Using Concepts, Building Interpretations: Performing a Reading

Well-supported interpretations are the foundation of scholarly arguments about literature. Built from close reading and analysis, literary interpretations provide a new way of seeing a text, and often one that looks below the surface of what a text is overtly saying or showing to explore how its component parts work together (or in opposition) to produce meaning. As a practice, this is called ’performing a reading’ and it builds on the close reading skills we practiced in short paper 1.1. What’s more, given that the world is composed of myriad perspectives, contexts, positions, cultures, and priorities, the study of literature values diversity in interpretation. Despite what you might think, this does not mean that any old interpretation is true. Rather, solid readings are built on a bedrock of textual evidence, which writers collect, analyze, and use to develop claims about what is happening in a text and why. Finally, while some texts seem to provide a context in which they can be interpreted, literary scholars often reach for other, exterior conceptual rubrics and schemas which can help them make sense of what a text might be saying and doing. Short assignment 1.2 asks you to address all of these aspects in performing your own reading of Gwyneth Jones’s short story “The Universe of Things.”

By the time you come to draft this assignment you will have done at least three things: 1) You will have performed your own close reading of the text. 2) You will have discussed your own reactions to the story with your peers and possibly modified your reading in relation to classroom discussion. 3) You will have spent more time working with the claims about literary aliens Istvan Csicsery-Ronay makes in “Some Things We Know About Aliens.” Your goal in this paper is to perform a reading of “The Universe of Things” in relation to one concept or context introduced in the first 7 pages of Csicsery-Ronay’s essay. In particular, you should advance a claim about how the concept you choose allows us to read Jones’s aliens and their relationship to human beings in the story. The reading should be formatted to MLA guidelines (including in-text citations and a Works Cited page), it should have an introduction and a conclusion, and it should advance a thesis (i.e. an argument about why we should see the text the way you are seeing it). It should back up this thesis with evidence from the story itself, and with conceptual evidence (either as summary, paraphrase, or quotation) from Csicsery-Ronay.

As you write, keep in mind that you goal here is not to spend the paper relating the plot of “The Universe of Things,” nor is it simply to explain to ‘prove’ Csicsery-Ronay’s argument correct with evidence from the story. The theoretical concept—say, Csicsery’s Ronay’s argument that “Aliens enter the world through the portal of the lack” (3) should be used as a context or framework which allows you to make claims about the story that you would not otherwise be able to make.