In the delightful Reading the Way of Things, Daniel Coffeen portrays an “immanent reading” of everything. In my reading of Coffeen’s book, the meaning of immanance is found in in relation to Spinozism (thinking with Spinoza) and Spinozistic-thinkers like Guattari and Deleuze. My point here is that Coffeen is able to display why immanance, reading and Spinoza are really crucial in order to find a pedagogy that can take us towards better readings of texts, objects and even the world. Coffeen describes a reading of things that lets things be and become in contrast to a reading that labels in order to be categorized and sterilized. There is something happening between these three, immanance, reading and Spinoza, which render a common opinion about reading clumsy and cumbersome. Let me explain what strikes me as crucial here.
For instance, in a conversation over lunch with one of the professors at my department (a theology/religion department at Lund University), the issue of hermeneutics and a multiplicity of readings came up. The professor seemed troubled by the “postmodern inflection” and especially an argument connecting reading with power, difference and historicity to tightly. In short, the professor wanted to find a way to easier shut up people who cling to “postmodernity” and a general relativizing of “informed/scholarly readings” as a justification for their bad readings.
If we leave the issue of ”postmodernity" and if what the professor is spelling out is really all that “postmodern” or just dealing with lazy students, when a multiplicity of readings becomes a problem it is often a temptation to cling to some more hierarchical understanding of the event of engaging with a text. Following Spinoza, this might be described as a moral manner of reading and connected to a theory thinking about the world as categorized in boxes of right and wrong. Yet there is another way, an immanent way which instead seeks to read texts in line not with the correct and incorrect but rather tracing the possibilities of the text like a map; an ethical reading of texts. In line with Spinoza’s magnum opus Ethics, we are here interested in what the body of the text can do, in what ways it connects with other texts, objects and the world and in what ways it disconnects. The connectivity is here “good”, in that it affords the text to do more things, while disconnection is “bad”, in that it isolates the text and perhaps pushes it into stasis.
Reading things, immanently, is like finding the groove in music and letting it affect your body. Music that is good makes your body move – regardless whether its Coltrane, Mahler or the Ramones. There is no outside perspective that can fixate, that can put it in one category or label music, literature or objects "incorrect." Texts are either “good” or “bad”, either makes yours and other bodies move or it doesn’t. This is what immanent reading is all about. Allowing texts, bodies and objects to move and be moved, rather than judging them by putting them in genres, or labeling them “classics” in contrasts to “contemporary.”
Want to read more on this; buy Reading the Way of Things by Daniel Coffeen, from Zero Books.