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OverwhelmedLiterature, Aesthetics, and the Nineteenth-Century Information Revolution$
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Maurice S. Lee

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691192925

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691192925.001.0001

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(p.19) Chapter One Reading

Maurice S. Lee

Princeton University Press

This chapter reviews some roots of modern literary criticism by showing how some romantics respond to textual excess by variously resisting and adopting informational strategies of skimming and excerpting. A main concept of the chapter is “deserted island reading,” an ideal of immersive literary experience formed in opposition to mass print. The fantasy of losing oneself in a book unfolds across the legacy of Robinson Crusoe, which projects an account of intensive hermeneutics from the eighteenth through the nineteenth centuries. Deserted island reading was especially attractive to romantics such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a founding figure of modern close reading whose aesthetics and interpretive practices were formed under the pressures of information. But whereas Coleridge offers an agonistic example of the relationship between information and literature, Ralph Waldo Emerson presents a more modulated case in which the prophet of subjectivity, intuition, and motility that proves surprisingly open to informational modes of reading.

Keywords:   literary criticism, deserted island, Robinson Crusoe, hermeneutics, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Ralph Waldo Emerson

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