Last week, a classmate namedropped Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in class discussion and I had a bit of a fangirl moment. I’m not going to lie – Sedgwick’s article on paranoid vs reparative reading was a big influence on one of my term papers last year and continued to influence me while developing my major research paper for my masters, as it forced me to rethink how we approach texts. Texts and contexts, really; the “paranoid position” that Sedgwick articulates (building on terminology/theory from Melanie Klein to name it as a “position”) is one with which I am pretty intimately familiar both as an academic and in my own life.
However I think the label is slightly misleading: paranoia to me suggests fear and anxiety, and while I agree that those affects may be underlying factors contributing ultimately to the subject’s orientation towards the world around them, the “paranoid position” most often surfaces as critique. It is important to clarify that by critique I do not mean critical thinking in general, but a judgmental practice of approaching a text solely via its perceived faults. This negative approach, taught to most students in the humanities as the way to approach theoretical or literary readings, is very noticeably present in quite a few of the digital humanities texts we’ve been reading over the past while. I’m finding it useful to draw a few connections between praxis in affect theory and in digital humanities, so please bear with me throughout this post: it is not proposing any One True Way of thinking, but rather exists as an attempt to locate possibilities.