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The Velocity of Life (And How to Fight It Through Close Reading) Options
Luftmarque
Posted: Monday, May 4, 2009 1:01:43 AM

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I got reminded of the notion of "close reading" by prolixitysquared and thought this could make a good Topic. Googling the term, I see that close reading involves annotating, devoting attention to all aspects of a stretch of writing, researching and fleshing out all the implications and connotations of a text. In my experience, it includes writing down all the unknown words of a book and looking them up (or making them into a TFDLF Topic). The one time in my life I did a close reading of an entire book was for an individual project course in Philosophy where I wrote my own paraphrase of each paragraph (What Algorithms Can't Do by Roger Penrose—I was not a fan).

The entire notion of taking the time to do a close reading is radically counter to the way we live now, with words used in a throwaway manner (I doubt that a close reading of a Twitter feed would be rewarding, though you never know) and a premium placed on being able to quickly and efficiently filter all the information available (or maybe that's all the information unavoidable). One only has a certain amount of hours to read in one's life, so isn't it better to skim as much as possible? Can anyone afford the time to re-read a book once a year? Especially when a lot of jobs are demanding of time and attention and there are so many other interesting things to do besides read.

So maybe close reading should be viewed as a luxury item, something saved up for and savored ("I took my time… 'cause I could get it"—Patty Larkin, Regrooving The Dream). Did anything come of the supposed new thing in cuisine, "Slow Food"? I read about it last year but it doesn't seem to have caught on in any big way.

Questions for the members:
Do you use any techniques of close reading?
How do you feel about "taking the time to do something in depth" as a luxury?
risadr
Posted: Monday, May 4, 2009 9:25:59 AM
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Every time I read something, whether for business/school or for pleasure, I employ close reading tactics such as writing down words that I am unfamiliar with to look up later, and reading and re-reading paragraphs in order to discern any possible hidden connotations. I majored in Literature in undergrad, so close reading is something that is very near and dear to my heart. Every book that I own with any literary merit is highlighted, underlined, and dog-eared to within an inch of its life. Close reading and taking the time to read something are not luxuries, in my opinion, they are necessities.

As for "taking the time" to do anything else "in depth," there has to be a point where one draws a line. For example, if I were to take the time and do my laundry "in depth" it could take me a week just to get through two loads -- scrutinizing every article of clothing for any stains and applying stain-removing agents to each one individually, for example, would be a tedious and overwhelming process. Laundry, I believe, is best done as quickly and efficiently as possible -- throw the clothes in the washer with some detergent and OxyClean and let 'er rip! On the other hand, though, cooking and eating are two activities that I think lend themselves quite nicely to taking one's time and doing them "in depth" because there are so many rich and wonderfully delicious flavor combinations to explore.
fred
Posted: Monday, May 4, 2009 10:34:33 AM
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Luft:

For argument: how close can one get to close? If we had the time to get to the very foundation of closeness, "where" would that be?

Should another word should be used or another viewpoint of "close" taken?

Close seems to say the reader has been able to get the original meaning and intention from the author. Is that possible?
catskincatskin
Posted: Monday, May 4, 2009 2:23:21 PM
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I prefer to do "close reading" when reading creative or imaginative writing. When reading for facts or information, it's not that useful for me. My goal in close reading is not so much to get at the author's intention as it is to observe and become conscious of how/why/what language and synatx is doing. In academic settings, at least as I learned it, close reading was developed as an alternative to historical or biographical understandings of works and as a way to make the experience of reading personal.

As far as re-reading a book once a year or skimming as much as possible, it seems like the old question of "quality vs. quantity." I'd rather have quality, personally. I guess it comes down to why one is reading in the first place. When I think of this question in parallel situations (such as, listen to one song I like over and over or a bunch of songs I think are mediocre, sleep with one person I adore or as many people I think are OK as possible, eat what I enjoy or as many dishes as possible) I fall pretty consistently on the side of doing a few things I like rather than a lot of things I feel lukewarm about. I don't think one way is better than another though.
fred
Posted: Monday, May 4, 2009 3:03:10 PM
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catskincatskin wrote:
...how/why/what language and synatx... make the experience of reading personal.



Why do you think this happens?
Usually the author's writing is writ specifically for that kind of reading.
catskincatskin
Posted: Monday, May 4, 2009 4:36:04 PM
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fred wrote:
catskincatskin wrote:
...how/why/what language and synatx... make the experience of reading personal.



Why do you think this happens?
Usually the author's writing is writ specifically for that kind of reading.


Why do I think close reading makes the experience of reading personal? There are a lot of reasons, but the key is probably that it ignores historical, sociological, biographical, etc. contexts. In other words, in the way that I was taught to do close reading, you read the piece and consider it based on your own relationship with what's on the page--language and syntax and structure. In a way, it encourages misreading the author's intentions, makes a definite meaning ambiguous, and allows for multiple meanings to arise from a piece seeing as each individual reader brings a different background to the reading.

