Paying Attention

By Stella Prozesky.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper will show how Victorian, modern and post modern theory endorse close reading. It will open with Ruskin’s grave 1864 admonition to readers: remember that there are very many books and we are free to choose from among them, but, ‘[l]ife is short… have you measured this short life? Do you know that, if you read this, you cannot read that?’ Ruskin distinguishes between ‘books of the hour’ and ‘books of all time’. ‘Books of the hour’ are indubitably pleasant, but pernicious if they supplant ‘real’ books. ‘Real’ books are books meant to last, which try to express some insight which the writer’s ‘share of sunshine and earth’ has enabled him to grasp. Ruskin enjoins readers to ‘fit [themselves] for a place among the well-read few of the earth’. This is not literary elitism. This is what the Victorian Ruskin calls ‘reading with real accuracy’, the modern critic Steiner the ‘mind’s tensed apprehension of meaning’ and post modern neuroscience ‘paying rapt attention’. The paper will show how neuroscience and psychology currently demonstrate the profoundly positive effects of rapt attention. Close reading results not only in an educated but in a healthy mind. The paper will conclude, as it will open, with Ruskin’s prose, indisputably 19th Century, but strikingly relevant to 21st century readers: No book is worth anything which is not worth much; nor is it serviceable, until it has been read, and reread, and loved, and loved again; and marked, so that you can refer to the passages you want in it as a housewife brings the spice she needs from her store. Bread of flour is good: but there is bread, sweet as honey, if we would eat it, in a good book.

Keywords: Close Reading, Ruskin, Steiner, Rapt Attention, Good Books

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp.1-8. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 896.868KB).

Stella Prozesky

Lecturer, Department of English Studies, The University of South Africa, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa

I teach English Literature at under graduate and post graduate level in a distance learning institution, which also conducts contact sessions. My Masters degree from the Universiy of Liverpool, United Kingdom, is in Victorian Literature; my Phd, with which I am busy at present, is on the modern poet, Jessica Powers.


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