Reading in Theory (ACLA 2020)
Despite the proliferation of critical engagements with theories of reading by scholars of literary studies, it seems fair to say that relatively little has changed since Paul de Man claimed, “the resistance to theory is in fact a resistance to reading, a resistance that is perhaps at its most effective, in contemporary studies, in the methodologies that call themselves theories of reading but nevertheless avoid the function they claim as their object” (The Resistance to Theory 15). This panel asks, is this resistance brought to a theory of reading, as if from “the outside,” or is resistance internal to any theory of reading? In what ways does reading generate and/or depend on its own resistances?
Rather than resolve critical dissensus on reading, this panel aims to question the returns to reading, in terms of both the perpetual—and, seemingly, never-ending—polemics and discussions on reading and an “economy of reading.” What keeps returning us to reading? And what returns do we acquire from theorizing reading? How do we characterize an economy of reading? Do we read in order to produce or generate forms of knowledge, interpretation, or meaning? Or is reading precisely what confounds these forms? Are the returns on our investment in (close) reading the very products that erase the encounter of reading itself? Or should a theory of reading aim to resist this economic logic, including demands by institutions structured by neoliberal capitalism? Are there multiple readings that get conflated when we speak of “reading” in general or in the singular? Who would want to “resist” such a conflation or theorization? What would be at stake?
We welcome papers that engage these questions or related topics, such as the politics of reading or of theories of reading in relation to the institution of literary studies or the academy more generally. Why do we need to have these debates on reading? Why is reading so resistant to definition? We also welcome papers that engage past or recent interventions into theories of reading, such as those by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Saidiya Hartman, Fred Moten, Rita Felski, Toril Moi, and others.