Reading Protocols

        "Protocols" are documents in which research subjects are asked to record what they think and do as they work.  Social scientists and composition researchers have used protocols to understand complex intellectual processes.  For this assignment, we are both the researchers and the subjects.  We want to discover what reading and interpretive practices each of us believes to be appropriate and "normal" at the start of English 215's study of critical methods.  We can take for granted that all college-level readers have absorbed, consciously or unconsciously, many rules for interpreting literature, but most of us are unaware of what rules we follow or the theoretical assumptions those rules depend upon.  This reading protocol will enable each of us to begin to discover those rules and to deduce what theories of interpretation they are rooted in.  You also will be able to compare your rules for reading with those followed by other students to see where you fit into this community of readers.  Some of you will learn you are "under-reading" the text, not paying close enough attention to its details or asking enough questions about its ambiguities and other puzzles.  Some may suspect they are "over-reading" the text, though this is unlikely to be true for most undergraduates.  This stock-taking exercise will give each of us a starting point, a survey of her/his current routines for making sense of a work of literature.  Your style should be relatively informal, with the goal of recording your mental behaviors as quickly as possible while interfering with your reading as little as possible.  (Yes, I know it's impossible to do both perfectly, but it's our only source of this kind of information given the current state of medical technology!)  Try using bullet points or a numbered list with short phrases or clauses, sliding into sentences when your reading takes you there, but not trying to write a formal essay about any individual points.

        Here are the instructions for creating your reading protocol:

1)  Prepare yourself to write, using either handwriting or typing directly into a word-processor file, and provide yourself with a copy of Ernest Hemingway's short story collection, In Our Time, specifically the first short passage entitled "On the Quai at Smyrna.."  BUT DON'T START READING YET!!  You might want to arrange a weight upon the book to keep it open to the page you are reading while you write.

2)  As you read, keep track of your interpretive mental behaviors by describing them briefly in your protocol.  You shouldn't write down every one of Hemingway's sentences, of course, for that would make the protocol unmanageable, but try to notice the moments when your mind rises above merely "performing" the text and begins to interpret it.  That is when you are applying whatever critical practices you already adhere to.  For instance, do you stop to look up a word, wonder about the construction of a sentence, or develop a suspicion about what will happen next?  If you look up something, where do you look?  Do you have emotional reactions to what you are reading?  Have you begun to suspect what Hemingway's overall purposes might be in writing this?  Do you connect parts of the reading to other things you have read, whether by Hemingway or some other author?  Does your mind take any diversionary trips to think about other, non-literary things you associate with what you are reading?

3)  Remember to arrive at an interpretation of the text by the time you finish the protocol.  Don't just record things you do while you read.  Try to make sense of what this work of literature means

4)  Avoid trying to explain or defend your interpretive practices at this point.  Just record them and move on.  Ordinarily, a reading protocol for a piece of fiction this long usually amounts to between one and three pages of single-spaced text.  After you are done, you can edit for clarity, coherence and unity, but try not to censor yourself.

5)  Post your protocol on the GoucherLearn discussion forum by 9 AM the day before our class next meets, and, before class, skim-read the protocols of other members of the class to get a general survey of our reading practices.  What patterns do you see in our reading practices?  Do you see any surprises, ways to make the text mean which you had not thought of? 

        Remember, at this point in the semester, there are no "right" or "wrong" ways to interpret this story.  Everyone is a beginner in the sense that we're starting our first formal study of critical methods.  Think of critical methods as a set of "tools" which any competent scholar may use when circumstances are right.  Most of us are starting with "tools" we've inherited from an unplanned series of encounters with teachers, texts, and other readers, but few of us will have a complete set and almost none of us will know the theoretical assumptions upon which the tool's use depends.  By the end of the course, you will have a more well-defined, theoretically grounded, and coherent set of interpretive practices which will help you read and write about literature.

        OK--you're ready to read and to write your protocol!