The Individual Reader

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How do we read? For critics, now a few years deep into what has been called “the method wars”, the approaches are numerous, but most of all, are collective. Whether critique or postcritique, or the idiosyncratic in between, what is undeniable about the explosion of methods beyond the hermeneutics of suspicion is that it renders us, critics, in the plural. In his first collection of essays and interviews, Strong Opinions, Vladimir Nabokov proclaimed that “a work of art has no importance whatever to society. It is only important to the individual, and only the individual reader is important to me”, but as Zadie Smith despaired in her 2004 essay “Read Better”, “the idea of the ‘individual reader’ [has] gone into terminal decline”. Looking to the contemporary autocritical novel, however, we find plenty of readers resistant to the interpretative habits of professional readers, drawing attention to the limitations of institutional reading and extoling the aesthetic affordances of reading limited to the individual. Rather than rehashing the motivations and sensibilities involved and required by reading critically that the method wars have revived, then, this article submits to the “individual reader” offered by autocritical novels by Rachel Cusk, Ben Lerner, and Valeria Luiselli.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalCritique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sept 2020

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  • Valeria Luiselli
  • Ben Lerner
  • literature and crisis
  • close reading
  • affect
  • autocritique
  • Rachel Cusk
  • postcritical turn

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