I can’t promise that this will be a thousand words plus post like the one’s by Anne and Alec that I’m responding to, but here goes:

I’m glad that you picked up on the touchy-feely thing, Alec. I was kind of hoping you would, since I figured (rightly) that you knew more about that stuff than me. And thanks for reminding me of Eve’s question about a “canon of anti-depressant literature.” What I might ask now in response is: “What if one’s canon of anti-depressant literature looked exactly like one’s canon of depressant literature?” Or, to get all Venn-diagrammy, what works of literature could be read both to make one more depressed and to make one less depressed, and what works of literature are inimical to anti-depressant use but imical to depressant use, and vice versa? (In Memoriam, I think we’ve agreed on, resides in that middle yonic region–and we could add anything by Beckett onto that list, I think.)

Anyhow, as is my wont, I’d like to shift the conversation back onto the question of reading in general rather than on comfort/consolation. In my title, I’m referring to that NYU/Columbia conference held earlier this year called The Way We Read Now, instigated by Sharon Marcus’s move, in Between Women away from the “symptomatic reading” that characterizes much of the work of the past twenty years or so to what she calls “just reading.” I don’t think that Marcus would suggest that we limit ourselves to just just reading, and I’d like to explore just how we can think of reading practices themselves in some kind of Sedgwickian “additive and accretive” way.

Right now, I’ve begun reading the copy of Richard Marsh’s The Beetle that I got recently. It’s gay gay gay–but sadly not in a campy way–more like the paranoid-gothic homoeroticism we know and love (with some masochian role-playing thrown in). Since I’m brain-dead and burnt-out right now, I’m reading it pretty slowly, but I’d imagine if I hadn’t just written a term paper plus read about a hundred freshman papers this week, it’d be a page-turner–which got me thinking about another non-high-literary-critical way of reading. I’m guessing that The Beetle, which is still pretty non-canonical, has crept about in the shadows of serious literary study because it is “merely” entertaining, rather than the more-than-merely entertaining works of Bram Stoker, H. R. Haggard, and Stevenson, to name some of Marsh’s contemporaries.

Of course, the line of division between the merely entertaining and more-than-merely entertaining is pretty permeable, but why not think about this business of being merely entertaining. I’m led to this train of thought by  a forthcoming article in Critical Inquiry by Sianne Ngai on the “Merely Interesting,” which I’m eagerly awaiting. Ngai’s first book, Ugly Feelings, is about the negative affects that are more niggly than their more widely discussed sisters: fear, melancholia, and rage, for example. Ngai’s current project, according to her faculty bio, is about “minor aesthetic concepts, and I wonder if we’re thinking about the ways we read now, we might want to think of our minor reading practices in addition and accretion to those more major projects of hermeneutic suspicion, comfort/consolation, and exploratory reparation. To think about these minor reading practices, we might want to think about the way we read then–not the way critics read “then,” but how we read as children. I don’t want to privilege the “innocence” of the young reader over the experienced critic who ruins novels for everybody else–I’d just like to think about all those reasons for reading that we tend to forget when all we have time to read are whatever’s related to our projects, or that are on our orals lists, or that we have to read for the classes we take or teach, or that we feel we have to read because we’ve said that we read them in conversation when in fact we haven’t.

As a kid and an adolescent, I read mostly sci-fi and fantasy (and I never read The Wind in the Willows, for shame!). I don’t think that these genres will form the basis for much of my academic work now and in the future, not that I’m ashamed of my habit, or that I don’t think speculative fiction doesn’t deserve academic attention. I’m just not as interested in it as I was–plus, it’s not all that marketable in our circles. Come to think of it, though, perhaps my reading practice as a young Victorianist is not all that removed from my juvenile addiction. I was particularly drawn to series of sf novels (besides Tolkien, Lewis, and l’Engle, I read tons of Piers Anthony, Robert Asprin, and, um, Star Wars novels–we’re not talking high-brow stuff here), all taking place in constructed worlds. But is Victorian England for me any less of a constructed world? And my point is not just the pop deconstructive one that our understanding of the Victorians is contingent upon discursive mediations and what-have-you, but that I take the same kind of pleasure in piecing together the Victorian world across all sorts of texts that I did in piecing together Middle-Earth across the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Silmarillion, for example. So, should we have constructive reading in addition to deconstructive reading? Which I guess brings us back to the whole idea of reparative readings. But if I do make a case for undeconstruction, I’d certainly not want to make a major case for it–I think it’s far richer to understand it as a minor reading practice. (No, I can’t elaborate, because I wanted to somehow bring that whole “minor” business back into the picture somehow.)

Okay, 944 words. But it still took me way too long.

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