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Close reading and critical analysis

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John Richardson

on 31 October 2016

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Transcript of Close reading and critical analysis

Close reading in humanities research on the arts and culture
Literary criticism
Influence of literary hermeneutics in Germany,
explication de texte
in France, anglophone New Criticism. "Close reading" first used in the New Criticism of I.A.Richards.
Emphasis on
came from Wimsatt and Beardsley; agency important in current criticism but author "bracketted", does not determine meaning
Loss of innocence or post-Kantian turn in recent decades: texts become meaningful in relation to the social world and cultural make-up of readers
Close reading is a necessary first step for interpretations that are more than opinions or biased towards preexisting Grand Theories
Film criticism
Close reading in Laura Mulvey's theories of the gaze and spectatorship (e.g., 1975)
Not purely formalistic; the gaze belongs to someone; reflects cultural assumptions
Death 24X A Second
(2006) is a psychoanalytic and ecological close reading; she examines films on the microlevel
close reading widespread in film theory and consequently in audiovisual analysis
David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson are strong advocates of close reading; which they call close
analysis (more formalistic)
Popular music studies
Position of close reading in popular music studies reflects longstanding tensions
More commonly used in inter-arts approaches (music, song texts or audiovisual materials); e.g, Lori Burns, Adam Krims, John Richardson, Carol Vernallis
Implicit uses in many cases: "reading" or "interpretative analysis". Stan Hawkins, Richard Middleton, David Bracket, Allan Moore, Rob Walser, Derek Scott, Anahid Kassabian, Freya Jarman, etc.
traditional and cultural
Are music analysis and music theory close reading?
In other arts & culture fields,
implies interpreting or representation
Cultural analyses that attend to textual/textural details of sounds and/or simultaneously presented modalities
Lawrence Kramer's "hermeneutic windows" and "constructive description"
in phenomenology and "thick description" (Geertz) in anthropology resemble close reading
Close reading in recent humanities studies
Closer reading
Close reading and digital culture
Close reading
Hyper reading
Machine reading
Reference to a selection many texts (multilocal)
Hyper reading is "reader-directed, screen-based, computer-assisted reading” (James Sosnoski, 1999). Cf. Manovich's database; Nicholas Cook's "multimedia mentality" (vs. autonomy mentality)
Digital media, including search queries (Google search), keyword filtering, skimming, hyperlinking, "pecking" and fragmenting
Employs short term memory: useful for rapid acquisition of superficial information; valuable tool in research (scanning and skimming; "F-pattern" reading), combined with close reading
Sustained concentration and deep learning difficult
Context poor, information fragmentary, hard to perceive connections, understand character or causation
Might change brain structure; loss of reading and writing skils
Reference to a single text (monolocal)
Associated with printed media (L.A. Richards contrasted close reading with the media explosion of his time (television)
Promotes deep understanding
Employs long term memory and therefore facilitates learning
Sustained attention allows us to perceive connections and different hierarchical levels
Allows closer connection to narrative and character we learn to empathize
Context rich: allows us to perceive connections in a text and to other texts through allusions, citations and inclusions

