Critical Reading Strategies
The University of Minnesota published a guideline on critical reading, called Critical Reading Strategies.
Click here (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. for the document.
These guidelines suggest reading in an active and engaged way in order to analyze, evaluate, and understand texts. They recommend:
1. Identifying what you’re reading for. Answer the following questions:
1. Why am I reading this text? Is it for general content? To complete a written assignment? To research information?
2. Allowing yourself enough time to read. I recommend giving yourself about one hour for every 25 pages of reading.
1. Note: Get comfortable with the feeling of struggling to read. Many of the texts we encounter this semester are very old. These readings may be obscure, difficult to understand, while reflecting cultural values that may be alien to you. I recommend paying attention to these feelings of discomfort as you read, and then using them to investigate the text further.
1. Example: You notice there is a lot of repetition in the Epic of Gilgamesh so you decide to look into it. You find out that the translation history of Epic of Gilgamesh involves a great deal of transcription from fragmented cuneiform tablets into our written text system.
3. Previewing the text. Does the text have any headings or sub-headings? If so, what are they? Does it include an introduction? If so, what does the introduction have to say? What does the text look like on the page? Literally–does it take up a lot of space? Bigger/smaller margins? Use block writing or stanzas?
4. Engaging. I cannot stress it enough: get in the habit of reading with a pen or pencil in hand. Write in the margins. Circle things you find important. Develop a notation system that reflects your thoughts or feelings as you read.
1. You may draw an angry face next to the section where Gilgamesh insults the goddess Ishtar. You might underline the stanza in which Gilgamesh and Enkidu confront the monster, Humbaba.
2. What the texts says vs what it does. Take time to summarize the text says. What is the main idea? How is the main idea supported? Now ask yourself: how does it do that? Does it use imagery? Metaphor? Repetition? Simple or complicated language?
What is World Literature?
David Damrosch is known for his extensive work in world literature and comparative literature. He is also the director of Harvard’s The Institute for World Literature (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. In “Introduction: Goethe Coins a Phrase,” Damrosch provides a brief history of world literature as a literary field, and also defines world literature in terms of translation and circulation. See below for the PDF.
· The concept of “world literature” as a literary field comes into the Western World through Goethe’s term, weltliteratur. It’s important to note that Goethe was not the first to use weltliteratur to describe literature(s), but his meaning of the term has become the most popular.
· Goethe conceived of literature as a network with somewhat economic characteristics. Weltliteraturdescribes the “traffic in ideas between peoples, a literary market to which the nations bring their intellectual treasures for exchange” (Strich qtd in Damrosch 3)
· Weltliteratur is therefore not a genre, but an action–it is the exchange of ideas between peoples of different cultures, nations, or regions.
· Damrosch defines world literature as: “all literary works that circulate beyond their culture of origin, either in translation or in their original language… a work only has an effective life as world literature whenever, and wherever, it is actively present within a literary system beyond that of its original culture (4)
Note: there are two important take-aways from Damrosch’s definition.
The first is that, for a text to engage with the world, it must circulate outside the original culture in translation or in its own language. For example, I live and work int he U.S. If I write a novel, that novel will have to leave the U.S. either in English OR translated into another language for it to be considered a world literature text.
The second takeaway is that a work needs to form a notable and active part within a literary system in order to be a world literature text. For example, if I write that novel, but no one reads it… It isn’t really active or notable.
· Finally, Damrosch believes it is important to consider translation when you’re reading a world literature text. He writes: “Translation is always involved in what Fernando Ortiz described in 1940 as transculuración, and if we do want to see the work of world literature as a window on different parts of the world, we have to take into account the way its images have been multipl refracted in the process of transculturation (24)
Damrosch means there’s no such thing as a 1:1 translation. Basically, no translated text is ever exactly the same in translation as it is in the original language. Consider this video (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. of Google Translate‘s attempt to translate the theme song from Fresh Prince in a 1:1 way. It makes very little sense, right? Especially as the song moves through multiple translations!
Pascale Casanova is a French literary critic and professor at Duke University. She is known for her book La République mondiale des Lettres (The World Republic of Letters). The main premise of her book is that literature should be understood as a literary system that operates on a world scale. Our next reading is an excerpt from that book. See below for the PDF.
· Defines world literary space as “a set of interconnected positions, which must be thought and described in relational terms” (194). In other words, texts should be understood as operating with and against other texts, but on a global scale.
· Positions in world literary space
· Pascale argues that one indicator of position within global literary space are international prizes, like the Nobel Prize for literature. The Nobel Institute has a lot of influence and is widely known. Winning a Nobel Prize for literature puts a text “on the map,” so to speak by making it visible to people who would not otherwise know about it (195-96). Wining a Nobel Prize for literature also creates hierarchies, in which other texts are measured and evaluated against Nobel Prize winners.
· Pascale argues another indicator of position within global literary space is time. Specifically, whose time is used to define or locate a text. For example, texts that are conceived as “Modern” or “Contemporary” are used to judge which texts are judged NOT Modern or Contemporary (196)
· World literary space is characterized by its hierarchy and inequality. That is to say, some texts are set above others, and some texts are thought to have more worth than others (201)