Close Reading: An Introduction
Andrew DuBois
h e t h e m at i c f o c u s of this anthology is on reading and critical re-
sponse. But since reading and responding to what one reads is an an-
practice, of which there exists a library of examples ecclesiastical,
ecstatic, pedantic, dogmatic, incidental, and so on, the book before you con-
fines itself to essays of literary speculation in the twentieth century that have
a more or less direct bearing on the question of how to read a text.
More specifically, the selections in this volume (beginning with an essay
by John Crowe Ransom published in The World’s Body in 1938) range from the
formalist work of the New Critics—though among the writers here, only Ran-
som (and only then by implication) gives himself that name—to work of the
later twentieth century concerned more with matters in essence political. The
arrangement of these selections is not meant to make claims about critical
progress or regress; it is, however, meant to assert that a genuine (perhaps the
central) debate in twentieth-century literary criticism is a debate between for-
malist and nonformalist methods of response. Conversely, the selections them-
selves are meant subtly to obscure the assumed clarity of these categories; for
wherever there is deep engagement with art, there can likely be no method-
ological purity, nor programmatic effacement of the fact of multivalence. (The
two headings under which these essays are arranged—‘‘Formalism (Plus)’’ and
‘‘After Formalism?’’—are in their willful diffidence meant both to acknowledge
and to question the aforementioned categories.)
The selections here have two things in common. First, as has been sug-
gested above, they all respond directly to objects of literary (and sometimes
cinematic) art, from Hamlet to ‘‘Lycidas’’ to ‘‘The Rape of the Lock,’’ from
Ulysses to Invisible Man to Beloved, with clusters around the writings of
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