Some time ago I laid out the languages I am working in. I had five categories for each language, an aspect of language study that I focused on in some sort of rotation. Recently I added a sixth, critical or close reading, the Explication de texte that French literary studies are famous for. Something I read in a new book I bought, Vodou Songs, made me realize that each language has some sort of study of its texts, even unwritten languages; viz. Navaho.
Obviously, these languages have been reduced to writing at some point, but the writing is not indigenous to the culture. In the case of the lyrics of Vodou songs, we can look to a relatively long history of literary efforts in Kweyol, but nothing to compare to that of Japanese or English or Russian. Nevertheless, these texts can be read closely and critically, which excites me.
The next step was to find books on my shelf that would get me into such analysis, for that is exactly what Explication de texte is, according to the author of my premier book, Explication of French Texts. That provides the outlines of what explication de texte is and many examples and exercises. The book on Vodou song lyrics describes how this is done for those song cycles of Vodou ceremonies.
The search through my shelves uncovered some treasures I had overlooked. A book on the history of Latin literature turned out to be just the ticket for what I want to do, along with Wheelock and a few other books. I found two good collections of 19th and 20th century Italian literature which filled the bill, and for Russian, I found a volume one, which had elementary texts, but ordered volume two (for one dollar!) and also found an even better book with footnotes on grammar and usage and an end note after each reading by a Russian literary critic doing exactly what I am looking for.
For Urdu, Barker’s Classical Urdu Poetry is 3 volumes, with one volume given over to annotated translations. Other books on Urdu literature have yet to be examined. I found just a little bit on Greek stylistics and a whole book on Latin stylistics, and stylistics is certainly a major part of critical reading.
For Norwegian I have an anthology that gives some notes, but that and the Greek need to be filled in with something more substantial. I’m thinking of just focusing on Cavafy’s poetry (I’m half-way through a book on his poetry right now and have his canon) for Greek.
Oddly enough, Spanish is one I found little on. My book club offers plenty of commentary by well-read people and I am going over Como Agua Para Chocolate page by page with a friend who is familiar with the culture of northern Mexico.
One of the first books I located was on a language I had not intended to focus on: Old Norse. I have a book on the Eddas which analyzes various ones and the major book on ON, Gordon, has plenty of annotations. On top of that, about that same time, a listserv members sent my a 2000 word frequency list for ON, so I can get started on that.
By 2020 I may be able to say I’ve read at least five works in each of these languages; either that or all the Harry Potter books in each one.
I failed to mention the internet: several sites offer excellent material annotated for linguistics, literary, and cultural-historical items, like Laura Gibbs for Latin and Fran Pritchett for Urdu. I’m sure I can find the same for Norwegian and Greek.
Less attention will be paid to Old and Middle English, but I have good material on both, including Tolkien’s Gawain and the Riverside edition of Chaucer as well as Bruce Mitchell’s Invitation to Old English.