Culture@Large 2003: "Reading for a Living: Some Observations on the Differences Between Lay and Professional Reading”

SCA Culture@Large 2003 presents: Professor John Guillory (NYU Dept. of English) "Reading for a Living: Some Observations on the Differences Between Lay and Professional Reading,” Saturday, November 22nd, 1:45--5:30 pm, Continental Ballroom C

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Oren Kosansky, "From Oren Kosansky, "Tourism, Charity, and Profit: The Movement of Money in Moroccan Jewish Pilgrimage," CA 17, no. 3 (August 2002): 359-400." March 23, 2003.

Discussants: Virginia Dominguez, Richard Handler, James Collins, and George Marcus.

Professor Guillory describes his paper as follows:

This paper explores the difference between the reading practices of academic literary critics, or "professional” readers, and those of “lay” readers, who read works of literature primarily for enjoyment. I argue that the distinction between professional and lay reading is a consequence of what Burton Bledstein calls the “culture of professionalism,” and that reading is necessarily constructed in the academic field as a kind of work. This labor of interpretation is founded on the systematic alienation and misrecognition of lay reading, or the reduction of lay reading to “non-reading,” a failure to read. Proposing instead that lay reading survives in professional reading in what I call an “encysted” form, I propose to recover a better sense of what lay reading is in modernity, from the time of its emergence in the early modern period, when the figure of the lay reader first appears, to the present, when literacy is presumed to be nearly universal. I suggest that lay reading in modernity is best understood as an “ethical” practice, by which I mean a practice of self-improvement based immediately on the cultivation of a specific pleasure. Such an ethical practice of reading appears to be just the opposite of reading among professionals, which assumes a practice of reading that entails suspicion or deferral of pleasure on behalf of an ascetic or laborious technique of interpretation. I conclude by arguing for the peculiarity of literary criticism as the discipline that internalizes in its reading practice the distinction between lay person and professional, a distinction that underlies the formation of all of the disciplines.