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Bad Readers

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Organizer: Meghan Vicks

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Vladimir Nabokov taught his students that naïve readers think they can “glean information about places and times from a novel,” and that the worst readers identify themselves with fictional characters. These bad readers read too much with their brains or hearts, and not with their spines (as the good reader does). Merve Emre defines bad readers (or, paraliterary readers) as “individuals socialized into the practices of readerly identification, emotion, action, and interaction that Nabokov decried; practices rooted in a political culture that insisted on ‘Something to Be Done’ by literature.” Meanwhile, Harold Bloom locates a type of bad reading—“creative misprisions”—as the young poet’s weapon against the influence of great poets, arguing that these poet-ephebes creatively misread their predecessors. For these and other critics, whether bad reading is something that happens to literature or something that helps create literature, the space of bad reading is between the physical text and the reader outside of it.
But what about bad readers IN fiction—that is, characters who read badly? This seminar welcomes papers that analyze bad readers in literary texts. Instead of assuming outside criteria to define what is meant by “bad reading” or what the characteristics of a “bad reader” are, we would like to consider the ways literary works define bad reading, the role bad reading plays in the text, and the aesthetic attitude implied by bad reading in the given instance.  
We anticipate exploring questions such as: What makes bad reading “bad”? How do characters operate as bad readers in their texts? How do literary works indicate what good reading is—and therefore, perhaps, how they should be read—through the figure of the bad reader? What institutions give rise to the bad reader (how is the bad reader made)? In what ways is the bad reader necessary for the good reader’s existence, perhaps showing what’s at stake in good reading? Is bad reading sometimes a justified or necessary approach to a text? What is the relationship between internal figures of the author and internal figures of the reader, and how does bad reading complicate that relationship?

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