I attended the Harvard English Institute two weeks ago, and intended to blog about it immediately.  Better late than never I hope!

The conference draws scholars from all around Boston as well as the U.S. and Canada, and makes me wonder if this is what a more local conference culture is like, rather than geographically spread out conferences North Americans often attend.  Of special interest to those of us who work on nineteenth-century literature and culture was a talk Patricia Crain (NYU) gave on “Postures and Places,” which was about children’s practices of reading in the U.S.–or, more literally, what nooks children in read or were depicted as reading in, and what physical postures they took up as they read.  Crane concentrated on the child curled up in the window seat (or sitting cross-legged in the window seat as Jane Eyre does); and on what I learned was a new practice of reading in the 1870s, the bed-time story, where a (middle-class) child is read to in bed.  This practice seemed so natural from my own middle-class childhood that it was fascinating to learn it had a history, though I suppose I should be used to that sort of revelation by now!  Crain’s talk also reminded me of Robyn Warhol’s discussion of the reading postures we take up now and the embodied experience of reading in Having a Good Cry.

Probably either of the postures Crain outlined is preferable to the way that I often read now—hunched up over my computer.  I’d be curious as to what postures and places others read in, and how it affects the experience.  Does it depend on what genre you’re reading?  Does fiction entail a more relaxed posture than criticism?

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5 thoughts on “Reading Postures

  1. Is it likely that the conference proceedings will be published? I’d love to find out more about the discussions of reading postures and places. The idea of genre affecting posture is intriguing – I’m thinking of reading scary stories and pushing further back into the seat as though that could afford some protection.

  2. Sadly I don’t think the proceedings will be published as such, but I’m sure that Crain will publish her work at some point or another!

  3. I’ll need to keep an eye out for that then – thanks for letting me know. Am going on my first longhaul flight tomorrow; it will be interesting to see how I cope having to read in a more or less upright position. I usually like to lounge nonchalantly on the sofa with my fiction books.

  4. I would love to hear more Victorian crit along the lines of “Postures and Places.” This post reminded me of a very evocative reflection on reading as an embodied practice I’d recently come across. THis is Eve Sedgwick, responding to Silvan Tomkins in Touching Feeling:

    “If, as Tomkins describes it, the lowering of the eyelids, the lowering of the eyes, the hanging of the head is the attitude of shame, it may also be that of reading: reading maps, magazines, novels, comics, and heavy volumes of psychology if not billboards and traffic signs. We (those of us for whom reading was or is a crucial form of interaction with the world) know the force-field creating power of this attitude, the kind of skin that sheer textual attention can weave around a reading body: a noisy bus station or airplane can be excluded from consciousness, an impossible ongoing scene refused, a dull classroom monologue ignored…”

  5. Oh, and I read nineteenth-century literature upright, at my desk or in a café. I tend to mark up these novels pretty viciously, and I want some physical and mental leverage over my text. Contemporary lit is typically read in bed, with the book on top.

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