Ben Conisbee Baer

Ben Conisbee Baer is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Princeton University. His forthcoming book is Indigenous Vanguards: Education, National Liberation, and the Limits of Modernism (Columbia University Press, Spring 2019).


Snakes and Ladders

When I tried to write on the scale of the literary object, I found myself mired in complications. These were as much methodological as epistemological. The problems I encountered had to do with reading as a practice—the fact that reading inevitably encounters objects that stretch and contort, exceeding the horizon one brings to them, thus unbalancing the scales rather than making them fall from our eyes. Not only are scales of many kinds already “in” the literary object, but no two literary objects should be read according the same scale or with the same eyes. Rather than bring in external measurements to comprehend these strange artifacts, which we do anyway whether we like it or not, I suggest that reading should follow the idiosyncratic metrics of the text, allowing it to instruct us and, if we are lucky, to change the way we construct the “objectivity” of the object.