Paul Fyfe responds to Sheila Liming

According to Liming, Reductive Reading may ultimately “pursue the same ends” as more familiar forms of literary criticism on the hunt for complexity. If so, Liming continues, two important questions arise. Who benefits from its “different kind of process”? And what are the implications for teaching literature? I have wondered if these questions share an answer. In my experience, at least, students have seemed to benefit more than professional literary critics from experiments with quantitative methods. Not necessarily from teaching students statistical analysis, but inviting students to try different reductive strategies, to generatively deform texts, which can helpfully defamiliarize what critical reading otherwise assumes, what objects or relations it discovers. These activities can also stretch the critical imagination to consider alternative and creative methodologies.[1] By contrast, I am not yet seeing professional critics of the nineteenth-century novel building their arguments based on citations of quantitative studies. That may change, of course. And it may change as more of those critics adapt digital pedagogy, rather than accommodating published digital research methods, into their day-to-day experiences.

[1] For context and a set of pedagogical examples, see Rachel Sagner Buurma, “Reading,” in Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments, ed. Rebecca Frost Davis et al. (New York: Modern Language Association, 2015),

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