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what is a close reading?

Sunshine's picture

I feel like it would have been helpful for me to be in class last week to have a bit more understanding of something that I thought I knew about. What is a close reading? From reading Anne's course notes, and all the articles that reject close readings as something that can be intersectional (if I understood correctly), I found that it contradicts my understanding of close readings and how I like to use them. For me, close readings lets you assume things that are not explicitly written (but also most of what I remember learning about close readings was about paintings and photography, visual art forms, so maybe that's why I have a different understanding.). So I might read a paragraph about a hair salon, and from the types of words the author uses, and how they use them, I might make connections about how the author views women or businesses. Similarly, it seems, I would be able to read a paragraph about a character and draw conclusions about their life or their viewpoints outside of just what they're talking about. Which can be helpful for intersectionality because a character doesn't need to be talking about race or class or whatever in order for me to draw conclusions about those topics. 

Something that I've been thinking about while reading this book was how I would do a close reading of Dill. I was thinking about Dill in the barber shop, and how that dynamic played out. Compared to Billy in the beauty salon. Even the names of these places says so much. And the types of things that were used to indicate what it meant to be a man, like having a woman, having a car, having a little bit of change. And in my understanding of a close reading you could look at those things and make broader assumptions about the characters and their situations.


Anne Dalke's picture

the traditional meaning of a "close reading" is one that does NOT engage in either the "intentional fallacy" (the mistaken belief that you can figure out the author's intentions) OR the "affective fallacy" (the mistaken move to describe the affect the text has on the reader). it does make, or reach for, broader assumptions. conventionally, it focuses only on the "text itself," asking what are the patterns, the shapes, the structures of the words in relationship to one another, without considering any larger context at'all.

i thought what we were doing in class today was querying what it means to read closely, and i was using gertrude stein's poetry to really push the practice to its farthest limit: what would it mean to read words without thinking of them as refering to anything beyond the sound of the word itself? is that even possible?