Making Readers

Introductions. Reading now and in history

Why I offered to teach this course. Empirical studies of reading; familiarity with Romantic period texts of many kinds; critic of cybertext theory


Literature? -- what are you reading? Course title implies making of readers of literature - but also:
"reading" - e.g., music, a painting; the weather, traffic situation; your mood - i.e., constructive, requires cognitive work
-- not newspaper reports; scientific papers (Spallanzani, Ramond)? essays? Romance novels? -- blurred boundary
-- what is "literary"? -- elitist even to mention itů

What makes literature literary? - vs. ordinary discourse. E.g.:

A. Aesthetic
Special types of language
Purposive selection of details -- become symbolic
Coherence, boundedness
Rules of genre

B. Engagement
See world through perspective of a character, intimacy with
Unavailability of fictional world, non-verifiable; yet reader has real emotions?
Relation of reader to (fictional) narrator, author

C. Challenge to reader's world view
World has moral meaning; raises questions of reader identity
Feelings placed in a critical relationship to each other (.. catharsis)

To look at readers of a short story: what is reading now?

Historical perspectives

Reading on the decline? Cf. Greenblatt on literature in the academy; Reading at Risk survey. Shifts in attention to other media.
-- are literary values disappearing, or migrating to other media?

Comparable to earlier changes? -
18th readership for print - small, elite, coffee house culture; new journals: Spectator, Tatler -- Addison, Steele; Grub Street
-- readers at large, mainly religious texts (Bible, sermons!)
-- oral culture otherwise, ballads, broadsheets, Newgate literature, etc.; rise in literacy
Then! – all those pesky novels (woman writers, too!)

18th C novel (Defoe, Richardson, Fielding) prepares the ground for major shift, so-called rise of middle class interests, moral values
-- From 1770s, emergence of "a 'sentimental' or 'empathetic' form of reading" (absorption) -- Reinhard Wittman; reading "fever" in Germany towards end of 18th C --Robert Darnton
-- shift from reading as social act (reading aloud) to a private experience (silent reading)

Rousseau, first mass audience for Julie (1761) -- the novel's effect on the mind, it "silently liquifies and moulds to its will" (Thomas Green, 73); cf. Goethe's Werther (1774)
-- French Revolution: begins breakup of class, ideological formations, turn away from religion

Turning point? --

Late 18th C: rise of novel, especially Gothic novel. Wide appeal, but fear of moral influence. Cf. Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1818) (what is being satirized?)
-- Romantic poets: Byron: writer as hero (Childe Harold I-II, 1812); conceptions of genius (Shakespeare revival), originality, the autonomous poet;
-- Wordsworth's rejection of common reading (worthless Gothic, sentimental plays, etc.) - the "literary" - ? emergence of two cultures of readers, "popular" and "high" literature

-- shift from intensive to extensive reading?

19th C. Mass reading largely becomes dependent on the novel; cheap printing developed; circulating libraries; massive increase in journals
Shock of sensation fiction in 1860s: cf. Braddon, with Lady Audley's Secret (1862) -- "the inventor of the fair-haired demon of modern fiction" (Mrs. Oliphant) - sets path towards thriller and detection fiction

20th C. high literature, modernists; alongside mass readership that would never read James, Woolf, Joyce
-- appearance of literary studies at university (earlier in USA), institutionalizes concept of literature (Wordsworthian in England)

-- later 20th C appearance of other media: TV, movies; multimedia via computer - what happens to (literary) reading?

Questions >
1. What is literary: any commonalities across history, despite shifts in name and readership
2. What is needed to be/become/continue a reader
3. Why read: personal insight, escapism, be informed, socialize, etc.
4. What is text-reader interaction (implied reader, reader as poacher, etc.)

Next: Reading now. Short story example - readers' responses / empirical study.

Document created September 11th 2004 / Last revision: January 10th 2012