HERMES seminar 2014

Reading Reconsidered:
History, Practices, Materialities, Affects

HERMES seminar 2014

Helsinki, June 8 to June 13, 2014
Annual International Post-Graduate Seminar
in collaboration with the universities united in the HERMES-network

It is a truism that literature does not exist unless there is someone who reads it. We are used to think of reading as a meeting of text and reader. We are familiar with debates about which of the two dominate this encounter: do the embedded reception structures, conceptualized as, for example, the distinction between authorial and narrative audiences guide the reader’s response? Or is reading primarily steered by our reading strategies that are institutionally formed? New dimensions were added to this debate when we realized that reading is not simply a matter of relating content to form, but that it responds to a text’s materiality. The concrete forms of books affect our reading. Further, reading has a physical side, too; this dimension was better known in earlier times when reading aloud was a common practice. In Karin Littau’s words, reading brings together two bodies, “one made of paper and ink, the other of flesh and blood.” The growing awareness of the physicality of reading involves a heightened perception of the effects of reading. Besides whetting our imaginations and challenging our intellect, reading affects our emotions. It supplies not only occasions for interpretation but also opportunities for feeling. Reading may excite us, make us weep, make us angry and anxious, or soothe us. An important realization garnered from discussions and debates about reading concerns the fact that reading is historically variable and physically as well as emotionally conditioned.

While these familiar questions are still being examined, a host of new issues has emerged, thanks to changing reading habits and environments. New technologies have created new platforms on which to read: we have desktops, laptops, e-readers (Kindle), tablets (iPad), and handheld devices (phones, iPod Touch). These devices raise questions about their effects. Is reading on an electronic platform different from reading a hard copy? Does it require a new reading strategy? One solution has been to distinguish between “deep” and “quick” reading, strategies that consider the specific goals of reading. Others have promoted an expanded notion of reading, one that takes as its starting point the fact that literature, films, television programs, and songs can all be downloaded from the same sites and played on the same device. Reading becomes a new kind of activity when it is combined with intermediality – with viewing and listening. Still others have called for an examination of what they call amateur reading; that is, reading for the love of literature, yet not for purposes of academic study. Harold Bloom reminds us that the fundamental goal of reading is the development of the self. In his view, reading is the most healing of pleasures because the mind is expanded, not anesthetized. For her part, Rita Felski observes that literary theory offers tools for exploring everyday readers’ experience, yet it has difficulties recognizing that literature may be valued for different, even incommensurable reasons.

The Hermes 2014 seminar at the University of Helsinki invites participants to reflect on the various facets and strategies of reading in the context of the cultural and technological transformations of our time. We welcome examinations of reading from a wide variety of approaches. Issues to be discussed might include, but are not restricted to:

  • Textually-embedded reader roles
  • Reading and affect
  • Histories and representations of reading
  • The materiality of texts and reading
  • Embodied reading, the physicality of reading
  • Academic and amateur reading strategies
  • Empirical reading research
  • New technologies, reading platforms and environments of reading and their effects

Applications by e-mail containing name, institutional address, e-mail address, 200 word abstract of doctoral project, and 300 word abstract of proposed paper must be sent no later than February 28, 2014 to Fees for the 2014 seminar in Helsinki will be 350 euros. For OSL PhD candidates the fee and the travel costs will be covered.

Select Bibliography:

  • Bennett, Andrew (Ed.), Readers and Reading. London: Longman, 1995.
  • Collins, Jim. Bring on the Books for Everybody: How Literary Culture Became Popular Culture. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.
  • Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.
  • Iser, Wolfgang, The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.
  • Littau, Karin, Theories of Reading: Books, Bodies and Bibliomania. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Moretti, Franco. Distant Reading. New York: Verso, 2013.
  • Peter Rabinowitz, Before Reading: Narrative Conventions and the Politics of Interpretation. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987.
  • The Reader in the Text: Essays on Audience and Interpretation. Eds. Susan R. Suleiman & Inge Crosman, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980.
  • Reader-Response Criticism- From Formalism to Post-Structuralism. Ed. Jane P. Tompkins. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.  
  • Ryan, Marie-Laure. Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interaction in Literature and Electronic Media. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.
  • Simanowski, Roberto. Digital Art and Meaning: Reading Kinetic Poetry, Text Machines, Mapping Art, and Interactive Installations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
  • Simanowski, Roberto, Jörgen Schäfer & Peter Gendolla (Eds). Reading Moving Letters: Digital Literature in Research and Teaching. Bielefeld, Transcript Verlag, 2010.