Dr. Veena Mani, Department of English, Stella Maris College (Autonomous), Chennai spoke on “(Im)prints: Reading for Different Purposes” organised by the Department of English, University of Hyderabad (UoH). She began by observing that readers ought to be clear in their minds about their purposes in reading. Readers will be better equipped to focus on relevant aspects of texts and may see significant ideas and references readers with other immediate purposes might have overlooked. She cautioned readers to reflect on the usual distractions while reading, as they reveal various associations and connections their minds make between the text and other texts or experiences. Readers ought to understand a text’s central argument or exploration of a core subject, by reflecting on the author’s choice of literary form, genre, keywords, responses to other texts and the influence of social, literary or aesthetic movements on her/him. She went on to address students’ concerns about “difficult texts.” A text’s difficulty is highly subjective, and a reader can attempt to negotiate it by understanding its contexts and origins, and by consulting paratexts, encyclopaedic entries on authors and texts, comments on the text in readers’ forums, author interviews, and lucid (but not over-simplistic) secondary material. Dr. Mani counselled readers against prematurely criticising a text without first having tried to comprehend and empathize with its contents. She advised readers to simultaneously write notes while reading, to reflect on the reading purpose and note crucial details that help understand the text. She then demonstrated how different reading purposes produce different interpretations though a discussion of a section from Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, the point it seems to be making as a literary-ecological commentary as well as its cast as a novel.
The audience comprising MA (Semester III) students, research scholars and the faculty responded enthusiastically to Dr. Mani’s lecture. Their questions and observations were mostly on remembering textual content, distractions while reading, discontinuity and resumption while reading texts, the incomprehensibility of theoretically demanding texts, etc. Brief responses by the speaker to far more complex issues relating to readers’ presumed empathy for brief sections of a text; the challenge of coping with a large number of prescribed texts by the course syllabi; and the problem of reading texts with different socio-historical contexts, followed. Other observations included the inflexible and outdated application of theories to texts; considerations of genre, form and artistic media in defining reading strategies; the influence of social movements on the reading of texts; and the practical problems of redeploying courses best designed for live classrooms via online/ virtual/ blended modes.
Reading Matters is a series of talks is intended mainly for students of the MA programme. Students at this stage begin to approach reading more professionally, and often wonder how courses in English will make them better readers of texts defined broadly: handwriting, print, digital material, codes and symbols, screens and films, objects and artifacts in the phenomenal world, etc. If they understand reading as process, they might wonder how transformative and influential it is in the long run. In this series, distinguished teachers from all over India, both young and old, will interact with students online for about two hours. They know that they will be talking to students of English, a vibrant discipline of thought and action. The speakers in this series will adopt a very accessible style, appropriately responsive to students who begin reading rather than researchers whose priorities are considerably governed by their theses. The format of each presenter may vary but they will be very helpful in suggesting alternatives and improvements, bibliographical leads, and directions for further reading and reflection.
Reading Matters is scheduled every month from late August through December 2021, subject to the Department’s timetables and the availability of invited guest speakers. These talks are under the aegis of the Institution of Eminence [IoE] grant made available to the IoE Research Chair Professor in the Department.
Dipro Roy of MA (Semester III) proposed a vote of thanks.
– Contributed by: LABONI MUKHERJEE (PhD, Semester V)