Professor of Comparative Literature Peter J. Rabinowitz recently presented a paper titled “Sedimental Education; or, The Ethics of Aging” at the International Conference on Narrative in Montréal.
As a member of a panel on “Reading Over Time,” Rabinowitz discussed the ways experiences with literary texts change over the course of an academic career, paying particular attention to the way these changes are illuminated in the process of rereading.
He began with a brief discussion of readers’ changing age relationships to characters and intended audiences, transformations of the critical and theoretical climate, expansion of the repertoire of texts available to readers as they grow older, and increases in levels of reader confidence over time.
The heart of the paper, though, centered on what Rabinowitz terms “sedimental education.” Reading, he argued, is a social activity that extends over time.
Rabinowitz said that in the background of class conversations, especially if he’s re-teaching a text, he can hear — usually faintly, sometimes very loudly — the voices of former students who manage to nudge the conversation in a particular direction or provide an eerie counterpoint to what current students are saying.