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Article

Reading  

Stephen Watt

“Reading” is one of the most provocative terms in literary theory, in part because it connotes both an activity and a product: on the one hand, an effort to comprehend a text or object of knowledge, and on the other, a more formal response. Both senses of the term originate in the premise that literary and other cultural texts—including performances, scripted or not—require a more deliberative parsing than weather reports and recipes, or sentences like “rain is expected today” and “add one cup of flour.” At the same time, reading serves as an explanatory trope across various sites of 21st-century culture; in a tennis match, players “read” the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents and strategize accordingly; a cab driver “reads” a GPS when plotting an efficient route to convey a passenger. But an engagement with literary and cultural texts is a different matter. In its former sense as a set of protocols or procedures, reading resides at the center of disciplinary debates as newly formed schools, theories, or methods rise to challenge dominant notions of understanding literature, film, painting, and other forms. Frequently, these debates focus on tensions between binary oppositions (real or presumed): casual versus professional reading (or fast vs. slow), surface reading versus symptomatic reading, close reading versus distant reading, and others. Like the term “reading,” readers are variously described as “informed,” “ideal,” “implied,” and more. In some theoretical formulations, they are anticipated by texts; in others, readers produce or complete them by filling lacunae or conducting other tasks. Complicating matters further, reading also exists in close proximity to several other terms with which it is often associated: interpretation, criticism, and critique. Issues of “textuality” introduce yet another factor in disagreements about the priorities of critical reading, as notions of a relatively autonomous or closed work or object have been supplanted by a focus on both historical context and a work’s “intertextuality,” or its inevitable relationship to, even quotation of, other texts. In the latter sense of a reading as an intellectual or scholarly product, more variables inform definitions. Every reading of a text, as Paul Ricouer describes, “takes place within a community, a tradition, or a living current of thought.” The term “reading” is complicated not only because of the thing studied but also because of both the historically grounded human subject undertaking the activity and the disciplinary expectations shaping and delimiting the interpretations they produce. And, in the 21st century, technologies and practices have emerged to revise these conversations, including machine learning, computational modeling, and digital textuality.

Article

The History of Reading in Australia  

Patrick Buckridge

A history of reading in Australia needs to go beyond the question of what Australians have read in the course of their history (though this question in itself is important) to tackle the more elusive question of how they have read. This question implies a recognition that reading is not a single, uniform activity but a congeries of “literate techniques” that are spread unevenly across the reading population at any given moment, and that are themselves subject to evolution and change as new cultural, political, and educational pressures exert their influence on how people read. The multiplicity and heterogeneity of reading practices are especially evident in the first half of the 20th century, particularly between World War I and World War II when reading itself came to be problematized as never before by the rise of advertising, cinema, popular culture, and political propaganda. It is important too to consider the ways in which reading as an institution in its own right, something above and beyond both the texts being read and the activity of reading them, has developed historically. Here the question is not so much what people have read, or how, but why. What values—positive and negative—have been attributed to reading, by whom, and in association with what social ideals, purposes, and anxieties? Also relevant here is the changing place of reading in Australian society more broadly. In particular, its changing relationship with writing as a valued component of Australian culture is of interest.

Article

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

Circulating Libraries in the Victorian Era  

Troy J. Bassett

Beginning in the 18th century and continuing throughout the 19th century, circulating libraries became an integral part of the literary marketplace as the chief means of distributing books. Subscribers paid an annual or per-book fee to rent volumes: during the Victorian period, the typical subscription rate was one guinea (21s) per year to borrow one volume at a time. The relatively high price of books made circulating libraries an economical means for many middle-class families to access books: for less than the price of one three-volume novel (one-and-a-half guineas, or 31s 6d), a subscriber could borrow dozens if not more volumes. Hundreds of circulating libraries existed during the Victorian period, but the two largest were Mudie’s Select Library (1842–1937) and W. H. Smith and Son’s Subscription Library (1860–1961). Mudie’s, headquartered in London, had upwards of 50,000 subscribers, established branches in other major cities, and shipped books around the world. W. H. Smith added a library department to its pre-existing network of railway bookstalls with larger branches in major cities. Between them, Mudie’s and W. H. Smith became the largest purchasers of books and thereby had a direct and indirect effect on Victorian literature. In particular, the three-volume novel system—whereby the high price limited sales to the libraries who then had a monopoly on new fiction—encouraged British readers to become book borrowers instead of book buyers. The format of the three-volume novel led to certain generic conventions influencing areas such as characterization, plot, and style, which remained until the format was abolished in 1894. Since the libraries, especially Mudie’s and W. H. Smith, largely controlled the distribution of literature, they often exerted an informal censorship on literature which some authors, such as George Moore, advocated against.

