In "The Return to Philology," Paul de Man wrote: "Mere reading, it turns out, prior to any theory, is able to transform critical discourse in a manner that would appear deeply subversive to those who think of the teaching of literature as a substitute for the teaching of theology, ethics, psychology, or intellectual history. Close reading accomplishes this often in spite of itself because it cannot fail to respond to structures of language which it is the more or less secret aim of literary teaching to keep hidden."
This course will introduce students to the theory and practice of reading literary texts closely, in slow motion. Engaging with short works of poetry and prose--including texts translated from languages other than English--students will learn to work with (and perhaps through) their uncertainties, bafflement, and non-understanding of the text and its structures of language. Secondary readings will include theoretical and critical essays drawn chiefly from the New Critics and American versions of deconstruction. While we will gain a basic understanding of key critical concepts such as author, reader, text, closure, and ambiguity, our focus will be on learning from the literary texts themselves rather than from the theoretical readings.