I'm not sure why you think that usually an author writes specifically for that kind of reading. The notion of close reading is fairly modern, related to the democratization of education and different (some would say lower) standards of education. It assumes that anyone can read a poem or novel and "understand" it without much prior knowledge. It might be helpful to think of it in terms of Christianity and the rise of "personal" interpretations of the Bible. More and more no authority, certainly not a saint or an author, not even a biblical scholar, is needed in order for one to have a (personal) understanding of the key texts. That's a fairly recent phenomenon. But in the end, I guess, close reading tends to get rid of any anxiety about the author's intentions and whether or not you're understanding them. If you understand what Emily Dickinson was trying to say, then you might very well be the only one, but other people will enjoy--or hate--her poetry anyway.

fred
Posted: Monday, May 4, 2009 4:47:13 PM
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catskincatskin wrote:
fred wrote:
catskincatskin wrote:
...how/why/what language and synatx... make the experience of reading personal.



Why do you think this happens?
Usually the author's writing is writ specifically for that kind of reading.


Why do I think close reading makes the experience of reading personal? There are a lot of reasons, but the key is probably that it ignores historical, sociological, biographical, etc. contexts. In other words, in the way that I was taught to do close reading, you read the piece and consider it based on your own relationship with what's on the page--language and syntax and structure. In a way, it encourages misreading the author's intentions, makes a definite meaning ambiguous, and allows for multiple meanings to arise from a piece seeing as each individual reader brings a different background to the reading.

I'm not sure why you think that usually an author writes specifically for that kind of reading. The notion of close reading is fairly modern, related to the democratization of education and different (some would say lower) standards of education. It assumes that anyone can read a poem or novel and "understand" it without much prior knowledge. It might be helpful to think of it in terms of Christianity and the rise of "personal" interpretations of the Bible. More and more no authority, certainly not a saint or an author, not even a biblical scholar, is needed in order for one to have a (personal) understanding of the key texts. That's a fairly recent phenomenon. But in the end, I guess, close reading tends to get rid of any anxiety about the author's intentions and whether or not you're understanding them. If you understand what Emily Dickinson was trying to say, then you might very well be the only one, but other people will enjoy--or hate--her poetry anyway.



You should go one step further and destroy the personal context.
Luftmarque
Posted: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 12:30:23 PM

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Article on the limits of attention (as in "multi-tasking is a myth") Concentration that makes me feel guilty about reading articles on the limits of attention.
“My experience is what I agree to attend to.”—William James
Luftmarque
Posted: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 12:44:23 PM

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fred wrote:
Luft: For argument: how close can one get to close? If we had the time to get to the very foundation of closeness, "where" would that be?
I think one can do closeness too far—to the point where meaning disintegrates and nothing remains but rubble.

fred wrote:
Should another word should be used or another viewpoint of "close" taken?
Maybe mindful reading or self-aware reading would capture other aspects.

fred wrote:
Close seems to say the reader has been able to get the original meaning and intention from the author. Is that possible?
That was one of the goals of close reading as I originally understood it, though some of the online articles I read about the idea gave examples of authors who deliberately went out of their way to place obstacles in the way of such understanding. I like some of the expanded definitions of close reading showing up in the posts in this Topic like the idea of relating what's being read to one's own personal and idiosyncratic experience, creating a unique blend of author and reader.
Betsy D.
Posted: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 9:48:09 PM
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"Close reading" as prolixitysquared originally describes it is certainly useful for a student or an analyst of some sort; to me it's too much like work and takes the fun out of the read. Then again, I'm admittedly lazy ;) Given the velocity of life, I like to focus on the fun.
Joseph Glantz
Posted: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 8:25:12 AM
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Oy! This is why I wasn't an English major.
risadr
Posted: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 10:15:46 AM
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Joseph Glantz wrote:
Oy! This is why I wasn't an English major.


Oh, it wasn't so bad... Liar
Epiphileon
Posted: Friday, May 8, 2009 5:30:33 AM

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"Questions for the members:
Do you use any techniques of close reading?
How do you feel about "taking the time to do something in depth" as a luxury?"

Good morning Mark,
when I was in school, and would run into a particularly difficult text, I relied on the SQR/3 method, however; this method is designed to work with books that are formated as text books. It is a bit amusing that when I did a web search on the term, I fouind many references to SQR/3 being a method of speed learning. Then I thought, well given that most users of text books seldom learn a great deal from reading them, maybe it is a fast way to actually learn from a text book. The method worked very well for me with texts up to moderately difficult. When I encountered texts of extreme difficulty I would modify the method and do the R/3 three times.

In my opinion doing some things "in depth" is not a luxury, it is a necessary condition of fully experiencing, the experience of being, an experiencing being.
fred
Posted: Friday, May 8, 2009 9:43:11 AM
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Epiphileon wrote:
"Questions for the members:
Do you use any techniques of close reading?
How do you feel about "taking the time to do something in depth" as a luxury?"