Article

Identity Technologies  

Anna Poletti

This entry develops a definition of literature as an identity technology by bringing together theories of identity formation as a process of identification and introjection, with thinking about reading as a materially grounded process in which readers encounter identities in the form of characters and narrators. The essay critically situates the terms “identity” and “technology” in the study of literature, media, and culture in order to argue that at the linguistic, symbolic, and material level, literature can be used as a means for inscribing and reinscribing identity at the individual and collective level. Drawing on ways of reading literature from autobiography studies and queer theory, this article is about how to read and think about literature as a mechanism through which identity is formed, negotiated and renegotiated, inscribed, and made public. The case studies utilized in this entry are the opening and closing essays of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s important work of literary theory, Tendencies. Sedgwick’s theorization and enactment of reading as a generative, queer practice is brought together with a close reading of her reflections on her own identity and the variety of techniques she uses to situate to her reader to elucidate the utility of thinking literature as a technology used in the ongoing work of identity.

Article

Literacy: A Literary History  

Lee Morrissey

Literacy is a measure of being literate, of the ability to read and write. The central activity of the humanities—its shared discipline—literacy has become one of its most powerful and diffuse metaphors, becoming a broadly applied metaphor representing a fluency, a competency, or a skill in manipulating information. The word “literacy” is of recent coinage, being little more than a century old. Reading and writing, or effectively using letters (the word at the root of literacy), are ancient skills, but the word “literacy” likely springs from and reflects the emergence of mass public education at the end of the 19th and the turn of the 20th century. In this sense, then “literacy” measures personal and demographic development. Literacy is mimetic. It is synesthetic—in some languages, it means hearing sounds (the phonemes) in what is seen (the letters); in others, it means linking a symbol to the thing symbolized. Although a recent word, “literacy” depends upon the emergence of symbolic sign systems in ancient times. Written symbolic systems, by contrast, are relatively recent developments in human history. But they bear a more complicated relationship to the spoken language, being in part a representation of it (and thus a recording of its contents) while also offering a representation of the world, the referent: that is, literacy involves an awareness of the representation of the world. Reading and writing are tied to millennia of changes in technologies of representation. As a term denoting fluidity with letters, literacy has a history and a geography that follow the development and movement of a phonetic alphabetic and subsequent systems of writing. If the alphabet encodes a shift from orality to literacy, HTML encodes a shift from verbal literacy to a kind of numerical literacy not yet theorized.

Article

Reception in the Digital Era  

DeNel Rehberg Sedo

The digital era offers a plethora of opportunities for readers to exchange opinions, share reading recommendations, and form ties with other readers. This communication often takes place in online environments, which presents reading researchers with new opportunities and challenges when investigating readers’ reading experiences. What readers do with what they read is not a new topic of scholarly debate. As early as the 14th century, when scribes questioned how their readers understood their words, readers have been scrutinized. Contemporary reading investigations and theory formation began in earnest in the 1920s with I. A. Richards’s argument that the reader should be considered separate from the text. In the 1930s, Louise Rosenblatt furthered the discipline, using literature as an occasion for collective inquiry into both cultural and individual values and introducing the concerns for the phenomenological experience of reading and its intersubjectivity. While there is no universal theory of how readers read, more recent scholarly discourse illustrates a cluster of related views that see the reader and the text as complementary to one another in a variety of critical contexts. With the advent of social media and Web 2.0, readers provide researchers with a host of opportunities to not only identify who they are, but to access in profound ways their individual and collective responses to the books they read. Reader responses on the Internet’s early email forums, or the contemporary iterations of browser-hosted groups such as Yahoo Groups or Google Groups, alongside book talk found on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, present data that can be analyzed through established or newly developed digital methods. Reviews and commentary on these platforms, in addition to the thousands of book blogs, Goodreads.com, LibraryThing.com, and readers’ reviews on bookseller websites illustrate cultural, economic, and social aspects of reading in ways that previously were often elusive to reading researchers. Contemporary reading scholars bring to the analytical mix perspectives that enrich last century’s theories of unidentified readers. The methods illustrate the fertility available to contemporary investigations of readers and their books. Considered together, they allow scholars to contemplate the complexities of reading in the past, highlight the uniqueness of reading in the present, and provide material to help project into the future.

