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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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Retracing One’s Steps

Retracing One’s Steps

(p.253) Conclusion Retracing One’s Steps

Merve Emre

University of Chicago Press

The conclusion reflects on the ethics and politics of literary reception at mid-century, and how it might speak to scholars confronting literature's diminished role in today’s public sphere. Recently, a range of exciting interdisciplinary approaches to reading—surface, distant, New Ethics—have sought alternatives to symptomatic reading and its “hermeneutics of suspicion.” But critics want more than to read differently: they want reading to transform individuals into different kinds of ethical subjects who are “susceptible, just, and physically intimate” (Emily Apter and Elaine Freedgood). The the better place to locate such ethical subjects is not among critics, or in the institutions of professional literary education, but in the state, civic, and economic institutions that bad readers have flitted into and out of during their lives. Institutions (e.g., women’s colleges, American Express, National Geographic) all house what Lahire calls an “embodied archive”: a record of how individuals form constitutive relationships between reading literature and objective structures of actions. Here we can begin to recover the contemporary value of the postwar connection between literature, action, and interaction. Academic critics cannot simply imagine their way into non-critical reading, not if it involves shedding the habits and dispositions they have cultivated over decades of work.

Keywords:   teaching, sociology, institutions

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