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What is the actual relation between close reading and non-close methods of textual analysis? Connecting Edward Lee Thorndike’s The Teacher’s Word Book (1921), C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards’s universal language (Basic English), and Richards’s inaugural theories of close reading, the essay demonstrates that the inception of close reading was shaped by its era’s statistical analyses or “distant reading,” particularly the genre of the word list. The second part of the essay tracks the subsequent divergence of close reading and statistical analysis by considering two exemplary developments: research into the measurement of “readability,” and Cleanth Brooks’s notion of “the heresy of paraphrase.” Ultimately, the essay aims to fine-tune discussions of close and distant reading that have been occasioned by the digital humanities and suggests that literary studies can once again learn from, and contribute to, the field of reading research.