The Reading Complex


Reading is a complex practice with its own cultural history and its own affective, material, and cognitive relationship to particular acts, spaces, and habits. Great differences exist between the norms and conventions of reading that govern, for each community of readers, legitimate uses of the book, ways of reading, instruments and methods of interpretation—the kinds of expectations, interests, and investments that characterize the entire enterprise that we will call “the culture of the book.” How conceptions and conditions of reading have changed over time will be explored primarily in fiction in which protagonists are readers. By examining the implications of literary characters’ imaginative responses to their textual lives, we will see that, far from being a passive or derivative activity, reading is a dominant mode of experience in itself. The tension between literature and life is always both problematic and generative. As readers read about readers within texts, they develop a self-reflexive stance regarding their own positions as readers outside the text, as well. Thus, as we consider reading practices and strategies metacritically, we will be compelled at various points to question the status of literacy in a postcolonial, multicultural, and increasingly electronic world. Among the authors to be included are Austen, Borges, Calvino, Cervantes, Dante, Douglass, Eco, Flaubert, Goethe, Proust, Roth, and Warner-Vieyra. Theoretical readings will draw from a wide range of sources.