I don’t think this post by Alex Reid is on the right track:
Close reading, if you don’t know, comes out the 30s and 40s with New Criticism as a kind of scientific method for literary analysis. It manages to survive the postmodern shift into theory and cultural studies, so that today we continue to advocate “close reading” without perhaps meaning the specific practice the New Critics called for. Btw, I think this is largely the case whether one is in a literature or composition classroom. Needless to say, while literary interpretation suggests a wide degree of openness in the meanings a reader might uncover in a text, close reading serves as a significant limitation on practices of reading and interpretation, and the compositions that might result.Arguably, close reading is a practice predicated on a scarcity of texts. It’s time consuming. Indeed, close reading might be said to follow upon a self-imposed, selective scarcity: the literary canon. Now, of course, we have an explosion of media. Furthermore, the discipline has departed from the selectivity of the canon. In short, there are more texts than ever to study. Yet we continue to cling to close reading because, I think, we have confused method with objective. This is, we have come to point where we might say that the objective of English Studies is to conduct close readings of texts. There appears to be a sense that intellectual work, at least in the humanities, can only function through close readings, that critical thinking requires close readings, and that other cultural-textual practices are anti-intellectual. Now, let me say that there’s nothing “intrinsically” wrong with close reading. It is just simply a limited methodology that literally and explicitly closes reading and, indirectly, the composition practices that we insist must follow upon it.
Reid is not sure what he wants to replace close reading with, but knows he wants to “examine extant writing practices and approach the development of new compositional practices in an open, experimental way.”Things start going wrong for this post at the outset, when Reid simply identifies close reading with the theories of the New Critics. The New Critics placed a particular kind of close reading at the center of their theories and their pedagogy, but they didn’t invent it — what does he think Erasmus, or Augustine for that matter, was doing with the Psalms? — and it lived on — in the work of Jacques Derrida, for instance — long after the New Criticism became a byword for superannuated stodginess.To repudiate the New Criticism is fine, but to repudiate close reading tout court is to abandon the one essential practice of all study of literature and writing: disciplined attentiveness. Close reading is a necessary — I would even say the necessary — skill in literary study (and in the reading component of composition classes) for one overwhelming reason: it teaches people that easy judgments made on the basis of superficial acquaintance with a text are worthless. What you (or I!) have to say about a text isn’t worth hearing unless it is demonstrably based on thorough, attentive, careful reading — close reading.Reid says that “Open composition, in the absence of close reading, is the situation of the text in an open field of networks and contexts.” This could mean almost anything, of course — he’s working at a level of nearly absolute abstraction — but I would argue that you can’t “situate” anything meaningfully and usefully unless you have a detailed, even a minute, understanding of how it works. College students don’t need much help in making broad connective generalizations — that’s their daily bread — but they do need to learn the hard work of testing those generalizations against what texts (or images) actually say and do. That’s what the discipline of close reading is “predicated on” — not a scarcity of texts. Blake was right when he said that “To Generalize is to be an Idiot.”