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Literary Studies and the Pursuits of Reading

Literary Studies and the Pursuits of Reading

Eric Downing
Jonathan M. Hess
Richard V. Benson
Volume: 120
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Literary Studies and the Pursuits of Reading
    Book Description:

    Thirty years ago, when theory emerged as integral to literary studies, investigations into the nature of reading dominated academic criticism. Since then, as cultural studies and historical approaches have gained ascendancy, critical focus on reading has waned. This collection of new essays by leading scholars of German and comparative literature, inspired by the work of the long-time and influential scholar of reading Clayton Koelb, puts the study of reading back at center stage, considering current theory on reading, emotion, and affect alongside historical investigations into cultural practices of reading as they have changed over time. Topics addressed include ancient practices of magic reading; Christian conversionary reading; the emergence of silent reading in the Middle Ages; Renaissance ekphrastic reading; homeopathy, reading and Romanticism; and German-Jewish reading cultures in the nineteenth century. The volume will be of interest to scholars and students of literary criticism, German Studies, comparative literature, and European history. Contributors: Richard V. Benson, Stanley Corngold, Eric Downing, Darryl Gless, Ruth V. Gross, Jonathan Hess, Janice Hewlett Koelb, Alice Kuzniar, Ann Marie Rasmussen, Jeffrey L. Sammons, Gary Shapiro, Kathryn Starkey, Christopher Wild. Eric Downing is Hanes Distinguished Term Professor of German, English, and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Jonathan M. Hess is Professor of German and Moses M. and Hannah L. Malkin Distinguished Term Professor of Jewish History and Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Richard V. Benson is Visiting Assistant Professor of German at Valparaiso University.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-778-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)
    Eric Downing, Jonathan M. Hess and Richard V. Benson

    When Clayton Koelb wrote of the reader and of the inventions and passions of reading back in the 1980s, he was writing at a moment when the figure of the reader and the practice of reading were indeed being newly minted and passionately promoted by literary theorists across the Western world. In the work of Hans Robert Jauss and Wolfgang Iser in Germany, Roland Barthes in France, and Harold Bloom, Stanley Fish, Paul de Man, and Koelb himself in North America, the reader was assuming center stage as the producer of literary meaning, replacing the earlier focus on the role...

  5. Part I: Medieval and Early Modern Practices of Reading

    • 1: Apertio Libri: Codex and Conversion
      (pp. 17-39)
      Christopher Wild

      In his discussion in the Theodicy “of the dispensation of the means and circumstances contributing to salvation and to damnation,”¹ Leibniz is confronted with a problem: the Bible seems to suggest that God directly influences the will of some humans such as the pharaoh, whose heart he hardened. In this way, God “inspires men with a kind of anti-grace” (178; § 99). Since this would contradict the theological premise that God’s “goodness makes him contribute the least possible to that which can render men guilty, and the most possible to that which serves to save them” (169; § 85), Leibniz...

    • 2: The Question of Reading and the Medieval Book: Reception and Manuscript Variation of Thomasin’s Welscher Gast
      (pp. 40-67)
      Kathryn Starkey

      Medieval secular culture was a largely oral one, but in the course of the Middle Ages, literacy penetrated society deeply in Western Europe, eventually emancipating itself from the clerical class. The beginning of the thirteenth century saw a radical rise in the production of vernacular German manuscripts, but the exact relationship between these books and the medieval reception of the poems that they contain has been hotly debated. Did medieval audiences read, listen to, or watch performances of thirteenth-century vernacular German poetry? Were these early manuscripts performance tools or were they privately read? The answers to these questions probably depend...

    • 3: Reading in Nuremberg’s Fifteenth-Century Carnival Plays
      (pp. 68-83)
      Ann Marie Rasmussen

      The fifteenth-century Nuremberg carnival plays—short, skit-like, rhymed couplet texts written in German and largely treating secular themes—present new and rich opportunities to explore the nature and practice of reading in the late medieval world. Defining reading first as the visual processing and mental decoding of letters on a page allows this essay to glance briefly at some of the notions of reading implicit in the manuscript transmission itself, and to examine the motif of reading in the plays. We will see that while the motif of reading books and letters is not uncommon in medieval German literature from...

    • 4: Shakespeare, Biblical Interpretation, and the Elusiveness of Meaning
      (pp. 84-102)
      Darryl J. Gless

      Shakespeare’s depiction of readers and reading persistently demonstrates that texts—whether written, spoken, gestural, or visual—fail reliably to deliver their authors’ intended meanings. This essay begins by offering a few illustrations of this striking feature of Shakespeare’s plays and then explores the possibility that the playwright may have developed his remarkable self-consciousness about methods of interpretation by reading and hearing it practiced—and observing methodical interpretation yield conflicting results. Conspicuous demonstrations of interpreters at work, and in conflict, were in Shakespeare’s time most readily on display in his contemporaries’ efforts to understand the Bible, the all-sufficient guide to salvation...

