Must We Mean What We Read? A Practical Discussion of the Possibilities of Reading

(Roundtable)


Pedagogy & Professional / Interdisciplinary Humanities

Nate Mickelson (City University of New York)

In a recent PMLA article, Mary Favret argues that literary scholars take for granted the embodied and affective challenges of reading. She claims that attending to the “pathos of reading” might enable us to develop richer understandings of the texts we examine. For those of us who teach introductory writing and literature courses, reading represents a persistent—if unremarked—pedagogical struggle. We encourage students to persevere with the readings we assign and to think of them as models for their writing, but we often find ourselves complaining about discussions and essays that touch on everything but the required texts. As the editors of a January 2016 special issue of Pedagogy suggest, there has been a resurgence of interest in reading in recent years, especially in the digital humanities and among scholars working to bridge the gap between what readers do in the “real world” and what students do in the classroom. This roundtable session aims to extend their inquiry by encouraging discussion of the possibilities of reading. Taking a cue from Stanley Cavell’s “Must We Mean What We Say?” the session proposes that reading is both less logical than we assume and more important for promoting justice and civility than we acknowledge. In addition to these topics, participants are invited to respond to questions including: What responsibilities do readers have to authors and to each other? What would happen if we assumed texts mean whatever we take them to mean? Why do we insist that screens and pages produce different reading experiences? How can we teach reading without insisting that meaning is singular?

There has been a resurgence of interest in reading among literary scholars and teachers of writing in recent years. Taking a cue from Stanley Cavell’s “Must We Mean What We Say?” this roundtable session proposes that reading is both less logical than we assume and more important for promoting justice and civility than we acknowledge. In addition to these topics, participants are invited to respond to questions including: What responsibilities do readers have to authors and to each other? What would happen if we assumed texts mean whatever we take them to mean? Why do we insist that screens and pages produce different reading experiences? How can we teach reading without insisting that meaning is singular?