Good morning Mark,
when I was in school, and would run into a particularly difficult text, I relied on the SQR/3 method, however; this method is designed to work with books that are formated as text books. It is a bit amusing that when I did a web search on the term, I fouind many references to SQR/3 being a method of speed learning. Then I thought, well given that most users of text books seldom learn a great deal from reading them, maybe it is a fast way to actually learn from a text book. The method worked very well for me with texts up to moderately difficult. When I encountered texts of extreme difficulty I would modify the method and do the R/3 three times.

In my opinion doing some things "in depth" is not a luxury, it is a necessary condition of fully experiencing, the experience of being, an experiencing being.


It looks like the only part of SQR/3 that is "close reading" is the questioning. No?
Luftmarque
Posted: Friday, May 8, 2009 10:19:59 AM

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Epiphileon wrote:
when I was in school, and would run into a particularly difficult text, I relied on the SQR/3 method, however; this method is designed to work with books that are formatted as text books.
In my opinion doing some things "in depth" is not a luxury, it is a necessary condition of fully experiencing, the experience of being, an experiencing being.

I like the SQR/3 suggestion that one not mark passages while reading them, that you take in a paragraph sized chunk of ideas and then make notes. The method does seem tuned to textbooks, where you can make a meaningful prediction about just what information you're about to read and then compare what is actually there with your expectations.

For me, it is important to pass information I get from attending a class through as many different physical/motor systems as I can if I'm going to have a chance of retaining it. I'm convinced that my knowledge is distributed throughout my spine and muscles to some extent (my knowledge about how to troubleshoot a computer is certainly something I can get to much more easily when I'm actually at the keyboard—of course, that is precisely the complaint about computer geeks never being able to explain what's going on to someone with a problem) and I did do well in the few classes I've taken where I took the trouble to re-write or type up my classroom notes, giving my mind a second pass at the material and engaging arm and fingers.
Epiphileon
Posted: Saturday, May 9, 2009 8:46:42 AM

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fred wrote:

It looks like the only part of SQR/3 that is "close reading" is the questioning. No?


I don't think so Fred, the web page I referenced may not be the same explanation as I received, or I may have added to how I originally learned it. During the reading part I practice some of the same methods contained in Mark's explanation of "close read", such as word look up, looking up unfamiliar concepts referenced, and certainly reading from the perspective of what the author trying to communicate.
Both methods, I feel, leave much to the individual style and motivation of the reader.
Epiphileon
Posted: Saturday, May 9, 2009 9:07:14 AM

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Luftmarque wrote:

I like the SQR/3 suggestion that one not mark passages while reading them, that you take in a paragraph sized chunk of ideas and then make notes.

Yes Mark, although not directly stated in the method, I see this much like the practice of "active listening" where one must keep ones own thoughts quite while another is attempting to communicate.

For me, it is important to pass information I get from attending a class through as many different physical/motor systems as I can if I'm going to have a chance of retaining it. I'm convinced that my knowledge is distributed throughout my spine and muscles to some extent (my knowledge about how to troubleshoot a computer is certainly something I can get to much more easily when I'm actually at the keyboard—of course, that is precisely the complaint about computer geeks never being able to explain what's going on to someone with a problem) and I did do well in the few classes I've taken where I took the trouble to re-write or type up my classroom notes, giving my mind a second pass at the material and engaging arm and fingers.

There is a considerable body of research supporting part of these notions Mark.
First as far as taking notes, and recopying notes is concerned. The research points out that the more area's of the brain involved in learning, the higher the overall energization of the brain, and it is this that facilitates learning and retention.

Second there is the whole, insufficiently researched area of "State Dependant Learning", as far as I know, or knew, this research had pretty much been confined to chemical states of the brain, however; it seems to me that the act of sitting in front of a computer, to an avid student of computers, may indeed induce a state change of the brain.

Third there is the matter of cuing, it is unlikely that any conceptual information is acturally stored in the spinal cord, or muscle neurons, however particular activities along these pathways, while the brain is actively retrieving learned information, may indeed assist by way of cues to relevant information.

fred
Posted: Monday, May 11, 2009 9:46:37 AM
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Epiphileon wrote:
fred wrote:

It looks like the only part of SQR/3 that is "close reading" is the questioning. No?


I don't think so Fred, the web page I referenced may not be the same explanation as I received, or I may have added to how I originally learned it. During the reading part I practice some of the same methods contained in Mark's explanation of "close read", such as word look up, looking up unfamiliar concepts referenced, and certainly reading from the perspective of what the author trying to communicate.
Both methods, I feel, leave much to the individual style and motivation of the reader.


How do you know what the author is trying to communicate? He may be trying to give you the opposite meaning, for example.
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