Article

Reading Culture and Reading in 19th-Century Australia  

Susan K. Martin

Reading practices and tastes were transported to colonial Australia along with European colonists. Access to and circulation of books and newspapers in the colonies were subject to the vagaries of distance, travel, and transport, and these had a concomitant impact on reading patterns and access, as well as on the development of local writing and publishing. Trade routes, and the disjunction of inland versus sea routes, may have had some influence on localized reading and distribution. The early history of libraries and booksellers in the Australian colonies, publication patterns, and marketing give clues to reading patterns. Examining the reading accounts and movements of individual readers, and individual texts, provides further detail and context to the environment and situatedness of reading in the Australian colonies, as well as the impact of transport as an idea, and an influence on texts and reading.

Article

Ethics of Reading  

Matthew Garrett

The ethics of reading connects with but is not identical to the field of ethical criticism. Often pursued as a normative inquiry into morality, ethics may be better understood in historical terms. From this point of view, the inquiry into ethics is not a matter of good and evil (or universal moral correctness) but rather of understanding historically variable and socially conditioned regimes of subjective self-construction (ethics). Thus, moral thought may be taken to be one specific modality of the ethical, not its essential feature. A social and historical inquiry into the ethics of reading must then examine the ethical impulse itself, the recurring attraction of ethical questions, normative moral claims, and the search for moral models in literary and cultural texts. Various strands of ethical criticism have treated literary characters as approximations of persons or have considered the way reading itself may be a morally healthful act. Understanding these approaches and their limitations helps one recognize an alternative ethics of reading, focused on the social and historical reconstruction of the category of the ethical, as well as a more specifically literary-critical style of reading, focused on a single ethical injunction: fidelity to the object of critical attention.

Article

Singularity  

Derek Attridge

The term singularity has been put to a variety of uses by philosophers and literary theorists with a limited degree of consistency among them. It is very often contrasted with one or more other terms which might seem to be synonyms, such as particular and individual, and its relation to universality and generality is frequently discussed. Although the term itself is not an important one for Kant, his discussion in the Critique of Judgment of the peculiar nature of aesthetic or reflective judgment marks the beginning of a long history of philosophical attention to the artwork as a singular entity resistant to analysis and the experience of art as unamenable to explanation. Some philosophical deployments of the concept of singularity stress uniqueness, self-sufficiency or transcendence (Martin Heidegger, Gilles Deleuze, Hans-Georg Gadamer); others see singularity as self-divided and existing only in relation to other singularities (Jean-Luc Nancy) or to generalities (Jacques Derrida). Singularity is sometimes understood as an event rather than an entity (Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard, Nancy, Derrida); for some thinkers, it is closely connected with community (Giorgio Agamben, Nancy). For Derrida, the most influential of these philosophers for literary studies on this topic, singularity is inseparable from iterability; a mark or sign is able to remain the same through history and in various realizations if it is able to change with each new context in which it appears. As a term in literary theory, singularity is usually regarded as a distinctive quality of the literary work, combining as it does a sense of the work’s uniqueness with its participation in general and generic codes and norms. The reader’s encounter with the singularity of the work is an encounter with otherness that necessitates a change in his or her frameworks of understanding and feeling; every such reading is singular in that the reader and the context of reading will always be different. Iterability is a condition of literary singularity: works retain their identity only because they are open to change.

Article

Surface  

Shiamin Kwa

Thinking about surface and its historiography in the early 21st century is a way of thinking about ways of seeing in the world, and how people define themselves in relation to the things around them. From literary texts to the decorative arts, from graphic narratives to digital stories, and from film to the textile arts, the ways of reading those texts frequently raise questions about interactions with surfaces. Theories of surface have been engaged in many ways since their invocation by French theorists in the final decades of the twentieth century. They have a steady but by no means identical presence in the field of visual studies, history of architecture, and film studies; they have found an application in discussions of race and identity; they have enjoyed an early 21st century turn in the spotlight under the auspices of a broadly defined call for a “surface reading.” This critical move defines surface as worthy of scrutiny in its own right, rather than as something that needs to be “seen through,” and makes its most profound claims less by reactivating attention to reading surfaces, which arguably has been done all along, but by a shifting away from a model of interpretation that makes claims for authoritative symptomatic readings by an all-knowing interpreter.

