Philipp Schweighauser (Educator)

Philipp Schweighauser (Educator)

Professor of North American and General Literature at the Department of English of the University of Basel, Switzerland. Tweets under @pschweighaus. (Photo credit: Peter Schnetz, University of Basel).

Location Basel

Activity

  • Thanks for your valuable feedback, that's very helpful. I'll have to see how to integrate this. Thanks to for your kind words and let me say that I also much appreciated your many substantial contributions.

  • Dr. Gudrun Bachmann and Heidi Röder from Educational Technologies at the University of Basel, who provided invaluable pedagogic-didactic support. See here: https://www.unibas.ch/en/University/Administration-Services/Vice-President-s-Office-for-Education/Learning-and-Teaching/Educational-Technologies.html

    An extra special thanks goes out to my splendid Basel...

  • As we are moving toward the end of Literature in the Digital Age, I'd like to take the opportunity to say a few words.

    I am very happy to see that most of you give such positive feedback. Let me return the compliment: it’s been delightful to read so many substantial posts by so many learners over the last six weeks. You made this course happen!

    Let me...

  • 6. Surface as literal meaning
    What Sharon Marcus has called “just reading” accounts for what is in the text “without construing presence as absence or affirmation as negation.” Her example is female friendship in Victorian novels, which has often been read as a cover story for an otherwise unspeakable desire between women. Because critics assume that novels...

  • ... Examples of this kind of work include Clifford [page break] Siskin’s demonstration that large-scale shifts in how literature defines reality coincide with epochal changes in media history, and Marc Angenot’s study of “social discourse,” in which he looks at everything published in France in a particular year in order to chart “a global typology of the...

  • 5. Surface as the location of patterns that exist within and across text
    This notion includes narratology, thematic criticism, genre criticism, and discourse analysis. […] Jameson […¨urges interpreters to sketch the ideological rectangles that structure texts only in order to move toward what lies outside them. Surface readers, by contrast, find value in...

  • 4. Attention to surface as a practice of critical description
    This focus assumes that texts can reveal their own truths because texts mediate themselves; what we think theory brings to texts (form, structure, meaning) is already present in them. Description sees no need to translate the text into a theoretical or historical metalanguage in order to make the...

  • ... Such an erotics can take the form of attending to the text, or to one’s affective responses to it. Other versions of receptiveness and fidelity to the [page break] text’s surface, as opposed to suspicious and aggressive attacks on its concealed depths, include Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s “reparative reading” (discussed in the afterword to this issue), Timothy...

  • 3. Embrace of the surface as an affective and ethical stance
    Such an embrace involves accepting texts, deferring to them instead of mastering or using them as objects, and refuses the depth model of truth, which dismisses surfaces as inessential and deceptive. An early and influential statement of this approach was Susan Sontag’s “Against Interpretation”...

  • 2. Surface as the intricate verbal structure of literary language
    This understanding of surface produces close readings that do not seek hidden meanings, but focus on unraveling what Samuel Otter, in a recent account of New Formalism, has called the “linguistic density” and “verbal complexity” of literary texts. (10)

  • Thanks for this very useful suggestion for revision. I’ll have to think about it because I fear that going into the other five meanings of ‘surface’ would detract from this week’s focus on the materiality of books and other media. But FYI, let me mention the other 5 meanings of ‘surface’ (and surface reading) discussed by Best and Marcus.

    All quotes are...

  • For Gumbrecht, all of these four forms/aspects of signs are worth investigating, but he focuses on something that most scholars have largely neglected: 3. the substance of expression. In line with this, he states that his focus is on “the materialities of communication,” which he defines as “all those phenomena and conditions that contribute to the production...

  • In his essay ““Materialities / The Nonhermeneutic / Presence: An Anecdotal Account of Epistemological Shifts,” Gumbrecht distinguishes between four forms or aspects of signs:

    1. Substance of content: “the contents of the human mind before any structuring intervention” = the imagination, the imaginary

    2. Form of content: “the contents of the mind in...

  • But he invites us to ask the big questions in ways that I find inspiring, if at times exasperating. Moreover, with McLuhan’s notion that the message of any new technology or medium is “the change of scale or pace or pattern it introduces into human affairs,” we can also ask what social and psychological effects new media have that appeared or made themselves...

