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ParaliteraryThe Making of Bad Readers in Postwar America$
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Merve Emre

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226473833

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226474021.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 27 September 2021

Reading as Feeling

Reading as Feeling

(p.54) Chapter Two Reading as Feeling

Merve Emre

University of Chicago Press

Literary ethicists often claim that reading fiction can teach us to feel in deeper, more complex ways toward others. But what are the social and imaginative protocols by which readers enhance and express their feelings? This chapter examines how the first American studies scholars in Europe imagined that reading American literature abroad would give rise to an abiding “love between nations” (J. William Fulbright). Drawing on the archives of Fulbright Scholars like Robert Spiller, Alfred Kazin, Sigmund Skard, and F. O. Matthiessen’s memoir From the Heart of Europe, this chapter argues that the affective politics of reading, elaborately enacted by Matthiessen in his attentiveness to his students’ bodily movements in the performance of poetry, helped to consecrate the American literary canon abroad in opposition to New Critical pedagogy at home. Matthiessen thus emerges as a theorist of non-semantic communication whose teachings compliment the speech protocols of the women’s colleges discussed in Chapter One. In turn, the fictions of Matthiessen's students—Sylvia Plath’s sadomasochistic public relations in her short story collection Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, John Ashbery’s bilingual play in his novel A Nest of Ninnies—expand the communicative possibilities of human beings over and above a shared language.

Keywords:   F. O. Matthiessen, Robert Spiller, Alfred Kazin, Sylvia Plath, Fulbright Program, American studies, love, affect, economics, Cold War

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