  6. Part II: Reading, Secularization, and Transcendence in the Long Nineteenth Century

    • 5: Reading and the Writing of German-Jewish History
      (pp. 105-129)
      Jonathan M. Hess

      Early in 1855, Rabbi Ludwig Philippson opened his weekly newspaper the Jüdisches Volksblatt (Jewish popular paper) with an article warning Jewish parents of a “disease” threatening Jewish family life “from east to west.” The headlines of this issue read “Father, Protect Your Son, Mother, Protect Your Daughter from One Thing, from Reading Novels!” and the one-and-a-half-page diatribe that followed invoked a crisis demanding immediate action:

      Frequent reading of novels is poison for the youth, poison for the mind, poison for the heart, poison for education [Bildung], poison for real life! Reading novels is the same as eating opium, the same...

    • 6: Similia Similibus Curentur: Homeopathy and Its Magic Wand of Analogy
      (pp. 130-147)
      Alice Kuzniar

      By all accounts, Samuel Hahnemann (1755–1843) merits a prominent place in the history of medicine as the only practicing physician ever to have founded an entire system of medical treatment, that of homeopathy. His insights and innovations were manifold. Even had he not invented the homeopathic cure, he was for his era a radical, farsighted thinker: he pioneered public hygiene, promoted a pure diet and healthy lifestyle, trenchantly criticized the harsh medical treatments common to his day, and read illness as a disruption of the mind-body connection and life’s vital force.¹ But although Hahnemann established a new medical paradigm,...

    • 7: Reading and Rhetorical Generation: The Example of Blake’s Thel
      (pp. 148-167)
      Janice Hewlett Koelb

      The theory of reading, as it is generally understood, concerns itself with procedures and problems associated with the interpretation of texts; reading is therefore studied primarily under the rubric of reception. One exception is the work of Clayton Koelb, which focuses steadily on reading as a productive, generative practice that can be investigated under the rubric of invention. Of course, understanding how a text comes into being greatly enhances the prospect of understanding how it can or ought to be performed; and thus the study of invention becomes a valuable aid in interpretation. Koelb’s characteristic subject matter is therefore rhetorical...

    • 8: Sender Glatteis Reads Lessing and Comes to a Sad End: Some Thoughts on Karl Emil Franzos’s Der Pojaz and the Problem of Jewish Reading
      (pp. 168-186)
      Jeffrey L. Sammons

      Karl Emil Franzos’s novel Der Pojaz (The clown of Barnow) was completed in 1893, but was published only posthumously, one year after his death in 1905 by his widow, Ottilie, who explained not what were the reasons for the delay, but what were not the reasons: that he had not revised it in the interim and that “er scheute nicht den Kampf mit den dunklen Mächten, die dies Buch vielleicht wieder gegen ihn aufgewühlt hätte” (DP, 7; Nor did he fear a renewal of the battle with the dark forces which this book might have provoked [CoB, xviii]).¹ There has...

  7. Part III: Theories and Practices of Reading in the Twentieth Century and Beyond

    • 9: Magic Reading
      (pp. 189-215)
      Eric Downing

      Near the end of his 1929 essay on surrealism, and in the context of serious discussions of the occult, Walter Benjamin declares that “the most passionate investigation of telepathic phenomenon will not teach us half as much about reading (which is an eminently telepathic phenomenon) as the profane illumination of reading will teach us about telepathic phenomena” (GS, 307 /SW, 216).¹ The suggested link here between practices of reading and the occult is a profound one, both historically and for Benjamin’s own time and work, and not just in terms of telepathy. Some of the earliest practices of reading were...

    • 10: “Anything One Wants”: Kafka and Women, Again
      (pp. 216-232)
      Ruth V. Gross

      From the beginning, rhetoric has focused on the speech act as communication. At the very least, two parties were involved, speaker and listener. The immediate and complex relationship of face-to-face communication became the model for discussing the very different situation of the writer and the reader with the introduction of a text into the situation. Reading replaces listening; but while one cannot ever re-listen (a recording is hardly the authentic performance), one can re-read a text. All of this has been obvious since Plato. The multiplicity of reading derives from, as Plato noted, the absence of the speaker, and consequently...

    • 11: Reading on the Edge of Oblivion: Virgil and Virgule in Coetzee’s Age of Iron
      (pp. 233-248)
      Gary Shapiro

      Not long ago I taught a yearlong course on reading and writing for the last time. Last, because I have just retired from the university that sponsored the course and also because faculty, in their usual condition of mixed motives, aspirations, and agendas, have decided to discontinue it. I write then elegiacally, in memory of about twenty years of teaching a varying assemblage of so-called great books of literature, philosophy, religion, and even (occasionally) science, sprinkled with more-contemporary works (Toni Morrison, Orhan Pahmuk, Adrienne Rich, and others), drawn from all continents (we may have missed Australia) and written any time...

  8. Part IV: Postscript:: The Ends of Reading

    • 12: Reading Experience in Faust
      (pp. 251-266)
      Stanley Corngold

      Dear Clayton,

      I would like to speak to you about a matter that I hope will interest you very much. Many of your friends—all devotees of your work—have joined hands in this book to celebrate your experience with literature. The matter I have in mind is this very concept of experience, which we students of German literature would expect to find most richly elaborated in Goethe, the very avatar of experience and the idea of experience—and foremost in his “vice-exister,” Faust. I would like to think with you about reading this thing experience in Faust. As we...

  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 267-290)
  10. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 291-294)
  11. Index
    (pp. 295-298)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 299-299)