Paranoid vs. Reparative Reading

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.


2 thoughts on “Paranoid vs. Reparative Reading

  1. Mariah,

    Thank you for posting this! I had heard of Eve Sedgwick, but I have not been exposed to any of her articles in class.

    I think what your last sentence is so spot-on: “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.” I have been struggling with this concept this semester. How do I go about watching movies/TV shows I enjoy when my lens of perspective has changed? This class has caused me to think more critically about film and gender, and I am now constantly questioning each media I encounter. In some ways, I think this has been beneficial because I am thinking more critically about texts that I might not have questioned before or that I might have just unconsciously accepted. (For instance, I finished watching Dexter over the break, and I kept thinking about how much gender came into play of the characters’ roles, and how frequently subordinate the female characters were to Dexter’s commands. This was something I never would have thought about before this course.) But, at what point do I stop asking questions and just enjoy the show? I think that we can’t completely denounce this paranoid reading, from my exposure to your summary. I think we need to create a balance of paranoid and reparative reading and learn how to manage the two types, without completely denouncing one for the other.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, I think it’s really important to remind ourselves that reparative reading even exists–especially after being in a class like this where we pretty much take the most banal and conventionally-stereotypical texts under our critical/academic microscopes in order to dissect them (causing varying levels of rage, at least in my case).

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