How strongly I have felt of pictures, that when you have seen one well, you must take your leave of it; you shall never see it again. (Emerson 476)
Now and then there are readings that make the hairs on the neck, the non-existent pelt, stand on end and tremble, when every word burns and shines hard and clear and infinite and exact … readings when the knowledge that we shall know the writing differently or better or satisfactorily, runs ahead of any capacity to say what we know, or how. In these readings, a sense that the text has appeared to be wholly new, never before seen, is followed, almost immediately, by the sense that it was always there, that we, the readers, knew it was always there, and have always known it was as it was, though we have now for the first time recognized, become fully cognizant of, our knowledge. (Byatt 512)
Literary criticism thrives on the distinction between first and second reading, on what is often parsed as absorptive reading versus critical reading, belletristic versus analytic reading. It sets itself against the idea that a irst reading of a text might be the one in which we have “seen [it] well”-on the assumption that critical insight is belated (Emerson 476). “As scholars, we read lengthy texts [such as novels] sequentially; then, in order to write, we inevitably reread recursively,” which has the efect, as the critic Michaela Bronstein goes on to observe, of producing conlicted conceptions of the novel as either “a static object (a form) or an experience in time” (77). One goal of literary criticism would appear to be to keep readers from lingering in that temporal and immersive irst reading in order to arrive at an assessment of the total work. First reading and critique are viewed as largely anathema; second thoughts inspire us to relinquish irst impressions, in a process of questioning and revision infused with a spirit of skepticism and doubt. here is an air of supersession- something vanguardist-about critique, but as Bronstein also points out, “the purpose of rereading need not be to revise the irst reading from an analytic distance. . . . Close reading [can use] the recursive process of analysis to approach, rather than to erase, sequential reading” (78). I take Bronstein's projection of a literary criticism that accounts for rather than dismisses the absorptive aspects of irst reading as an accurate description of Rita Felski's project in The Limits of Critique, a manifesto that calls on literature scholars to recommit to “care or concern for [aesthetic] phenomena” (107). Felski makes the case for a pragmatist phenomenology and calls her method for its achievement “postcritique,” a mode of reading that declines to unmask, demystify, interrogate, subvert, or expose the literary text (the habit of generations of recent critics). Postcritique means to expand the uses of literature beyond that of marking an absence or an insufficiency, returning readers to the values that drew them to the literary work of art in the first place (“aesthetic pleasure, increased selfunderstanding, moral relection, perceptual reinvigoration, ecstatic self- loss, emotional consolation, or heightened sensation” ).