Abstract

Abstract:

How do critics get from reading a literary text to producing "a reading" of it? This article considers major close readings of Jane Austen's Emma to bring out conventions that tacitly shape our discipline, such as privileging certain reading goals and domains of background knowledge over others, pursuing interpretive inferences that have significant explanatory power regardless of their probability, and valuing the discovery of new patterns for organizing textual information as an end in itself. Most notably, when we refer to what literary critics do as reading, we obscure how much their interpretations are shaped by unspoken conventions involved in the writing of literary criticism. Chief among these conventions is a taste for achieving coherence, which not only plays a role in the causal claims we make, but also gives rise to an underrecognized form of aesthetic pleasure.

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