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Mere Reading The Poetics of Wonder in Modern American Novels,9781501329647

Mere Reading The Poetics of Wonder in Modern American Novels

Format: Paperback
Pub. Date: 4/20/2017
Publisher(s): Bloomsbury Academic
Availability: This title is currently not available.


Mere Reading argues for a return to the foundations of literary study established nearly a century ago. Following a recent period dominated by symptomatic analyses of fictional texts (new historicist, Marxist, feminist, identity-political), Lee Clark Mitchell, joining a burgeoning neo-formalist movement, challenges scholars and students to re-embrace a rationale for literary criticism that has been too long ignored-a neglect that corresponds, perhaps not coincidentally, to a flight from literature courses.

Mere Reading offers close readings of six American novels spread over the past century-Willa Cather's The Professor's House, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and The Road, and Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao-in order to trace a shifting strain of modernist innovation that celebrates a species of magic and wonder, of aesthetic “bliss” (as Barthes and Nabokov both coincidentally described the experience) that dumbfounds the reader and compels a reassessment of interpretive assumptions. Each of the novels included here aspires to being read slowly, so that sounds, rhythms, repetitions, rhymes and other verbal features take on a heightened poetic status-in critic Barbara Johnson's words, “the rigorous perversity and seductiveness of literary language”-thwarting pressures of plot that otherwise push us ineluctably forward.

In each chapter, the return to “mere reading” is meant as a gesture to honor the intractability of literary texts, their sheer irresolution, indeed the way in which their “literary” status rests on the play of irreconcilables that emerges from the verbal tensions we find ourselves first astonished by, then delighting in.

Author Biography

Lee Clark Mitchell is Holmes Professor of Belles-Lettres at Princeton University, USA. His previous publications include Westerns: Making the Man in Fiction and Film (1996), The Photograph and the American Indian (with Alfred Bush, 1994), and Determined Fictions: American Literary Naturalism (1989). He is the editor of five books, including The American by Henry James (2005, with “Introduction”) and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1993, with "Introduction"). His former positions at Princeton University, where he has taught literature for over 40 years, include Master of Butler College, Chair of the Department of English, and Director of the American Studies Program.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Slowing Down
1. Possession in The Professor's House (1925)
2. Oscillation in Lolita (1955)
3. Hospitality in Housekeeping (1980)
4. Violence in Blood Meridian (1985)
5. Language in The Road (2006)
6. Belatedness in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)
Epilogue: Resisting Rules

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