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Keegan Finberg
University of California at Santa Cruz
United States
Vol. 3 (2013), Articles
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This essay seeks to define a twenty-first-century ethical reading practice. The term “ethical reading practice” suggests a way of reading and responding to literature responsibly and carefully, ultimately producing a generative encounter with the text, which has implications far outside the text. To consider what literature can teach us about ethics, and how it teaches us, this essay focuses on the figure of the reader. By examining the ways readers are figured within poetry, we can gain insight into reading and ethics on multiple scales. Anne Carson’s “The Glass Essay” is an example of her larger body of work, which often stages conversations between a lyric I—a speaker who is not only the speaking subject in the poem but also a reader of other poems—and a body of past literature. Carson’s poetry tells us that our affective relationships to texts have consequences outside the texts; her work suggests that loving texts, and knowing how to read them, honoring that love, is an ethical encounter. “The Glass Essay” coins the word “whaching,” a contingent practice—sometimes meaning one open question, sometimes another. Similar to Jacques Derrida’s notion of téléiopoièse, and Gayatri Spivak’s “teleopoiesis,” this passive ethics of reading emphasizes being made rather than making. The article discusses the process of reading this new singular orthography, while also revealing how an ethical reading practice has consequences for the way we encounter borders, read transnational literatures, and formulate ourselves.

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