Hayles calls for synergies between close reading, hyper reading and machine reading, as each has advantages and limitations
We must learn to be bitextual or multitextual, able to read and analyze in different ways
Machine reading:
"the automatic, unsupervised understanding of text" ( Etzioni, Banko and Cafarella)
Machines extract data and draw inferences on texts
Machines as prosthetic extensions of human capabilities. Computers search databases for all instances of certain linguistic form, in music, melodic variation or pitch classes
Some research in cognitive musicology, formalist film analysis, and marketing analyses uses machine reading. Lev Manovich analyses digital culture with machine reading
Hayles calls it "distant reading" (after Moretti)
Surface reading concentrates on the overt message rather than something hidden within it (inverse to "symptomatic reading"); the text, the medium, the material, sound (vs. music)
Some close readings focus on aesthetic value, not in the traditional, Kantian/Hanslickian way, but by foregrounding sensory experience
Research on affect, pleasure and their cultural value
The cultural study of objects; Sedgwick Kosofsky's reparative reading (vs. paranoid reading); weak theory (vs. strong theory)
Close reading a good match for ecocriticism/ecological perspectives
Bibliography on close reading
Bal, Mieke.
Traveling Concepts in the Humanities: A Rough Guide
. Toronto: Unversity of Toronto Press, 2002.
Blum, Stephen, “In Defense of Close Reading and Close Listening.”
Current Musicology
53 (Fall 1992): 18-54.
Burns, Lori and Melissa Lafrance.
Disruptive Divas: Feminism, Identity & Popular Music
. New York: Routledge, 2002.
Cook, Nicholas. “Beyond Music: Mashup, Multimedia Mentality, and Intellectual Property.” In
The Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics
, ed. John Richardson, Claudia Gorbman and Carol Vernallis, 53-76. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
Hawkins, Stan, “Musicological Quagmires in Popular Music: Seeds of Detailed Conflict,”
Popular Musicology Online
1 (2001), available online: http://www.popular-musicology-online.com/issues/01/hawkins.html.
Hayles, N. Katherine.
How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis
. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.
Kramer, Lawrence.
Music as Cultural Practice 1800-1900
. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.
Kramer, Lawrence.
Musical Meaning: Towards a Critical History
. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
Krims, Adam.
Rap Music and the Poetics of Identity.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2000.
Krims, Adam. “Postmodern Musical Poetics and the Problem of ‘Close Reading’.” In
Music/Ideology: Resisting the Aesthetic
, ed. Adam Krims. OPA: Amsterdam, 1998, 1-14.
Middleton, Richard. ed.
Reading Pop: approaches to textual analysis in popular music
. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema".
16.3 (1975): 6–18.
Mulvey, Laura.
Death 24 X A Second
. London: Reaktion Books, 2006.
Richards, I. A.
Principles of Literary Criticism.
(1924) New York: Harcourt Brace, 1961.
Richardson, John.
Singing Archaeology: Philip Glass's Akhnaten
. Hanover NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1999.
Richardson, John. A
n Eye for Music: Popular Music and the Audiovisual Surreal.
New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Scott, Derek,
From the Erotic to the Demonic: On Critical Musicology
. New York and Oxford Oxford University Press, 2003.
Thompson, Kristin. Good, old-fashioned love (i.e., close analysis) of film,
David Bordwell's website on cinema
, http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2013/06/12/good-old-fashioned-love-i-e-close-analysis-of-film/
Wimsatt, W. K. and Monroe C. Beardsley.
The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky
, 1954.
Frames and
are key concepts in Mieke Bal's view of cultural analysis.
Like concepts, frames are mobile, we can zoom from one level to the next. A close reading can shift from one frame of reference to the next.
Bringing frames into view makes the actions of the framer visible, thereby demystifying fixed cultural constructs and revealing agency
Close reading a
rather than method: each researcher has unique approach
Close readings are shaped to the object of study and they respond to different configurations of form and media
Concepts are more important than theories; latter impose a preexisting viewpoint. Still, studies with a strong theoretical slant also employ close reading
Concepts are in a natural and productive state of flux as they move across disciplines and objects; we test them on our objects of study
Close readings are based on assumptions about intersubjectivity which need to be argued rather than taken for granted (in this way they eschew essentialism)
Example 3: Synergy of close reading and database logic in Gangnam Style Without Music (2012)

Compiled by Mikolaj Gackowski, original video featuring Psy and directed by Cho Soo-hyun, 2012)
One of the new, more participatory music video forms. (See Korsgaard in
The Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics)
Gackowski uses the digital archive to a decontextualize
contextualize a product of digital consumer culture
A mixture of database production and speculative closer reading

Close Reading and Critical Analysis
John Richardson
Professor and Chair of Musicology
University of Turku

