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Reading Strategically (and Critically)

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 This section models some techniques for “strategic reading” (i.e reading with a specific purpose or goal in mind rather than reading every, single word of a text).

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 If strategic reading is a new concept for you, or if you’d prefer to access this information in a video rather than in a reading, you might review this video from the University of British Columbia’s school of Library, Archival, and Information Studies.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 A warning: this section is a bit lengthy. I walk through a possible 5-step process for reading an academic article in the humanities.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Need something quicker, more succinct, or not focused on the humanities? Click on the Reading Guides section for some printable / downloadable lists of questions that you can use before, during, and after you read texts for academic audiences across the disciplines.

Reading Strategically: Why, and how, do we read for grad school?

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 In order to understand how to read in grad school, we need to understand why we read in grad school. Writing and rhetoric professor, Alice Horning (2007), describes the purpose of reading (or critical literacy, as she calls it) as follows:

Critical literacy is best defined as the psycholinguistic processes of getting meaning from or putting meaning into print and/or sound, images, and movement, on a page or screen, used for the purposes of analysis, synthesis and evaluation; these processes develop through formal schooling and beyond it, at home and at work, in childhood and across the lifespan and are essential to human functioning in a democratic society.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 This definition draws a relationship between the (seemingly passive) act of reading and the (far more active) tasks of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. In fact, Horning almost equates these things: we read in order to analyze, to synthesize, and to evaluate. So the purpose of reading, rather than simply summarizing a text, is to draw relationships between the things that we read.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 In order to get to this process, though, it’s obviously important to understand the main idea of the texts we’re trying to synthesize. But how do we do that without reading every, single word of them?

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0  Before reading the rest of this section:

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 1. Click on the link for this academic journal article in the humanities about Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel, The Road.  You do not need to read the article or be familiar with the book, but here’s a trailer for the movie version of the book if you want to get a basic sense of what it’s about.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 2. Copy / paste the address for the article into a separate browser window in order to reference the technique and the article side-by-side.

A Step-by-step guide to reading in the humanities

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 In the following section, I’m going to model the strategic reading process for a piece of literary criticism. If you’d like this process modeled for another type of text, feel free to leave some suggestions (and a link to the text itself would be great!) in the comments.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Step 1: Find the purpose of the article in the abstract (if one exists).

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 If an abstract is available (and, in this case, it is), you’re in luck: it will undoubtedly include the purpose. Find it, and then summarize just this part to yourself:

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Let’s consider Kunsa’s purpose from her abstract:

In The Road (2006), Cormac McCarthy’s approach to “naming differently” establishes the imaginative conditions for a New Earth, a New Eden. The novel diverges from the rest of McCarthy’s oeuvre, a change especially evident when the book is set against Blood Meridian because their styles and concomitant worldviews differ so strikingly. The style of The Road is pared down, elemental: it triumphs over the dead and ghostly echoes of the abyss and, alternately, over relentless ironic gesturing. And it is precisely in The Road’s language that we discover the seeds of the work’s unexpectedly optimistic worldview. The novel is best understood as a linguistic journey toward redemption, a search for meaning and pattern in a seemingly meaningless world — a search that, astonishingly, succeeds. Further, I posit The Road as an argument for a new kind of fiction, one that survives after the current paradigm of excess collapses, one that returns to the essential elements of narrative.

To identify this, I skimmed the abstract for words like this:
posit
argue
contend
submit
demonstrate
evaluate
critique
describe
summarize
interpret
…and for structural chunks such as:
X will lead us to consider Y
by analyzing X, [I have concluded] Y
by considering X [I have concluded] Y

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Now, I’ll rephrase Kunsa’s sentence in my own words:

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Kunsa’s sentence: Further, I posit The Road as an argument for a new kind of fiction, one that survives after the current paradigm of excess collapses, one that returns to the essential elements of narrative.

My sentence: Kunsa argues that The Road isn’t just a book that McCarthy wrote about the post-apocalypse. It’s actually a model for a new type of fiction.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Step 1a: Find the purpose of the article in the introduction and the conclusion.
If an abstract isn’t available, the purpose is generally found in the introductory section of the article. Here is is in Kunsa’s piece  (on p. 59):

The novel, I argue, is best understood as a linguistic journey toward redemption, a search for meaning and pattern in a seemingly meaningless world — a search that, astonishingly, succeeds. Specifically, I demonstrate how McCarthy’s odd approach to naming establishes the conditions for a New Earth, a New Eden. In the redemption of language, The Road suggests, we discover the hope for our redemption.
And here she is again in the conclusion on p. 68, worded in exactly the same way that it was in the abstract!

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 The Road is an argument for a new kind of fiction, one that survives after the current paradigm of excess collapses…

So far, we know that Kunsa will use something about the book’s language to support her argument about why The Road is emblematic of a new kind of fiction. This leads us right into the next step…

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Step 2: Consider what kind of evidence the author will use to prove the argument.

