Reading is not one thing but many. Most of all, reading is not passive. “In reality,” writes Michel de Certeau in the opening of The Practice of Everyday Life, “the activity of reading has on the contrary all the characteristics of a silent production.” But what are we producing? And what does the scholarly practice of reading do to this production?
As graduate students we often expect ourselves somehow to swallow texts whole—to get them. We try mightily to read texts simultaneously in terms of their own coherence, elisions, and indeterminacies as textual systems, of their unconscious procedural expression of determinant historical conditions of possibility, of their own stated and unstated relations to their intellectual precursors, and in the light of their reception by scholars or later links in the canonical chain; we strive to keep in mind texts’ political ramifications, how their formal-generic elements engage with other morphologically-related texts, and their relative sympathy or antipathy to various major philosophical concerns or strands of ideological critique; we read texts to find out whether we can instrumentalize our readings for the purposes of conference papers, dissertation chapters, or course syllabi—and maybe to determine whether we like them. More often than not, while reading I am also planning on passing along certain passages to colleagues or photocopying them for friends outside of the academy; wondering whether I could get a pirated PDF instead of waiting the several days for Interlibrary Loan or maybe shelling out the cash for a nice sixties paperback copy of my own, speculating about the biography of the author or the business-end realities of the academic press in question, and so on. Continue reading Objective Reading