Close Reading

Sketch, blue against ochre background, of woman in a library taking notes from of a book

In this episode of High Theory, Jonathan Kramnick talks about Close Reading. Contrary to the name, it is less a form of slow or focused reading than an immersive practice of writing. The classic methodology of New Criticism has become, in Kramnick’s estimation, the shared foundation of literary studies in the university.

Our conversation was inspired by Jonathan’s new book, Criticism and Truth: On Method in Literary Studies (Chicago, 2023). In the book he aims to “present a view of literary criticism as it is practiced across the academy in order to defend its standing as a contribution to knowledge” (vii). His defense of this foundational critical method joins a slate of recent metacritical books on the discipline of literary study, and the state of the humanities today.

Jonathan Kramnick is the Maynard Mack Professor of English at Yale University. His research and teaching are in eighteenth-century literature and philosophy, foundations of literary theory and criticism, and interdisciplinary approaches to the arts. His prior publications include Paper Minds: Literature and the Ecology of Consciousness (Chicago, 2018), Actions and Objects from Hobbes to Richardson (Stanford, 2010), and Making the English Canon: Print Capitalism and the Cultural Past, 1700-1770 (Cambridge, 1999). His current book project on Alexander Pope, William Cowper, and the poetics of designed environments is titled Earthworks: Two Before Romanticism. He is also director of the Lewis Walpole Library and the editor (with Steven Pincus) of the Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History for Yale University Press.

The image accompanying this episode was drawn by Saronik Bosu in 2024.

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