Yesterday I made a 27-minute audio lecture to guide students through this week’s reading & assignment. Mainly it focuses on Hayles’ “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine, and it talks about how you might approach crafting your response to Mark Sample‘s “House of Leaves of Grass.”
I know you DH 306 students all read Stephen Ramsay’s The Hermenuetics of Screwing Around two weeks ago. Stephen begins: so many books, so little time. Even before the Internet, it was was impossible to master all knowledge. This Book Wheel was a Renaissance invention to cope with the abundance of books available after the invention of the printing press. As literary studies grew from a hobby into a profession, scholars established the (western) canon as a different kind of Book Wheel: the literary texts deemed the most influential and endowed with the capacity to distill our common culture. Even the “canon wars” of the 1990s, when queers, women and nonwhite men radically expanded what was taught on campuses and what counted as our common cultural heritage, there persisted a belief that “the canon” inhered.
Ramsay takes us in a different direction. Acknowledging the pull of the “vast [digital] archive” on our time and attention, Ramsay ends his essay with a “Screwmeneutical Imperative”:
There are so many books. There is so little time. Your ethical obligation is neither to read them all nor to pretend that you have read them all, but to understand each path through the vast archive as an important moment in the world’s duration — as an invitation to community, relationship, and play.
Does the “Screwmeneutical Imperative” announce the end of common culture? Will our paths intersect more broadly than those that link people talking together on Twitter?
Something to think about as you navigate your way through the 100 trillion stanzas of “House of Leaves of Grass”!