Anna Gibson responds to Nate Crocker
Crocker draws our attention to the duality of “reading with the senses” in Coombs’s book. There’s my literal sensory experience of reading this book: the physics of my eyes flitting over black marks on the paper as I hold it in my hands, trying to reign in my attention and shut out other sensory experiences: the heat, an itch on my cheek, the sound of my daughter laughing in the next room. But for Coombs reading with the senses is less about “the book’s concrete reality” and more about its virtual reality: a sensory world of characters and places conjured up by the words so vividly that I can almost see Grandcourt’s face and feel Gwendolyn’s guilt. One sensory world is replaced with another. Crocker’s reference to Victorians “sens[ing] through their texts” suggests to me a type of Victorian virtual reality that asks us—as Coombs does—to rethink our critical approach to nineteenth-century literature. When Coombs describes “thinking about literature as a style of access to the world,” he invites us to engage in a new type of “close” reading, one that recognizes how literary texts throw us into a virtual perceptual world by somewhat strangely divorcing us from our own (174). Indeed, Crocker’s response to reading Reading with the Senses made me wonder whether it’s possible for criticism to do something similar, offering interpretations not by asking us to drag ourselves out of experience into a realm of pure conceptual thought, but by reactivating our sensual experiences of the text.
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