Sunday, June 28, 2015

from a forthcoming book chapter

If the current socio-political order and the legacies of poststructuralism have alike rendered
us allergic to starting from the top and working down – either the grand narrative reenacts the
violence of empire, or the exception exposes any general statement as special pleading by a
privileged group – what about working from the bottom up? The difficulty with any kind of close
reading, however, is the circularity of its logic of evaluation and validation. 

We choose to read closely those things we already deem to have value, and then demonstrate how
value inheres in the minutiae of their construction. Yet those minutiae are in many respects identical
to those we would find in a mediocre subject. Jacques Rancière, perhaps echoing Deleuze, speaks in
a 2013 interview printed last year in The White Review of his reluctance to adopt "an overarching
view which seeks to unify under a single concept a multiplicity of empirical events". He proposes
an alternative aesthetic methodology where "you are no longer the theorist looking at the empirical
world from above. Instead, it is the art object which teaches you how to look at it and how to talk
and think about it". 

Close reading cannot simply be the process of identifying the building blocks which make up that
which we deem valuable, in order that we might in future use the right blocks, and thus guarantee
aesthetic value. It must itself be a form of activity, a practice that occurs in time with a history and a
context. Certain texts might resist close reading as it is normally understood, but this does not have
to signify an evasiveness, or a pseudo-profundity grounded in obscurity. It can on the contrary be
understood as a invitation to explore alternative, more provisional, ways of reading, of listening, of

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