“The Time of Close Reading: Victorian Fiction’s Presents”
Editors: Debra Gettelman, Audrey Jaffe, and Mary Ann O’Farrell
Despite the spatializing intimacy that animates and names it, close reading exists in and as time. The collection “The Time of Close Reading” seeks to interrogate the multiple meanings that attach to each of our titular terms—“time,” “close,” and “reading”—in the present moment, specifically within studies of the Victorian novel.
Taking up the question of close reading’s present—the present of its practice and its presentist desires—the collection invites contributors to consider close reading’s place in the current debates about interpretive method, approaching these questions by way of the nineteenth century. Has close reading come of age as a theoretical method, or is it a ghost of our critical pasts? Is close reading a pedagogy or a methodology? Is distant reading also close reading? Closeness is an intimate spatial fantasy that, if it is achievable, is so as a function of slow time: does close reading have to be slow? How long can one sustain it? How long does a close reading last?
Asking these questions while thinking about both Victorian reading practices and contemporary ones, the editors are interested in the Victorian novel’s particular affinity for, and invitation to, this mode of reading: what is it about nineteenth-century novels that invites close reading? What about them has called to the spectacular close readers who have responded to their appeal? Does close reading have to excise history, or can it make history present? As the nineteenth century seems increasingly distant to today’s students, the present moment seems to demand that our discipline assert its close relation to the historical present, and in doing so, collapse or attempt to close the distance between the Victorians and ourselves. New methods and new areas of research arise, and words are newly read in response to the felt urgency of the present moment; yet what remains is the process of close reading.
The editors seek essays that link the theory and practice of close-reading nineteenth-century novels through example, analysis, or both. Contributions should pertain to nineteenth-century studies and any aspect of the phrase, “The Time of Close Reading.” They are open to traditional stand-alone essays of approximately 6000-7000 words and to shorter speculative pieces using innovative styles or strategies (approximately 1200 words).
Topics might include but are not limited to:
- The temporality of reading: close reading as “slow” reading? the time it takes to do it; the time within which it is done (the labor of close reading);
- The relation between theory and practice (for instance, how close reading is taught; how to teach it; what it looks like in the context of contemporary technologies);
- Close reading and the spatial; architectural or spatial conceptions of reading (close; distant; surface; depth);
- Close reading’s reputation for excising history versus its utility for historical recovery;
- Historicizing reading: how the Victorians read; how we read now: close reading in response to political/cultural concerns (recovery; presentism);
- The apparent mismatch between the length of Victorian novels and the narrow focus demanded by close reading;
- The culture of close reading, as taught by 19th-c fiction: how do novels of this period invite/incite us to read closely? Do texts incite/invite close reading? What have these texts taught us about how to read closely?;
- Close reading the new archive: close readings of newly “discovered” texts of the period, and what they can teach us about this practice;
- Influencers: how have specific critics or theorists changed our reading practices? Which ones have altered the field significantly; how useful does their example remain?
Proposals are welcome from both early career and established scholars. Potential contributors are requested to send an abstract of approximately 500 words.
Proposal deadline: August 1, 2021
Proposals should be sent to all three editors:
College of the Holy Cross
University of Toronto
Mary Ann O’Farrell
Texas A&M University