James Joyce’s Ulysses is, famously, a difficult book. In grad school my professor introduced the novel by saying that most people who start reading Ulysses never finish it. Most of them, he said, won’t make it past the first paragraph of Episode 3. I’ve no idea what he said next, because I immediately turned to “Proteus” to see what was in store.
It had never occurred to me that close reading could be applied to the heaps of verbiage produced by dictators—not, at least, until I picked up Daniel Kalder’s recently published The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy.
I’ve been reading Cleanth Brooks’ 1947 classic The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry,one of the key works that in the post-World War II decades established “close reading” as the main pedagogical tool for understanding poetry as a unified whole (rather than an artfully coded record of attitudes requiring historical and biographical translation).
A bee settled
on a rose petal.
It sipped, and off it flew.
All in all, happiness, too,
is something little.
Let’s memorize this poem. I’ll give you three minutes.
Close reading is a way of engaging a text with special attention to its language, tone, techniques. It has gone out of favor lately, as ideological readings have taken over. We’ve named this blog “Close Reading” because we want to model and encourage an engagement with texts themselves: those we write and those we read.