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Senior Research Seminar: Dr Adam Reed

When Nov 18, 2016
from 04:15 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Edmund Leach Seminar Room, Social Anthropology
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Dr Adam Reed
(University of St Andrews)

Minor Character Reading: tracing an English literary society through its culture of investigation

This talk takes Woloch’s notion of the ‘distribution of attention’ between characters in the novel as a starting point for considering an anthropological approach to cultures of reading (in part prompted by an invitation from English colleagues putting together a special issue of the PMLA). The analysis works through my ethnographic study of a British literary society: The Henry Williamson Society (the named author is a now largely forgotten twentieth century English nature writer and historical novelist). More specifically, I seek to excavate the ways readers enthusiastically commit to the characters of Williamson’s novels. Indeed, I investigate the appeal of the minor character, both as a loved feature of the books and as an ontological position for readers to adopt themselves (readers sometimes like to imagine that they are minor characters in their own lives). The talk places Woloch’s literary analysis in dialogue with the anthropological theory of ‘distributed agency’ developed by Gell in order to examine further the idea of the reader as someone who ‘gives’ and may in turn ‘receive’ attention. It concludes by asking whether it might be more helpful to conceive of their activities as a form of reading without ‘culture’; a query intended to redirect our attention to the potentiality of considering that if plurality must be invoked it might better be located in the dynamism of the reading person.

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