How to Read a Book

How to Read a Book:
Towards Ludic and Erotic Protocols of Reading
Ken Scriboni

Wednesdays June 23rd-August 4th, 6-8 PM EST.
August 11th & August 18th sessions optional and gratis.
(See time zone converter if you’re in a different location to make sure you get the time right.)

We live in a sea of words. Our world is a written world, always and already before we emerge on the scene. Ostensibly, we can participate in its writing and rewriting, but the prerequisite is that we can read the world first.

Today, many are concerned with the quantity of their reading. Have you heard of the 52 Book Challenge? Read 52 books in a year; that is one a week. This desire for maximization and optimization is rooted in an anxiety and it also produces one. We can critique it on that count alone. But if we look closer we find a truly troubling presumption: that reading has a kind of generic, neutral, benign quality to it. Reading is just reading; a kind of root phenomenon, reduced simply to comprehension. This should make us suspicious. As Zizek noted, “ideology is strong exactly because it is no longer experienced as ideology.” Might it be that reading, what we think of as a singular, universal posture, was itself multiple and divergent? Might we begin to speak of taxonomies of reading or modalities of reading? Might there be various qualities of reading?

Gayatri Spivak claims that when we teach literature we are really teaching ethics—that is, how to inhabit the text of an(O)ther. In addition to this conception we will pose another: how to have a text inhabit us? Reading can be a colonial venture; we can behave, as Nietzsche criticized, “like plundering troops: [who] take away a few things they can use, dirty and confound the remainder, and revile the whole.” Or it could be an act of love, an erotic self-negation for the discovery of an(O)ther where we can become the incubators of texts, a dialectical and cannibalizing interplay where both reader and text are transformed. And perhaps it can be many other things as well.

In this seminar we are going to examine reading and consider what this particular (series of) posture(s), gesture(s), and act(s) can and cannot do. Axiomatically, we are going to de-ideologize it, and free it from the constraints of the hegemonic conception that reading has a generic, neutral, and universal quality to it. We are going to try to understand the vital potentialities that various modalities of reading offer for relating to the world. What are the protocols of reading? What kind of ethics do they produce? Is there an ethical reading? Or might reading itself give us our ethics? What kind of subjects read this or that way? What kinds of subjects does this way or that way of reading produce?

In this course we will seek to:

1) understand some modalities and affective stances of reading
2) critique the hegemonic modes of reading
3) practice a variety of protocols of reading gesturing towards the ludic and the erotic
4) read some delicious texts on these themes

Key Terms

Core Text*
these are the texts we will be “reading” and playing with. The proposed list of core texts is posted below. We certainly do not have time to read all of these texts in full. Rather, we will choose selections from the various texts to be read aloud together, as a group. These will also be made available prior to each session.

Theoretical Text**
texts to be read in full and studied rigorously before class. Since this is a course on reading and a course where our practice is collective reading and dialogue this requirement is absolutely essential. These texts will provide the framing for our reading practice each week. We will use them as practical tools and protocols for working with whatever core text we are playing with that week.  

*The distinction between Core Text and Theoretical text is somewhat arbitrary as they all fall under our theme of ludic and erotic reading. Some texts may move in and out of this designation.
**All Core and Theoretical Texts are presented as initial proposals. They may shift depending on the group’s desires.

Practice
Each week we’re going to experiment with different affects and modalities in relation to the texts we choose. Sometimes this will be designed to be provocative, other times it will be arbitrary and totally experimental. This work will be done in small groups each session.

Core Texts
Precarious Life—Judith Butler
The Expulsion of the Other—Byung-Chul Han
The Agony of Eros—Byung-Chul Han
The Disappearance of Rituals—Byung-Chul Han
The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study—Fred Moten + Stefano Harney
Anarcho-Blackness—Marquis Bey
Females—Andrea Long Chu
Breathing: Chaos and Poetry—Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi
Gravity and Grace—Simone Weil
Immediatism—Hakim Bey
The Incontinence of the Void—Slavoj Zizek
The Critique of Black Reason—Achille Mbembe
The Life of Plants: Metaphysics of Mixture—Emanuele Coccia
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants—Robin Kimmerer
The Mushroom at the End of the World—Anna Tsing

Course Structure

Each session will last 2 hours and be organized as follows:

Part 1: Check-in/warm up: 10-15 mins
Every session we’ll do a quick warm-up activity to activate our senses and ground us into the collective space.

