Reader-Response

 

Reader-response theory may be traced initially to theorists such as I. A. Richards (The Principles of Literary CriticismPractical Criticism and How to Read a Page) or Louise Rosenblatt (Literature as Exploration or The Reader, the Text, the Poem). For Rosenblatt and Richards the idea of a "correct" reading--though difficult to attain--was always the goal of the "educated" reader (armed, of course, with appropriate aesthetic apparatus). For Stanley Fish (Is There a Text in this Class?, Surprised by Sin: The Reader in "Paradise Lost" and Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of the Seventeenth-Century Reader), the reader's ability to understand a text is also subject a reader's particular "interpretive community." To simplify, a reader brings certain assumptions to a text based on the interpretive strategies he/she has learned in a particular interpretive community. For Fish, the interpretive community serves somewhat to "police" readings and thus prohibit outlandish interpretations. In contrast Wolfgang Iser argued that the reading process is always subjective. In The Implied ReaderIser sees reading as a dialectical process between the reader and text. For Hans-Robert Jauss, however (Toward an Aesthetic of ReceptionandAesthetic Experience and Literary Hermeneutics), a reader's aesthetic experience is always bound by time and historical determinants.

 

Key Terms:

- Horizons of expectations - a term developed by Hans Robert Jauss to explain how a reader's "expectations" or frame of reference is based on the reader's past experience of literature and what preconceived notions about literature the reader possesses (i.e., a reader's aesthetic experience is bound by time and historical determinants). Jauss also contended that for a work to be considered a classic it needed to exceed a reader's horizons of expectations.

- Implied reader - a term developed by Wolfgang Iser; the implied reader [somewhat akin to an "ideal reader"] is "a hypothetical reader of a text. The implied reader [according to Iser] "embodies all those predispositions necessary for a literary work to exercise its effect -- predispositions laid down, not by an empirical outside reality, but by the text itself. Consequently, the implied reader as a concept has his roots firmly planted in the structure of the text; he is a construct and in no way to be identified with any real reader" (Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown - Glossary of Literary Theory).

- Interpretive communities - a concept, articulated by Stanley Fish, that readers within an "interpretive community" share reading strategies, values and interpretive assumptions (Barbara McManus).

- Transactional analysis - a concept developed by Louise Rosenblatt asserting that meaning is produced in a transaction of a reader with a text. As an approach, then, the critic would consider "how the reader interprets the text as well as how the text produces a response in her" (Dobie 132 - see General Resources below).

- Affective Stylistics: Stanley Fish’s: “anticipation and disappointment is … crucial …, and any interpretation that ignores this sequential process cannot capture the impact of the poem.” (43) Fish uses a construct, an “informed” reader, for his investigations

- Reception Aesthetics: Wolfgang Iser describes what the “Implied” reader does when reading a text.

- Phenomenology: In philosophy (Husserl), focus on the way objects are perceived and informed by human consciousness. Human consciousness is a unified act dependent upon the interrelation between the thinking perceiving subject and the perceived object. (A philosophical tendency that emphasizes the perceiver arguing that objects only have meaning when we perceive them in our consciousness.) Iser depends on Husserl and later Ingarden’s phenomenology (text defined as the product of the interaction between the objective existence of a text and the subjective consciousness of the reader) Iser gives the reader a big role in the interpretative process when he insists that by filling in the gaps left in the text, the reader enables it to come to existence.

- Identity Theme: Norman Holland uses this psychoanalytical term to explain why different readers see different things in the same text. Holland argues that though texts sometimes challenge readers worldviews, they find pleasure in them as they find ways of understanding them in their own terms, using the text to reinforce and assure their identity.

- Interpretive Communities: Fish at a later stage introduced this term to refer to a group of readers who share common assumptions about the nature of meaning and who employ common strategies in their reading.