What Is the Text? Who Is the Reader? A Meditation on Meanderings of Meaning

The displacement of literature by culture and ideology as the primary texts studied in many English departments has brought with it new practices of reading. Alongside and sometimes instead of literary works, "the text" and its construction are the objects of reading, with special attention given to the "culture" of which texts are seen as a result or trace, a partial or distorted representation. There is increasing reference to the text and to histories of the book instead of to literature, more reference to discourse than to rhetoric, and less engagement with rhetorical criticism that examines the relationships among author, text, and reader that together constitute meaning. The companionship among cultural, historical, and rhetorical studies shared by the first new historicists sometimes seems to have dissolved in conflict and alterity-driven models of identity, meaning, and even history. The present state of new historicism, particularly its many different methods of reading for alterity, difference, and the culturally determined constructs, invites us to reform and refine current objects and methods of reading, particularly the postreading practices we teach and model for others. Through this process we may rediscover, or create, a new sense of what literature is and may become.