Article

The Index in the Premodern and Modern World  

Kyle Conrau-Lewis

In the history of the book, indexes emerged as a result of a number of developments in paratexts and organization. The earliest examples of this device varied significantly in layout, organization, and textual form. While various kinds of tables of contents are attested in the ancient world, the index is a much later innovation. The earliest use of indexes is found in legal and then scholastic and patristic texts in continental Europe; they were particularly useful for university students and preachers. Indexes served as aids to help them navigate the growing corpus of legal and theological compilations and commentaries. However, their format and function were variable: the manuscript evidence shows a great degree of experimentation, combining alphabetic, vocalic, and systematic orders of arrangement. In the early modern period, with increasing anxieties about how to organize and manage information, treatises instructed readers how to compile an index. In turn, from the 16th century and well into the 18th, writers cautioned against an excessive reliance on these book aids in lieu of reading the whole books and lampooned so-called “index learning.” The use of indexes in Greek, Hebrew, and Islamic book culture only began in earnest in the early modern period.

Article

Reception Theory, Reception History, Reception Studies  

Ika Willis

Reception-oriented literary theory, history, and criticism, all analyze the processes by which literary texts are received, both in the moment of their first publication and long afterwards: how texts are interpreted, appropriated, adapted, transformed, passed on, canonized, and/or forgotten by various audiences. Reception draws on multiple methodologies and approaches including semiotics and deconstruction; ethnography, sociology, and history; media theory and archaeology; and feminist, Marxist, black, and postcolonial criticism. Studying reception gives us insights into the texts themselves and their possible range of meanings, uses, and value; into the interpretative regimes of specific historical periods and cultural milieux; and into the nature of linguistic meaning and communication.

Article

Reading Culture in Japan  

Andrew T. Kamei-Dyche

Reading in Japan has a rich history replete with transformative moments. The arrival of Chinese logographs by the 5th century necessitated the development of reading mechanisms adapting the logographs to the Japanese language which had previously lacked writing. In the Heian (794–1185) court, reading was often a social activity incorporating performance. Small reading communities read romances aloud to one another, while poetry competitions involved intense bouts of composition and reading. During the medieval era (1185–1600), literature spread through the recitation of epic tales with musical accompaniment, while in early modern times (1600–1867) the gradual expansion of literacy combined with a print revolution fueled the emergence of socially and geographically diverse communities of readers. Alongside studies of medicine and Neo-Confucian thought a market in popular fiction flourished. The arrival of modern printing technology at the end of the 19th century ushered in mass-market readership. Cheap printings of classic texts competed with popular serial fiction, both of which were encouraged by newspapers. During the early 20th century, reading came to be seen as an act of self-cultivation but retained a social element as students and educated urbanites read together and discussed literature. Contemporary Japanese society retains a strong emphasis on the social values of reading, understanding reading not primarily as an individual engagement with one’s interests but rather as a means to acquire a consciousness of one’s group and nation. Newspaper readership continues to be enormous, and the influence exercised by newspaper corporations and prominent publishers in Japanese society is significant, shaping not only what is read but how. Japanese manga, meanwhile, continue to enjoy a diffuse range of reading communities that represent considerable wealth and influence. Such communities vary by gender, age, and political leanings, and demand media suited to their own particular reading practices and identities. Technological innovation has also facilitated new reading experiences, such as visual novels, a type of interactive fiction game popular among Japanese gamers. The Internet has given rise to virtual reading cultures, embracing both traditional print readerships and visual novel fandoms, further enhanced by ubiquitous smartphone use among readers of all ages. Tokyo’s book town, Kanda-Jinbochō, is a thriving cultural center, and book fairs and other events are widely celebrated.

