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It is a cliché universally acknowledged that we (where “we” means, variously, the Twitter generation, the Millennial generation, participants in the Network Society) no longer read, or if we do read, we read poorly, with insufficient attention and affect. Reading, by which is meant literary reading, is said to be a “lost art” and certainly “at risk.” We multitask and thus cannot sustain the kind of focus and attention required for a long, complex narrative. Our primary source of information, education, and entertainment is the screen. The evidence for these claims is often anecdotal but at times calculated: our daily information consumption in print is .6 hours (UC San Diego); there has been a 10% decline in literary reading and a 28% decline in the 18-24 age group (NEA), etc. The task for our seminar will be to consider a set of large but pressing questions that both emerge from and engage this general account of technological transformation: What are the different modes of reading and what is their relationship to different media environments? How do contemporary works of print and electronic literature both reflect and anticipate different modes of reading? What is the place of “close reading” – still the most important basic skill taught to English majors – in a complex media ecology that encourages skimming, browsing and watching? How can we meaningfully situate our own reading practices within that same media ecology? Is all reading now distracted reading and, if so, can we still speak of rigor? With Henry James at one pole and Talan Memmott’s Lexia to Perplexia at another, we will be reading a range of texts that help us to think through these questions. Written assignments are likely to include a close reading, an exercise in distant reading, a personal log of information consumption, and a short position paper.

Professor Rita Raley
Lindsay Thomas (graduate instructor & Transcriptions RA)
Department of English
University of California, Santa Barbara
Winter 2011
Office hours: Wednesday, 1:00-3:00

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