I know, pumpkin. I know. You don’t want to think about those big meanies. Or hey, maybe you work in one of those cool market segments where friendly competition is the norm, and you don’t need to dwell on those folks. But on the off chance you have competitors, and you want to make sure you’re meeting or exceeding their efforts, how do you do that voodoo you need to do so well?
I think it is time, padawan. I think you are ready. This is an elegant weapon for a more civilized age. This…is close reading.
You can make a pretty good argument that close reading is the basis for for literary criticism, at least to the branch known as New Criticism. But what is close reading, exactly? Pretty much what it sounds like. Take a short passage from a text and get out your magnifying glass and scrutinize that puppy like whoa. I’m talking syntax and grammar. I’m talking individual word choice. I’m talking Jacques Derrida spending eighty whole pages on one word in James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Yeah, you’re right. Sounds a little neurotic. So let’s back up and get some context in here.
In 1924, Ivor Armstrong Richards published Principles of Literary Criticism. Richards didn’t do it alone, of course. No man is an island. He had a frequent collaborator, C.K. Ogden, and a student named William Empson who was all up in it. But it was largely his baby. And it lead to a whole philosophical approach to analyzing literature.
Here’s the skinny. You take a passage. You read it. And then you reread it. Slowly, with deliberation, looking at each element that makes up said passage. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (or PARCC), explains:
Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately. Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details. It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text.
Now, our boy Richards concentrated on poems, but lemme let you in on a little secret.
Everything is a text. Ev. Ree. Thing.
Poem? That’s a text. Movie? That’s a text. Painting? Dance? Opera? Text, text, text.
And here’s the meat of it. Your competitor’s ad? TEXT.
So you, my darling little mudskipper, can subject that ad to intense, nay, brutal scrutiny. In order to take your competitors’ strengths and make them your own.