1964]) and, slightly earlier, in the English tradition, with respect to exercises in ‘practical criticism’ (Richards, 1929; Empson, 1930). On the other hand, close reading is associated with a much older tradition dating back to the inception of scriptural exegesis. While educators attempt to inculcate practices of active interpretation, close reading's adherents and advocates often recognize that procedures of close reading can become ossified into routine acts of identifying invariants of textual functioning at the expense of enabling students to intensify and articulate a more engaged relation with the text. In an age of Big Data, statistical analysis and instrumentalization of Higher Education, the intimacy of close reading as a practice is in question.

Through survey methods, the research presented here sought to ask what methods of analysis are used in respect of texts in different disciplines, what practices are identified as close reading, what procedures are followed and whether they are common across disciplines, what theoretical, methodological and historiographical frameworks sustain these practices and what educational ethos might be in play. This article will discuss some of the results, not least of which is the finding that the commitment to close reading as a central feature of humanities education does not seem to have waned in the last century, but neither has it reconceptualised reading as anything other than a cerebral exercise in apprehending ‘meaning’ or in developing a disembodied skill. The article briefly contrasts these findings, suggesting a rhetoric of embodiment, mediating the demands for both distance and proximity in reading, as an area for future inquiry.

Item Type: Article
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Media
Item ID: 31901
Notes on copyright: © 2021. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
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Depositing User: Paul Cobley
Date Deposited: 03 Feb 2021 08:46
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2022 17:56

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