Criticism and critical analysis
critical musicology in the UK and US in the 1990s strongly influenced by critical theory/cultural studies
traditions of arts criticism (methodologically driven) vs cultural critique (theory driven), the latter influenced by Frankfurt School of cultural research (Horkheimer, Adorno, Benjamin). Arts criticism a practice involving description, analysis, interpretation and evaluation.
Reflection on taken-for-granted assumptions (ideology, "false consciousness"), challenging them when necessary
spatial assumptions of critical theory. Critical distancing: necessary to be outside culture in order to understand it .
Outsider's position in cultural criticism similar to traditional anthropologist's outsider's position
More recent critiques of critique: Paul Ricoeur and Eve-Kosofsky Sedgwick on "the hermeneutics of suspicion"
A recent move towards description and experience more than interpretation and theory
Sedgwick's reparative vs. paranoid reading
Doing close readings
Audiovisual analysis
Performance analysis
visual editing
intertextual references
agency and authorship
framing questions, art/life
agency and authorship
location and space
intertextual references
relationship to social and cultural constructs
place and boundaries
Time and history
who participates,
what is their role?
narrative or temporal layers?
voice and identity
Analysis of recorded song
Steps in composing a close reading
Close readings may include tables, graphs, illustrations, taxonomies and other diversions but the principle means are literary. The temporal flow of writing can lend itself to the description of experiences
, such as internet ethnography, traditional ethnography, discourse analysis, quantitative methods and so on
including postcolonial studies, youth studies, gender and queer studies, eco-criticism, studies of place, nation and so on.
, thematically, conceptually, chronologically and so on.
The most convincing close readings zoom in on significant details but don't lose track of larger structures or contexts. Close reading is a form of analysis and therefore selective. OCD readings are not desirable.
, are central in many forms of close reading while others forms challenge traditional ideas about authorship (e.g., poststructuralism and posthumanism)
, in order to be responsive to the text the writing must by fluid by precise
reflexivity of researcher and importance of reader response

Close reading has changed from time of printed media to digital media
Close reading can seem to non-humanities scholars overly intuitive and under-theorised; but its weaknesses can be thought of as strengths, viz. the ability of close readings to shape themselves to materials
Experiences of art are inseparable from the actuality of art
art -- interwoven with worldly factors like performance setting, the inter-subjective backgrounds of actors, and cultural milieu.
To qualify as a reading, an analysis must disclose for contestation its underlying epistemological assumptions.
Premises of close reading
Mieke Bal calls close reading cultural analysis
“Close reading of music brings with it the specter of closed reading, a reading that isolates and essentializes the social/historical practice of music” (Krims 1998, 4).
Bal's concept of "framing" is a useful starting point for cultural analysis. It resembles similar concepts by Erving Goffman and Gregory Bateson
Framing implies both the agency of the framer and that of the person who recognizes the frame – framing is something cultural agents do rather than something that exists
Framing calls into question naturalised assumptions about “text” and “context”
Perceptual flickering between co-existing frames of reference is an normal response to the present cultural situation
Frames are crucial in understanding the cultural meanings of artefacts and practices. They never simply demarcate exteriors but constitute the objects they contain.
Cultural analysis and framing
Titon and Slobin’s (2002, 16) music-culture performance model conflated into a single diagram (originally two separate diagrams).
Simon Emmerson’s model of sound field frames (Emmerson 1999, 137.)
Framing in music research
Audiovisual commentary on hydroelectric power
Sigur Rós in Heima (2007, dir. Dean DeBlois)
Still Life
(2006, dir. Jia Jhanke)
Woodie Guthrie and the Columbia River Project
Touring the immense ducts and gigantic turbines [Glass] marveled at the act of imagination through which humankind was transforming nature, an undertaking comparable in daring and inventiveness to the construction of the Egyptian pyramids. He knew immediately that the choral-symphonic work for the Atlanta commission would be inspired by the Itaipú dam: “I looked at it and said, I know the piece!"
Itaipú (1989)
by Philip Glass
I think the UFO and the other special-effects shots are an extension of what I did in The World. With the speeding up of the transformation process, especially in the last two years, many aspects of Chinese life have become absurd, surreal. I used the special effects precisely because my conversations with friends kept turning to how unreal things had become. The monument that flies off was designed by a classmate of Liu Xiadong’s. That means our generation is implicated in the absurdity too; we can’t just blame the older generation! (…) I took one look at [the monument] and though it was begging to fly off. The sudden collapse of an apartment building was based on something that happened to me in Wenzhou. I was talking with some friends when a building outside was dynamited. I was gobsmacked. (Jia 2006.)
Jia on "surrealism" in Still Life
Responses to Iceland's Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant
The Stop Group's concert (2006) to protest the construction of the Kárahnjúkar Dam and Alcoa's Aluminum Plant
Damon Albarn
Sigur Rós
Damien Rice
concert in 2006 to protest dam construction, two months after Stop Group protest
Draumalandið (Dreamland) - book and documentary film by Andri Snær Magnason (2010), film dir. also Þorfinnur Guðnason
widely read and influential book in Iceland, adapted for film
cultural-historical critical overview of Icelandic energy policy written in absurdist humorous tone
film soundtrack by composer Valgeir Sigurðsson
Kárahnjúkar project and proliferation of hydroelectric schemes motivated by aluminum smelting a central topic
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