English 309: Theories of Reading
Reading is at once the most familiar and the strangest thing we do. Once we learn to read we do it automatically, indeed obsessively, but we rarely pay attention to the process or dynamics of reading. In fact, we read in lots of different ways and under many different conditions. This is a course about different theories of reading and about how books have come to create the conditions and problems of this process. This course will use a single text, Mark Danielewski’s postmodern novel, House of Leaves, to consider the state of the book and of the various practices of reading at the present moment. House of Leaves is a novel that requires us to reconsider the material and social facts of the book—how it feels and looks, and how it functions as an object—along with the reading practices it both requires and complicates. Understanding how we have learned to read—the practices of reading books, websites, and others texts—and how reading has changed over time will require us to enter into the labyrinth of theory. We will look at a variety of theories, including the current debate between “close-reading,” that (in)famous English Department term, and “surface-reading.” Requirements for the course will short essays, in-class reflections, and a longer final project.