The Theory and History of Reading
Reading, once you have learnt it, seems to be a rather natural activity. After all, you are reading these lines to find out more about the course “The Theory and History of Reading” right now without thinking twice about the complex processes of recognising letters, matching words and interpreting the meaning of sentences that you perform. Reading seems to be something you just do, or is it?
In this course, we will take a look behind the scenes and investigate reading as a subject in literary theory. Our guide will be Catherine Morland from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, a young woman who reads too many books. Is there a proper way of reading literature? Should we be careful about what we read? Through these questions, literary theory, the praxis of reading and its importance in society can be explored.
We will discuss theories about literary reading that show readers as masters of meaning-making or as scavengers in the literary landscape. We shall explore how libraries, the habitat of the reader, are conceptualised in literary theory and what role they play in how we approach books. You will also get an opportunity to see some books from centuries ago, when we visit the old collection at the University Library. We discuss how thinking about reading has changed across the centuries from the Renaissance to the present day. Bestsellers and literary works of art will be discussed, as well as the cultural prestige which reading can give readers.
In the final sessions, we then address the question of how reading transforms in the digital age, when text moves from paper pages to the tablet screen, and what the implications of these changes in reading are for literature and culture at large.
Upon completing this course, you will have
- sound knowledge of a range of theories of reading and its historical development from the eighteenth century to the present day
- practice in assessing critically the role of reading in literary texts
- the opportunity to develop arguments about the topic in a clear and convincing fashion