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Journal Article

Surface Reading: An Introduction

Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus
Representations
Vol. 108, No. 1 (Fall 2009), pp. 1-21
DOI: 10.1525/rep.2009.108.1.1
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/rep.2009.108.1.1
Page Count: 21
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Surface Reading: An Introduction
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Abstract

In the text-based disciplines, psychoanalysis and Marxism have had a major influence on how we read, and this has been expressed most consistently in the practice of symptomatic reading, a mode of interpretation that assumes that a text's truest meaning lies in what it does not say, describes textual surfaces as superfluous, and seeks to unmask hidden meanings. For symptomatic readers, texts possess meanings that are veiled, latent, all but absent if it were not for their irrepressible and recurring symptoms. Noting the recent trend away from ideological demystification, this essay proposes various modes of "surface reading" that together strive to accurately depict the truth to which a text bears witness. Surface reading broadens the scope of critique to include the kinds of interpretive activity that seek to understand the complexity of literary surfaces---surfaces that have been rendered invisible by symptomatic reading.

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