Part 2: Core Text Reading: 10-15 minutes
Each session we will do a collective reading aloud of the core text. The selections generally won’t exceed 5-7 pages.

Part 3: Collaborative Affective Practice: 30 minutes
In small groups you will practice different affective modalities in relation to the text just read.  

5-minute break

Part 4: Group Dialogue: 60 minutes
As a whole group we will then discuss the practice, the core text, and the theoretical texts all together based on what emerged thus far in the session.

Course Schedule

First Meeting: Orientation – Wednesday, June 23rd
Core Text: TBD
Practice: building our container
Theoretical Texts:
“Ways of Reading, Modes of Being”—Marielle Macé
“The Written World, the Unwritten World”—Italo Calvino
“The Book and Books”—Italo Calvino
“Reading: An Intertextual Activity”—Robert Scholes

Week 1: Reading Fast, Reading Slow – Wednesday June 30th
Core Text: TBD
Practice: Plundering
Theoretical Texts:
“On Reading and Books”—Arthur Schopenhauer
“Going Slow”—Franco Cassano
“Why Read the Classics?”—Italo Calvino

Week 2: Critical/Paranoid Reading – Wednesday July 7th
Core Text: TBD
Practice: Rigor mortis
Theoretical Texts:
“What is Critique?”—Michel Foucault
“Cybernetics and Ghosts”—Italo Calvino
“Criticism: Rhetoric and Ethics”—Robert Scholes

Week 3: Reparative Reading – Wednesday July 14th
Core Text: TBD
Practice: Reparative reading of a hard to swallow text
Theoretical Texts:
“The Stakes of Suspicions,” The Limits of Critique—Rita Felski
“Paranoid and Reparative Reading”—Eve Sedgewick

Week 4: Translation as Reading – Wednesday July 21st
Core Text: TBD
Practice: English to English translations
Theoretical Texts:
“The Politics of Translation”—Gayatri Spivak
“The Task of the Translator”—Walter Benjamin

Week 5: Sacred Reading – Wednesday July 28th
Core Texts:
Gravity and Grace—Simone Weil
“On the Black Universe,” François Laurelle
Practice: Trance reading
Theoretical Texts:
“Mystical Languages of Unsaying”—Michael Sells
“The Philosophical Problem of Articulation”—Toshihiko Izutsu

Week 6: Profane Reading – Wednesday August 4th
Core Text: TBD
Practice: Negation and other Wreading Experiments
Theoretical Texts:
“Deformance and Interpretation”—Jerome McGann & Lisa Samuels
“Interpretation: The Question of Protocols”—Robert Scholes

Integration (optional gratis): Wednesday August 11th and August 18th
Core Text: If on a winter’s night a traveler – Italo Calvino
Practice: As a final treat, I propose we read a very beautiful fictional meditation on reading written by Italo Calvino—an author we will have explored a fair bit by this point. This component is optional and not factored into the price of the course, but offered up as a space to integrate our learnings and enjoy the pleasures of collectively reading the same book.

Facilitator: Ken Scriboni is down with the dharma, a believer in the promises of communism, an Italian teacher, an ex-food-and-beverage-industry worker, an apprentice of dialectical magic, and an organizer at Incite Seminars.

Seminar Cost:

  • $210– Member Ticket for Incite Seminars Patreon Supporters at any level
  • $315 – Non-Member (True Cost) Ticket
  • Solidarity pay-what-you-can tickets are also available for those who cannot afford any of the above tiers. Please email us.

Registration

Please register by buying a ticket at our Eventbrite page. We are committed to making all our offerings accessible to those who are eager to learn, regardless of financial means. If you have any questions or concerns, please email inciteseminarsphila@gmail.com.