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Close Reading  

Mark Byron

Close reading describes a set of procedures and methods that distinguishes the scholarly apprehension of textual material from the more prosaic reading practices of everyday life. Its origins and ancestry are rooted in the exegetical traditions of sacred texts (principally from the Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, Zoroastrian, and Islamic traditions) as well as the philological strategies applied to classical works such as the Homeric epics in the Greco-Roman tradition, or the Chinese 詩經 (Shijing) or Classic of Poetry. Cognate traditions of exegesis and commentary formed around Roman law and the canon law of the Christian Church, and they also find expression in the long tradition of Chinese historical commentaries and exegeses on the Five Classics and Four Books. As these practices developed in the West, they were adapted to medieval and early modern literary texts from which the early manifestations of modern secular literary analysis came into being in European and American universities. Close reading comprises the methodologies at the center of literary scholarship as it developed in the modern academy over the past one hundred years or so, and has come to define a central set of practices that dominated scholarly work in English departments until the turn to literary and critical theory in the late 1960s. This article provides an overview of these dominant forms of close reading in the modern Western academy. The focus rests upon close reading practices and their codification in English departments, although reference is made to non-Western reading practices and philological traditions, as well as to significant nonanglophone alternatives to the common understanding of literary close reading.

Article

Gloss  

Rachel Stenner

A gloss is an interpretive aid, and glossing represents the act of interpretation itself. A gloss can be as brief as a single word, can be a coherent set of marginal notes, or can extend to whole volumes. It is an ancient form with its roots in the Roman imperial legal system. Developing alongside changes in reading practice and scholarship, the gloss evolved extensively during the Middle Ages, reaching great significance in the early modern period during the controversies of the Reformation. The gloss can be seen as subsidiary to the main text, as a crucial adjunct to it, or as a sign of the plenitude of interpretive possibility. A gloss’ presence foregrounds literary authority, hierarchies of knowledge, and processes of meaning-making. The reader of a glossed text is placed within the creative community surrounding the work and offered a heightened sense of the temporality of reading. Recent scholarship on this form has emerged from the fields of book and reading history, but owing to the marginal status of the gloss, this scholarship also has particular affinities with structuralist and poststructuralist thought.