This might involve understanding something about the discourse community in which this article was written: you’ll need to know what “counts” as evidence, and how it’s typically gathered. In this case, because I’m reading this piece in an English class or because the name of the journal is Journal of Modern Literature, I’m assuming that Kunsa’s audience is made of literary scholars, which probably means that she’s using textual analysis, or close reading, to make her point.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 But what, specifically, about the language interests Kunsa? If I don’t know what literary theorists usually examine as “evidence” in their analyses, this might be harder to figure out: understanding something about a literary critic’s method / methodology will be critical to answering this question. This might be information that I need to get from my professor.I may happen to know, from reading other class texts, that literary scholars use theoretical concepts from philosophy, an exploration of literary devices, maybe some historical background knowledge, comparisons to what else an author has written, or how a text has been received by audiences over time, I can answer this question more accurately. So, to find out what Kunsa is going to use, I return to the abstract for clues:

The style of The Road is pared down, elemental…”

“….[The Road] is set against [another book McCarthy wrote called] Blood Meridian”

“[the book] returns to the essential elements of narrative.”

So, Kunsa will examine the style of The Road, compare The Road to Blood Meridian, and think about the “essential elements” of narrative (though I’m not quite sure what she means by that yet) to prove that The Road is emblematic of a new kind of fiction. OK, moving on…

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Step 3: Consider the exigence and how the author situates their argument 

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Kunsa’s article was published because she’s making a novel claim. To do this, she needed to establish why her claim is new and why it matters in this moment. So she had to prove that she’s read all of the other criticism about The Road, and, therefore, that she has a fresh perspective to offer.That’s what she’s doing in the first full paragraph on p. 58. I don’t need her to convince me of her ethos — at least, not yet, because I don’t know that much about criticism of McCarthy’s work — so I can skip that.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 I’m looking for variations of the following phrases:
scholars have done X (but I am doing Y)
while some argue X….
although some say / despite / in spite of X, Y
while it is true / the case / evident that X, Y
[author] ignores / misses / disregards / misunderstands X

Here are the examples from the first two pages of Kunsa’s piece:
Scholarly debate over what McCarthy is talking about has often focused on the issue of meaning versus meaninglessness” (58).
“Michael Chabon’s claim…completely misses, or ignores, the essential difference between these novels” (58).
“Despite these similarities, however, The Road’s divergence from McCarthy’s previous work is especially evident when the novel is contrasted with Blood Meridian” (58).

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 So, let’s review. Kunsa is arguing that McCarthy wrote The Road as a model for new fiction. Critics and scholars haven’t considered the relationship between the style in The Road and in the rest of McCarthy’s work. Her article will show why comparing the style and narrative elements of The Road to those same features of Blood Meridian will give us a new interpretation of what The Road is trying to do.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 OK, next step…

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Step 4: Read the last two or three paragraphs, and compare your working summary to those.

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but the final few paragraphs of an article will generally tell you what you’ve just read. So let’s look at the first few lines of Kunsa’s penultimate paragraph on page 68:

More broadly, The Road is an argument for a new kind of fiction, one that survives after the current paradigm of excess collapses, after the endlessly witty posturing exhausts itself with its own self-reflective neuroses. I am not arguing that the “postmodern” is dead. Those arguments have long been made, spoiled, and made again. And McCarthy’s place in the postmodern canon (likewise, in that of the modernists) has been and will continue to be debated—by others. What is evident, however, is McCarthy’s refusal to accept the postmodern condition (68).
And the first few lines of the final paragraph on page 69:
In the brief epilogue of Blood Meridian, a man in the desert makes holes in the ground with a steel implement, then “enkindles the stone in the hole with his steel hole by hole striking the fire out of the rock which God has put there” (337). Citing this passage, Harold Bloom suggests, “The Judge never sleeps, and perhaps will never die, but a new Prometheus may be rising to go up against him” (xiii). In The Road, McCarthy has granted us this new Prometheus, a twenty-first-century good guy, Adam reinvented…
Kunsa’s reiterating the same argument that appears in the abstract: that The Road is a model for a new type of fiction. The Road and Blood Meridian are different. We can understand this by comparing the style and narrative elements of the two books. Good, I’m on track.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Step 5: Go for a walk. Make some tea. 

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Just kidding. But it is time to stop reading this piece for the moment. Because getting mired in the details of Kunsa’s argument isn’t going to be very helpful just yet. Plus, you’ve probably got another 5 or 6 articles to read for the week.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 To read the rest of it (or some of the rest of it) actively, especially if we don’t really understand it, we need to move on to analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating this argument against other readings for this week (or other readings from the class). The details of Kunsa’s piece are going to make more sense if you’ve strategically read the other pieces to try to find connections (or departures) between them.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Go strategically read the other 6 articles. Then move on to the section in this guidebook called “Organizing Your Reading,” because it’s time to write in order to read.

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Source: https://malswrites.commons.gc.cuny.edu/reading-strategically-and-critically-across-the-disciplines/

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