Reading and Error

I’m in the final work of editing down an article to potentially publishable brevity, and there’s a moment where I realize there’s an absent connection, a place where it switches tracks and goes into a weird place. It’s an article that deals in part with reading and self-awareness while reading, and I’d like to leave that moment of confusion in  there.

It makes me think of student error in composition papers, and how composition instructors read student papers. When do we notice that things get weird, and why? And what does it signal to us?

Imagine you’re in a small seminar-sized professional development meeting for first-year composition instructors, and you’re talking about how to read student papers, and the topic of error comes up. What if, instead of having the instrumental conversation, somebody at the meeting handed out a photocopy of the Charles Kinbote Foreword to John Shade’s Pale Fire, as represented in the Nabokov novel of the same name? What if you took turns reading it out loud, together, for the half hour or forty minutes or so that it took, and you agreed to use a pencil and mark only the moments where things got weird for you as a reader?

Do you characterize those moments as places that are problematic, or places that are interesting?

Oh, but some will say, composition students don’t know what they’re doing like Nabokov did. My response: what about Kinbote? And isn’t part of the fascination looking at what Kinbote does? And might that not help us think about how we might be more fascinated by students?

I want to leave in the place where it switches tracks because it makes a moment of difficulty right where I’m talking about making moments of difficulty. That’s a big leap to make, though: to ask readers to say, “Wait, what?” and still ask them to go back to it.

Reading and Error

One thought on “Reading and Error

  • March 5, 2015 at 4:40 pm
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    Mike, would you plan to signal by some typographical means the onset of weirdness? Your post — the part about inviting readers to back — reminds me of passages in Mitch Cullin’s A Slight Trick of the Mind which seem to be repetitions of previous passages but the novel centres on the failing powers of retention of an aged Sherlock Holmes so it is fitting thematically. The category that you and your hypothetical readers of Nabokov’s Pale Fire are working with might be motivated weirdness which seems from this angle to be an extended batch of irony.

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