Article

Digital Humanities  

Simon Burrows and Michael Falk

The article offers a definition, overview, and assessment of the current state of digital humanities, particularly with regard to its actual and potential contribution to literary studies. It outlines the history of humanities computing and digital humanities, its evolution as a discipline, including its institutional development and outstanding challenges it faces. It also considers some of the most cogent critiques digital humanities has faced, particularly from North American-based literary scholars, some of whom have suggested it represents a threat to centuries-old traditions of humanistic inquiry and particularly to literary scholarship based on the tradition of close reading. The article shows instead that digital humanities approaches gainfully employed offer powerful new means of illuminating both context and content of texts, to assist with both close and distant readings, offering a supplement rather than a replacement for traditional means of literary inquiry. The digital techniques it discusses include stylometry, topic modeling, literary mapping, historical bibliometrics, corpus linguistic techniques, and sequence alignment, as well as some of the contributions that they have made. Further, the article explains how many key aspirations of digital humanities scholarship, including interoperability and linked open data, have yet to be realized, and it considers some of the projects that are currently making this possible and the challenges that they face. The article concludes on a slightly cautionary note: What are the implications of the digital humanities for literary study? It is too early to tell.

Article

Young Readers and Sexualized Fiction: A Review and Case Study of Young Women in Canada  

Davin L. Helkenberg

In sexualized fiction written for young readers (ages 12–24), common narratives are meant to guide readers through their early sexual life, inform about the dangers and pleasures of sexuality, and validate the sexual lives of those deemed outside of the heterosexual norm. Young Adult (YA) novels comprise most of the canon of literature for readers of this age, but what young people read extends into other genres and formats, such as Adult fiction, graphic novels, and online amateur fiction. Literary scholars have criticized sexualized fiction for young readers for the presence of a sexually repressive ideology embedded within sexual relationships or scenarios. Most notably, didactic narratives meant to guide young persons through their early sexual life have typically associated sex with risk and not necessarily with pleasure or well-being, especially for young women. The argument, therefore, is that these texts are detrimental to the sexual well-being or liberation of young people. Contrary to this argument, sexualized fiction for young readers has also been subject to widespread censorship efforts in North America. Challenges or bans are typically based on concerns that these texts are pornographic, are unsuitable for young readers, or will inspire young people to act on their sexual impulses or engage in non-normative forms of sex. These two counterarguments parallel larger debates about what kinds of information about sexuality young people should have access to or how young people should perform—or not perform—their sexuality. The study of reading in the everyday lives of young people reveals complex relationships between text and reader, beyond those commonly cited as essentially repressive or corruptive. A case study on the reading experiences of young women in Canada shows that young readers engage with a wide variety of sexualized fiction and have nuanced relationships with these texts. This case study shows that as a literature that addresses the complexities of adolescent sexuality, sexualized fiction remains a source for transformative possibilities, where fictional narratives have the possibility to contribute to the sexual well-being of young people.

Article

The Chapter  

Nicholas Dames

First known as a kephalaion in Greek, capitulum or caput in Latin, the chapter arose in antiquity as a finding device within long, often heterogenous prose texts, prior even to the advent of the codex. By the 4th century ce, it was no longer unusual for texts to be composed in capitula; but it is with the advent of the fictional prose narratives we call the novel that the chapter, both ubiquitous and innocuous, developed into a compositional practice with a distinct way of thinking about biographical time. A technique of discontinuous reading or “consultative access” which finds a home in a form for continuous, immersive reading, the chapter is a case study in adaptive reuse and slow change. One of the primary ways the chapter became a narrative form rather than just an editorial practice is through the long history of the chaptering of the Bible, particularly the various systems for chaptering the New Testament, which culminated in the early 13th century formation of the biblical chaptering system still in use across the West. Biblical chapters formed a template for how to segment ongoing plots or actions which was taken up by writers, printers, and editors from the late medieval period onward; pivotal examples include William Caxton’s chaptering of Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur in his 1485 printing of the text, or the several mises en proses of Chrétien de Troyes’s poems carried out in the Burgundian court circle of the 15th century. By the 18th century, a vibrant set of discussions, controversies, and experiments with chapters were characteristic of the novel form, which increasingly used chapter titles and chapter breaks to meditate upon how different temporal units understand human agency in different ways. With the eventual dominance of the novel in 19th-century literary culture, the chapter had been honed into a way of thinking about the segmented nature of biographical memory, as well as the temporal frames—the day, the year, the episode or epoch—in which that segmenting occurs; chapters in this period were of an increasingly standard size, although still lacking any formal rules or definition. Modernist prose narratives often played with the chapter form, expanding it or drastically shortening it, but these experiments usually tended to reaffirm the unit of the chapter as a significant measure by which we make sense of human experience.

