Let's Lay Some Ground Rules

To head this off at the pass, this entry on this blog will not count as part of the 8-post series I’m definitively calling “Close-Reading Everything." However, because the nature of close reading is somewhat esoteric and grounded very much in the academic world, I thought it might be worth it to set some ground rules and discuss what this series will and won’t be interested, so that we’re all on the same page moving forward. Next week we begin in earnest.

Close reading is the discipline of exploring every last bit of thought an author or filmmaker or artist could have put into their work. It is the art of analyzing metaphor and simile and connotation and denotation and reference and word order and. Nothing is too fine, too granular, or too seemingly insignificant to be explored. Doing this kind of analysis opens our eyes not jut to all the ways creators are consciously thinking about their work, but also to what motivates that thought. When we take as much into account as creators do, we come closer to an understanding of what they are trying to tell us. 

What I won’t be taking into account in this series, though, is the broader context of a work and it’s creators. That’s because this would require some serious research for me to speak with any real authority on, and I don’t want to present a half-baked thought grounding the text in the creator’s politics or philosophy or childhood trauma. This is not to say that I don’t value criticism that explores the context of a work. The fact that, for example, “The Matrix” was written, directed, and produced by two transgendered women who later came out as such and have spoken to how personal to the film was to both of them has a huge impact on its meaning as a text that it is possible, meaningful, and necessary to explore, and the influence creators have on their texts and vice versa is profoundly fascinating to me. However, I don’t believe that I have the time to right now to do such a topic justice, though I fully encourage you to seek out writers who can.

On the other hand, something that I will be taking into account beyond the single sentence or panel or shot that I’m close reading with you all will be its place in the narrative as a whole, becasue that should both be informed by and inform the moment itself, and serves, far better than any other method of analysis, as a helpful way to “check my work”. There is no greater confirmation or refutation of a close reading than the place of an analyzed passage in the broader framing of a text, and the  will supersede any micro-meaning you read into  always always always. I don’t care how deeply or brilliantly you analyze Captain Ahab’s final speech in Moby Dick to prove that it’s a genuinely hopeful, uplifting moment about the power of mankind to challenge the divine and natural spheres with nothing but bravery, willpower, and ingenuity; the characterization of Ahab throughout the novel and the fact that the speech ends with him messing up a throw of his harpoon and being killed by the whale he’s ostensibly been hunting the entire time in a savagely anticlimactic moment tells you exactly what the text intends to say: shove your glory-seeking, heroes can suck it. That will be my guiding light throughout this eight weeks, my north star: whatever conclusions my analysis comes to must be supported by the broader structure of the text itself. Hopefully you all enjoy the journey. 

With excitement and optimism,

Alex

P.S. In a nifty little tweak, I’ve actually changed the title of my blog in my website’s main navigation menu itself!