  • I also appreciate him because he challenges at least me to reconsider what I thought I already knew about the world. The “medium is the message” is a case in point. What he means by the ‘message’ of any new technology or medium is “the change of scale or pace or pattern it introduces into human affairs” (Understanding Media). His prime example is, of course,...

  • I see that quite a few are skeptical of McLuhan’s ideas and I get it. McLuhan was given to fairly grandiose pronouncements and to stating ideas that at times contradict one another. And at times, he’s also a fairly flippant thinker whose characteristic reply to one critical question was: “You don’t like that idea? I’ve got others.” Famously, he also...

  • I’d say that that scene in LotR is a gothic scene within a fantasy novel. Peter Jackson powerfully (and controversially) brings out such gothic elements in his LotR films, which comes as little surprise given that he directed, among other features, splatter movies before.

  • Thanks for your kind feedback, María. Talking to Hugues Marchal about his Euterpe project was both fascinating and funny for me too. I’m afraid I don’t know of any similar course in French (but that may be just me).

  • Thanks for your kind words, Jane. And let me say that I also appreciate your and several other learners' substantial contributions.

  • 3. Agreed

    4. This is an excellent example of what has been called ‘recovery work’ (the recovery of forgotten wrriters, especialls women writers by feminist critics). Here, I don’t see any opposition between distant reading and recovery work. Distant readers may well participate in recovery work—and vice versa.

  • 2. Very true; we touched upon this question in Week 4, when we considered Louis A. Montrose’s argument that “we can have no access to a full and authentic past, a lived material existence, unmediated by the surviving textual traces of the society in question − traces whose survival we cannot assume to be merely contingent but must rather presume to be at least...

  • 1. Utterly agreed. To include manuscripts in a distant reading project, you need to make them machine-readable at first. And when you do that, you will lose a lot of information they convey through features such as a) idiosyncrasies of the handwriting, b) the format of the book, c) the quality of the paper. To give an example from American literature, it makes...

  • @JaneSaunte Thanks so much for sharing your very thorough critique of distant reading. I don’t have a distant reading research project underway, so i don’t have a real stake in this. This is also why I invited my splendid colleague Hugues Marchal to present his distant reading project Euterpe this week. But I am obviously very interested in this new...

  • Great question! I'd say yes. While Tompkins herself is more interested in literary texts that directly intervene in sociopolitical issues of the day (her prime example is _Uncle Tom's Cabin_), I do agree that poems, nursery rhymes, and--I'd add--fairy tales that children learn at school or at home perform significant cultural work. Above, I also mention...

  • @KatjaAndlauer(BaselStudent) These are excellent questions. Tompkins herself is primarily interested in the influence literary texts had in their own time (how, for instance, Uncle Tom's Cabin helped galvanize Northern opposition to slavery or--to give another example--how Sinclair Lewis's The Jungle helped improve food safety). But I believe that we could...

  • I'm happy to engage with students and Learners, it's a fun part of my job (as is research; administration not so much). No, when I say 'my reading' (or 'my interpretation'), I mean just that: it's my reading, one reading among many other possible readings. This doesn't mean that any reading is as good as any other (others can be more or less precise, more or...

  • While Pound was given to stark pronouncements such as “I detest the country,” I don’t think we can (or should) map such authorial statements directly onto the poem (or any poem by any writer, for that matter). As a literary scholar, I’m very wary of such direct biographical inferences. What I try to do in close reading the poem in two videos in Week 2 is argue...

  • In my close reading of the poem in Week 2, I stage the argument that in the poem, the plural (petals, faces) relates to the singular (the crowd, the wet black bough) the way beauty relates to ugliness. To my mind, the biographical origins of the poem support that reading. Having said that, my reading of the poem is, of course, by no means the only possible...

  • Thanks for your kind words. I've chosen "In a Station of the Metro" mostly for pragmatic reasons: because it's short enough and intricate enough to demonstrate how much you can get out of a poem solely by close-reading it; because it illustrates very well some of the key tenets of imagism (and thus offers itself up to literary-historical contextualization);...

