Kate Holterhoff responds to Sheila Liming

Sheila Liming’s review emphasizes what she terms “the dialectical tensions between simplicity and complexity” investigated by Sarah Allison’s Reductive Reading. I appreciated the bald manner in which Liming frames this issue, and I can understand why this aspect of Allison’s monograph interests her. Although this binary did not make as great an impression on me, I was convinced by Liming’s focus on dialectical reasoning: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. While the role of reductive reading seems at first to stand in opposition to complexity, Liming explains that because “[t]he thesis is the antithesis… albeit in gestational form.” Framed in this way Allison’s argument that “reductionism” is, in fact, complex, makes good sense.

At her review’s end, Liming identifies several important doors that Allison’s project unlocks by way of including questions about pedagogy and contemporary critical practice. When she questions the manner in which Allison’s book informs “how we teach those kinds of skills [relating to surface reading] within English curricula, not simply how we employ them in our research,” I was struck by the extensibility of this claim. Thinking particularly of Middlemarch, I wonder what undergraduates might gain from attending to the “‘surface’ features, of reading” which have permitted Sharon Marcus and Stephen Best to move away from symptomatic reading. While I suspect adopting “[adjective] reading” (to use Paul Fyfe’s phrase) will pose serious challenges in the undergraduate classroom, it may also open up the texts of Eliot and others. I am grateful to Liming for asking whether Reductive Reading may in fact disclose new ways to teach literature and theory.

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