Though close reading is commonly associated with New Criticism (a movement that dominated literary studies in the U.S. from the 1930s to the 1970s), the method is ancient. It was advocated by the Roman rhetorician Quintilian in his Institutio Oratoria (c. 95 AD).
Close reading remains a fundamental critical method practiced in diverse ways by a wide range of readers in different disciplines. One form of close reading is rhetorical analysis.
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- "We all begin as close readers. Even before we learn to read, the process of being read aloud to, and of listening, is one in which we are taking in one word after another, one phrase at a time, in which we are paying attention to whatever each word or phrase is transmitting. Word by word is how we learn to hear and then read, which seems only fitting, because it is how the books we are reading were written in the first place.
"The more we read, the faster we can perform that magic trick of seeing how the letters have been combined into words that have meaning. The more we read, the more we comprehend, the more likely we are to discover new ways to read, each one tailored to the reason why we are reading a particular book."
(Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them. HarperCollins, 2006)
- "'English studies' is founded on the notion of close reading, and while there was a period in the late 1970s and early 1980s when this idea was frequently disparaged, it is undoubtedly true that nothing of any interest can happen in this subject without close reading."
(Peter Barry, Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory, 2nd ed. Manchester Univ. Press, 2002)
- In its analyses, new criticism . . . focuses on phenomena such as multiple meaning, paradox, irony, word play, puns, or rhetorical figures, which--as the smallest distinguishable elements of a literary work--form interdependent links with the overall context. A central term often used synonymously with new criticism is close reading. It denotes the meticulous analysis of these elementary features, which mirror larger structures of a text."
(Mario Klarer, An Introduction to Literary Studies, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2004)
- "[A] rhetorical text appears to hide--to draw attention away from--its constitutive strategies and tactics. Consequently, close readers have to employ some mechanism for piercing the veil that covers the text so as to see how it works. . . .
"The principal object of close reading is to unpack the text. Close readers linger over words, verbal images, elements of style, sentences, argument patterns, and entire paragraphs and larger discursive units within the text to explore their significance on multiple levels."
(James Jasinski, Sourcebook on Rhetoric: Key Concepts in Contemporary Rhetorical Studies. Sage, 2001)
- "What, really, does a critical close reader do that the average person on the street does not do? I argue that the close-reading critic reveals meanings that are shared but not universally and also meanings that are known but not articulated. The benefit of revealing such meanings is to teach or enlighten those who hear or read the critique. . . .
"The critic's job is to uncover these meanings in such a way that people have an 'aha!' moment in which they suddenly agree to the reading, the meanings the critic suggests suddenly come into focus. The standard of success for the close reader who is also a critic is therefore the enlightenment, insights, and agreement of those who hear or read what he or she has to say."
(Barry Brummett, Techniques of Close Reading. Sage, 2010)
- "[I]n the traditional view, close reading does not aim to produce the meaning of the text, but rather to unearth all possible types of ambiguities and ironies."
(Jan van Looy and Jan Baetens, "Introduction: Close Reading Electronic Literature." Close Reading New Media: Analyzing Electronic Literature. Leuven Univ. Press, 2003)