Article

Hypertext Theory  

Astrid Ensslin

In a generic, medium-nonspecific sense, hypertext refers to a compositional format characterized by nodes, links, and networks that allow readers multiple choices and different pathways through textual and/or multimodal components. The largest informational hypertext network is the World Wide Web. Within literary studies, hypertext theory relates to literary in the sense of primarily narrative and poetic uses of hypertext as a composition technique and metatextual principle aided by specific technologies such as hypertext editing software and HTML (Hypertext Mark-Up Language). In its contemporary, medium-specific meaning, hypertext refers to interactive networks of digital documents and media connected by hyperlinks that give rise to multilinear readerly pathways through texts and, thus, highly versatile and personalized narrative and poetic experiences. Literary hypertext theorists have traced the beginnings of hypertext in the nonlinear proto-hypertexts of medieval scripture and early scientific texts displaying numerous glosses and footnotes, thus affording multilinear reading trajectories. While hypertext theory first emerged against the backdrop of late poststructuralist thought and early, pre-web, standalone hypertexts produced by the so-called Storyspace School from the late 1980s onward, more recent, early-21st-century waves of electronic literature and digital fiction scholarship have established the field of hypertext criticism and related areas of digital fiction and poetry research through a large corpus of systematic close analyses, as well as empirical reader-response studies, applied socio-psychological research, and educational uses. Aided by the growth in popular hypertext and game design platforms such as Twine in the second decade of the 21st century, hypertextual writing has become a mainstream form of literary game production and interaction, which has moved hypertext and its theorization from a scholarly-elitist niche to a mainstream form of creative and critical engagement.

Article

Philology  

Harry Lönnroth

Philology—from the Greek words philologi’ā < philos “friend” and logos “word”—is a multi-faceted field of scholarship within the humanities which in its widest sense focuses on questions of time, history, and literature—with language as the common denominator. Philology is both an academic discipline—there is classical philology, Romance philology, Scandinavian philology, etc.—and a scholarly perspective on language, literature, and culture. The roots of philology go back all the way to the Library of Alexandria, Egypt, where philology began to evolve into a field of scholarship around 300 bce. In Alexandria, the foundations of philology were laid for centuries to come, for example as regards one of its major branches, textual criticism. A characteristic feature of philology past and present is that it focuses on texts in time from an interdisciplinary point of view, which is why philology as an umbrella term is relevant for many fields of scholarship in the 21st century. According to a traditional definition, a philologist is interested in the relationship between language and culture, and by means of language, he or she aims to understand the characteristics of the culture the language reflects. From this point of view, language is mainly a medium. In the analysis of (mostly very old) texts, a philologist often crosses disciplinary borders of different kinds—anthropology, archaeology, ethnology, folkloristics, history, etc.—and makes use of other special fields within manuscript studies, such as codicology (the archaeology of the book), diplomatics (the analysis of documents), paleography (the study of handwriting), philigranology (watermarks), and sphragistics (seals). For a philologist, texts and their languages and contents bear witness to past times, and the philologist’s perspective is often a wide one. The expertise of a philologist is the ability to analyze texts in their cultural-historical contexts, not only from a linguistic perspective (which is a prerequisite for a deep understanding of a text), but also from a cultural and historical perspective, and to explain the role of a text in its cultural-historical setting. In the course of history, philologists have made several contributions to our knowledge of ancient and medieval texts and writing, for example. In the 2010s, the focus in philology is for example on the so-called New Philology or Material Philology and digital philology, but the core of philology remains the same: philology is the art of reading slowly.

Article

Reading in the Digital Era  

Lutz Koepnick

Digital reading has been an object of fervent scholarly and public debates since the mid-1990s. Often digital reading has been associated solely with what may happen between readers and screens, and in dominant approaches digital reading devices have been seen as producing radically different readers than printed books produce. Far from merely reducing digital reading to a mere matter of what e-books might do to the attention spans of individual readers, however, contemporary critiques emphasize how digital computing affects and is being affected by neurological, sensory, kinetic, and apparatical processes. The future of reading has too many different aspects to be discussed by scholars of one discipline or field of study alone. Digital reading is as much a matter for neurologists as for literary scholars, for engineers as much as ergonomicians, for psychologists, physiologists, media historians, art critics, critical theorists, and many others. Scholars of literature will need to consult many fields to elaborate a future poetics of digital reading and examine how literary texts in all their different forms are and will be met by 21st-century readers.