  • At the same time, I can understand very well if Pound's (or Benn's or Schmitt's or Heidegger's) sympathy for fascism forestall some, nay many a reader's appreciation of their intellect, their craftsmanship, and their immensely important role (in Pound's case) as the spiritus rector of modernism.

    What further complicates things in Pound's case, though, is...

  • I do think it's a fair observation that the leap I make from fascism to Pound's crowds in “In a Station of the Metro” is a long one, probably the longest one I make about this poem, particularly because, as I write in the text accompanying the video in Step 4.1, Pound “published ‘In a Station of the Metro’ in 1913. While the roots of fascist ideology lie in...

  • That's an excellent reading, thanks for sharing!

  • Only unlike Cleanth Brooks and other New Critics, they look for aporias, the knots in texts where the binary distinctions on which texts are based crumble. Also, unlike the New Critics, the deconstructionists don't consider texts closed 'organic units' but an endless play of signification. Finally, in speaking about the "textuality of history" (Montrose), the...

  • Good question. I'm quite fond of deconstruction and if this was a 7-week course, I'd probably devote a full week to it. Detractors have called it the 'New New Criticism' because like the original New Criticism, it focuses on the text itself and is (its critics argue) ahistorical and apolitical. I don't think the latter charge is fair since a) Derrida, the main...

  • That’s a very valid point. For more recent research, see Step 3.7 and books by N. Katherine Hayles

    Hayles, N. Katherine How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. University of Chicago Press, 2012.

    Hayles, N. Katherine Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.

    Hayles's most recent book...

  • You might like T. S. Eliot's take on this, formulated well before the digital age: https://www.futurelearn.com/comments/57661521

  • You might like T. S. Eliot's take on this, formulated well before the digital age: https://www.futurelearn.com/comments/57661521

  • You'll learn more abou that in Step 3.7.

  • I'd agree: out of the strategies discussed by Sosnoski and Hayles, it also seems to me that trespassing and de-authorizing are the two strategies that are most genuine to the digital age.

  • @JaneSaunte Oh no, don't.

  • Here's what I wrote about "skim and scan": https://www.futurelearn.com/comments/58122024

  • In Week 6, we’ll consider what Richard Bolter and David Grusin call ‘retrograde remediation,’ the process in which an older medium (in this case the print book) adopts features of a more recent medium (in this case, for instance, digital hypertext or contemporary films with their frequent cuts). The interesting examples you’re giving in this thread may well...

  • That’s an excellent point. Googling for the phrase turned up results which suggest that ‘skim and scan’ is widely used in textbooks for (American?) schools and colleges. Can you confirm this? In any case, it indeed looks like Sosnoski only covers ‘skim’ (which “refers to looking only for the general or main ideas, and works best with non-fiction (or factual)...

  • @JLeech Agreed on all counts. Let me just respond to your final question. I/we currently don’t have a research project on online reading patterns underway, so we’re not collecting Learners' responses in any systematic way. But responses like yours certainly give not only us but also all 500+ participants in this course valuable insights into what it means to...

  • @TavisReddick I think my response to J Leech (and Derek Bond) reponds to your concerns: https://www.futurelearn.com/comments/57885488. And while there are better and worse close readings of literary texts (the better ones read the text more closely), there are multiple possibilities of close-reading the same text.

  • In my book, unless you believe that a poem means what the author designed it to mean, unless, that is, you believe that the poem’s meaning is identical with the author’s intention (which I emphatically don’t), I really don’t think labelling what Vendler does “guesswork” does justice to her fine reading. But let’s agree to disagree, I can live with that.

  • You put the point on a sore spot of Vendler’s reading. Instead of talking about the ‘persona’ or the ‘poetic speaker’ of the poem--the words literary critics usually use about the figure that says ‘I’ in a poem--she talks about Whitman. Likewise, she traces what is going on in the poem back to Whitman’s mind--a fact that is already signalled by the title of...

  • This is a really nice close reading, thanks for sharing. I particularly like your comment on the connection between the “apparition” of the first line and the “wet black bough” of the second. Kudos.

  • @JLeech By encyclopedic knowledge, the New Critics indeed mean personal knowledge. And yes, the New Critics were educated men (all of the original New Critics were men, though one of the best close readers today is a woman, Helen Vendler). Yes, I can see that there might be something elitist about this. But if we acknowledge that, for close readers,...

