English professors have become “wannabe cultural historians,” yet they lack the training of their colleagues in history departments, she said. She repeatedly called her colleagues “amateurs” for the tendency to focus on history, rather than actual text. She said she worried that while her generation of scholars knew how to do close reading, many others today do not.
Believe it or not, I generally sympathize with Gallop, even though I write about fiction (or--sigh--sermons) that often qualifies as paraliterary at best and subliterary at worst. There's a reason I don't consider myself any sort of "historian," despite some online confusion about my professional identity: when I start a project, I think in terms of the questions asked by literary critics, not by historians. I've quipped here before that literary critics think about what goes on in texts, whereas historians think about how and why those texts exist in the first place; this is an exaggeration, to be sure, but I think it does get at what separates an English professor faced with a sermon from a historian faced with a sermon.
In the classroom, I do all close reading, all the time. In my written work, I've sometimes done very extensive close readings (the literary chapters in my book are a case in point), but I usually write about novels that don't encourage close reading. Emily Sarah Holt (still correcting those proofs...), for example, responds very well to historicist, narrative, or thematic analysis, but rarely to the kind of close interpretation invited by, say, George Eliot or even Elizabeth Gaskell. The verbal, syntactic, and structural complexity simply isn't there, let alone any sophisticated play with imagery or rhetorical figures. As a publishing phenomenon, ESH is quite interesting, but she intended her work to fulfill didactic, theological, and (yes) historical projects that militated against any sort of literary richness.