Denotative, literal, and technical language—transparent and lacking in resonance—seems to be the opposite of literary language. A vigorous reading of the former, we argue, should seek to realize its opacity and difficulty, its nonidentity with itself. To do so requires a revised and expanded sense of denotation, a rethinking of reference, the dereification of writing, an appeal to more expansive and heterodox archives, a historicism that forestalls or delays the figural, and more reading. Unlike recent literary critical attempts to restrict the field of reading, the practices sketched here seek to remove all limits to that which can be read, researched, and made into meaning.
Denotatively, Technically, Literally
Elaine Freedgood is Professor of English at New York University, where she works on Victorian literature and culture, critical theory, and the history of the novel. She is the author of Victorian Writing About Risk: Imagining a Safe England in a Dangerous World (Cambridge, 2000) and The Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel (Chicago, 2006). Her current project is called “Worlds Enough: Fictionality and Reference in the Novel.”
Cannon Schmitt teaches English at the University of Toronto. The author of Alien Nation: Nineteenth-Century Gothic Fictions and English Nationality (1997) and Darwin and the Memory of the Human: Evolution, Savages, and South America (2009, paperback reprint 2013), he is currently at work on the Victorian novel, the sea, and the literal.
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Elaine Freedgood, Cannon Schmitt; Denotatively, Technically, Literally. Representations 1 February 2014; 125 (1): 1–14. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2014.125.1.1
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