  • No, close readers try to consider nothing but the text. Thus, they exclude from consideration not only authors' (auto)biographies, interviews, diaries, etc. (which may give a hint as to the author's intention) but also historiographies about the author's time, literary-historical inquiries into the author's involvement in literary circles, and so on.

    As far...

  • Two major differences between F. R. Leavis and the core group of New Critics are: (1) much more so than them, Leavis was concerned with the (aesthetic) judgment of literary texts, and (2) unlike most New Critics, Leavis insisted on the moral purpose of literature.

  • It was I. A. Richards who introduced the notion of 'close reading' and New Critics such as Cleanth Brooks, John Crowe Ransom, and Allen Tate who popularized the notion and placed it at the heart of literary critcism. I agree that F. R. Leavis is a supremely close reader and while he doesn't belong to the core group of New Critics (which includes Brooks,...

  • Close readers like the New Critics realize that readers' minds are not blank slates. For them, close readers can draw on encyclopedic knowledge, including dictionary definitions and the etymology of words, without leaving the realm of what the New Critics Wimsatt and Beardsley call a text's "internal evidence" in their essay "The Intentional Fallacy." Consider...

  • Joana has already responded to the first part of your comment, so let me respond to the second. Yes, you’re right, Christian, we could indeed interpret ‘crowd’ either more positively than I do (“one of community, mutual support with common goals and direction”) or more negatively (“rioters who want to hang an elected official”). There are two reasons why I...

  • We'll consider "skim/speed reading" in week 3, when we turn to James Sosnoski's identification of various strategies of hyper reading, including--yes--skimming and pecking. Sosnoski discusses these in relation to digital hypertexts, but as your discussion shows, they can also be used with print texts.

  • Yes, distant reading in most cases involves "algorithms scanning millions or billions of texts"--or 'just' thousands or hundreds of texts. But ad Franco Moretti suggests in his seminal essay "Conjectures on World Literature" it's also possible to do distant reading without the use of computers, for instance by reading (standard) literary histories of several...

  • These are excellent points, thanks for sharing your insights from art history. This makes a lot of sense. As for close readers and distant readers, yes, one can indeed see the two practices as complementary, as you do. But as we'll see in Week 5, at least the 'original' distant reader, Franco Moretti, introduced distant reading in direct and explicit...

  • What a fascinating book object Anne Carson's _Nox_ is! In week 6 (Step 6.9), we'll consider a similar experiment by the magnificent McSweeney's publisher.

  • To get a smart (and characteristically conservative) take on this, consider these lines from T. S. Eliot's "Choruses from 'The Rock'" (1934):

    Where is the Life we have lost in living?
    Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
    Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

  • See the women's own description of their project: http://thegoldennotebook.org/book/index.html#navigation-example. You’ll also learn more about the Golden Notebooks Project in week 3 (in Step 3.9).

  • The observed increased tiredness may also be due to either physiological or psychological factors. In the former case, assuming an inferior quality of the VDT text configuration, a greater mobilization of both perceptual and executive cognitive resources is invested in order to compensate for the deficiency of the information presentation. In the latter case,...

  • Mayes, Sims, and Koonce (2001) suggest that the performance detriment is not just a result of higher visual burdening but also of an increased burdening of the cognitive component of perception. Thus, the reallocation of resources from perception to cognition offers a complementary explanation for increased `tired-eyes' during VDT reading (Mayes et al., 2001)....

  • Thanks for raising this question. I am citing this claim--that “screens may also drain more of our mental resources”--from Ferris Jabr’s “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens,” which was published in the Scientific American (a journal of popular science) and provides an overview of research on the relative advantages and...

  • Another interesting question is related to the gender and/or race of the narrator of audio books. Since audio books are often read by one person (say a white man), the question is how to render speech by characters of a different gender and race (say a black woman) without falling prey to minstrelsy or cultural appropriation.

  • That's an excellent point. Yes, of course, audio books are another medium in which we 'read' literature in the digital age. I am putting 'read' in scare quotes because it's a type of 'reading' that works through listening and thus involves another sense than the one we usually associate with reading: hearing instead of listening. And if we recognize that, we...