Comp Lit 85000. What is Reading? Classical and Contemporary Theories
Comparative Literature, CUNY Graduate Center

Evelyne Ender, Professor of French and Comparative Literature
Kyoo Lee, Associate Professor of Philosophy
Tuesday 6:30-9:00pm

Surely, reading matters. But how and why? What may count as reading? Heidegger famously asked: what is called thinking?—and where does reading figure here?

This course aims to explore the nature of reading as an intellectual and embodied activity with a long history.  As our reading practices inside and outside the academia are undergoing some revolutionary changes due, in part, to the rapid emergence of paradigm-shifting technologies, the time seems ripe to ask afresh what this artful act, reading, is. Both literature and philosophy have long practiced it while articulating its modalities at times, and recent research in cognitive and neurosciences has sketched out new avenues worth examining here as well. 

The task of this seminar, taught jointly by a comparatist and a philosopher, is to develop a theoretical line of thinking on the activity of reading by charting a path leading to the present age. With a view to contextualizing some of the key neuroscientific findings today on this complex process, we will scrutinize a selection of texts by writers and theorists (among them Proust, Benjamin, Poulet, Sartre, Barthes, Iser, Scarry, Garrett Stewart). Our focus will be on bringing to light the orchestrated workings of the mind, the body, affect, mood, attention, cognition, voice, vision, etc., all of which become part of notable, phenomenological dramas of reading. Concurrently, as a way of taking stock of the current trends in the NeuroHumanities, we will also revisit some of the landmarks in the history of reading theories (exegetical, hermeneutic, structuralist, post-structuralist, etc.) through texts by Gadamer, Derrida, De Man, Felman, Culler, Gallop, among others. This self-reflexive investigation will help us better understand how, why, and where reading happens, and through this process, we could even become happier readers who understand the pleasures of slow, close reading. Some familiarity with the work of Proust, James, Joyce, Woolf, and Shelley will be ideal but not assumed.