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Call for Submissions: Cultures of Reading, PMLA

Friday, August 19, 2016   (0 Comments)

Cultures of Reading, a special issue of PLMA
Deadline for submissions: 7 November 2016
Coordinators: Evelyne Ender (Johns Hopkins Univ.) and Deidre Lynch (Harvard Univ.)

What diverse practices, desires, and norms are concealed by the too familiar gerund in this title? What culturally specific and historically contingent institutions and techniques shape individuals’ encounters with their reading matter? Do those encounters serve ends beyond the decoding of meanings or the closing of a hermeneutic circle? Questions like these energize an emergent field of inquiry that involves, among others, literary critics, book historians, anthropologists, and scholars of religion.

The discipline of literary studies has a long-standing commitment to ideals of close and critical reading. As the scope of our discipline has broadened, however, so has our conception of what reading entails, inviting a new attentiveness to practices involving sociable groups as well as solitary individuals and to skimming and skipping as well as word-by-word analyses. These developments raise in turn historical or comparative questions. Consider, for example, the different assumptions about the relationship between verbal structures and mental states that inform the reading of scriptures, a novel, postings on Facebook, and an article in PMLA. A new readiness to explore the physical, temporal, and spatial modalities of reading has led scholars to scrutinize the material conditions of this activity at a time when our reading matter appears on a screen as often as it does in a codex. Our understanding of reading has been altered as well by the fact that many researchers in the humanities now delegate to their computers the task of culling information from extensive data sets of machine-readable texts. Prompted by such rapid technological changes, our discipline is reexamining the long history of reading and of reading experiences. New ethnographies have shown meanwhile that there is much to learn from the close study not only of texts but also of traces, alphabets, typefaces, and other signifying systems constitutive of distinctive communities.

The PMLA Editorial Board invites essays that build on these explorations of reading as a plural activity and that consider readers and the social institutions of literacy in any period or cultural tradition. Potential contributors are encouraged to think about reading expansively—and to consider it as a social practice that enrolls the reader in textual communities or as an integral aspect of particular forms of subjectivity or of memory. Submissions may, for example, consider religious reading and the relation between devotional practice and modern notions of literacy as a human right and a tool of human emancipation. They might consider the times and spaces that reading demands and creates. Other topics might include the effects of reading in translation (i.e., across languages and cultures); sociable modes of reading (the book club); reading and manners, good and bad; reading and vocalization or recitation; the marks and other traces that readers leave behind them; accounts of physiologies and pathologies of reading (such as addiction to novels or comics); the reading practices of digital natives.

For more information on submitting to PMLA, see the MLA website.

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