Thanks, John, for reading the post and sharing your thoughts. For whatever it is worth, and this is probably predictable, I have to say that I disagree with your characterization of close reading. In a way, I wonder what exactly you are proposing instead of it? I think, actually, that for epic, drama and novels, close reading is absolutely crucial, because of the overwhelming sweep of such things. Those genres, to me at least, practically beg for close readings, as temporary anchors for getting close to what is happening. In other words, close reading is not really distinct from good phenomenology, queer readings, comparative approaches. I would argue that it is actually the methodology that leads to robust, helpful readings within these orientations.
I wrote a lyric essay once about Ashbery where I argued that literary criticism needed to catch up to JA, and that often when I read essays about his poetry, it was like reading a sort of “paradigm” placed onto a different paradigm and the fit was wrong. My analogy was like using representational criteria to discuss an abstract painting. I don’t know if this is what you are saying, in terms of close reading larger, long texts?
But even in that lyric essay, I practiced close reading. Close reading is not just an academic thing, or at least I’d hope it isn’t. I think it’s really a quality of attention. If we don’t close read, what exactly are we reading? The answer is probably our own impressions, our own thoughts. But behind or before the impressions and thoughts - a sort of ideational smoke screen - is an actual text. I think a good analogy to close reading is close looking, or a form of perception that is not distorted overly much by conceptual detritus. If we look at a painting, a tree, a loved one’s face, a poem, are we seeing the painting, tree, loved one’s face, poem? If yes, how and what are we seeing? If not, why not - what are we seeing instead?
This is not an argument for objectivity. We will always close read through the lens of our quixotic subjectivities. But it is an argument for a form of rigor, a responsibility to the text/painting etc., which I don’t think is or should be exclusive to student-teacher relationships, though it can and should be modeled there, too. In a way, close reading is an attempt to stop thinking. If we can stop thinking, we are better able to attend to what is around us - sound, noise, silence, what we see, what we read. A text that is not close read, to me at least, is a reflection of this inability to stop thinking non-stop. A text that is close read, again to me at least, shows me that the reader/interpreter had for a time stopped thinking, turned off their Buddhist “monkey mind,” and therefore experienced the text, painting, composition, ,song, at a deeper, clearer level. In that sense, close reading could be likened to a pause, during or within which a reader’s “horizon” gets closer to the horizon of the text.