Three Subjects of Lit Study

Here’s a drawing representing a reminder I give my literature students. 


There are three subjects of literary study: the text, the reader, and reading.  When literary study focuses solely on the text, as if the text could speak for itself and therefore promote universal understanding of itself (which sometimes is identified as”reading literally”), we fail to account for the reader’s role in the dynamic relationship (or transaction) called “reading.” 

Thus, I tell my students that there are two other subjects: the reader and reading.  The reader is another subject because what we bring to reading influences what happens when we read, plus of course, we are also often influenced by what we read.  We become subjects of and are subjected to literary art. 

Reading is a third subject because “what happens when we read” is always open for discussion; that is, reading is a process and can be analyzed, and we can become better at this subject through practice and in the company of fellow readers who have our best interests in their hearts.