In my Queer Studies class, we briefly discussed the concepts of paranoid and reparative readings. These ideas were first posited by Eve Sedgwick in her essay “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading; or, You’re so Paranoid, You Probably Think This Introduction is About You.” While I am not an expert on these concepts in any way, the little exposure I’ve had to them makes me think they are useful to the work we are doing in this class.
First I will briefly explain paranoid reading. A paranoid reading of a text is one where the reader expects to take issue with the text before they have begun reading. The reader anticipates what he/she will critique about the piece. My professor stated that paranoid reading can be summed up with one word: “problematic.” By this, she is referring to the trend of calling everything problematic, or focusing on what is problematic in every text.
On the other hand, reparative readings focus on allowing oneself to be surprised. It’s aim is to break away from paranoid reading and allow oneself to find pleasure and sustenance in texts. Sedgwick argues we must engage in this type of reading more often.
While I have only given extremely boiled down descriptions of these two types of readings, I think the basic ideas are helpful for us to keep in mind as we continue the thinking we’ve started in this class. While it is important to critique popular culture, it is also important for us to allow ourselves to be surprised and to find joy in it.