• Wolfgang Iser

    The Reading Process

    The thesis of the whole theory: “The reading process is an interaction between the text and the reader’s imagination.”

    The theory falls into 5 main parts:

    Part 1:

     Main points:

    A literary work has two poles: the artistic and the esthetic.

    A Literary work exists only when it is read.

    Selected quotations:

    “The phenomenological theory of art lays full stress on the idea that, in considering a literary work, one must take into account not only the actual text but also, and in equal measure, the action involved in responding to that text”(956)

    “The work is more than the text, for the text only takes on life when it is realized, and furthermore the realization is by no means independent of the individual disposition of the readerـ though this in turn is acted upon by the different patterns of the text”(956)

    Part 2:

    Main points:

    A literary text must leave room for the reader’s imagination because without an active participation from the audience, the text remains dormant.

    Each time we read a piece of literature, it can evoke a completely new meaning in us.

    Selected quotations:

    “Whenever the flow is interrupted and we are led off in unexpected direction, the opportunity is given to us to bring into play our own faculty for establishing connections for filling in the gaps left by the text itself” (959)

    “One text is potentially capable of several different realizations, and no one reading can ever exhaust its full potential, for each individual reader will fill in the gaps in his own way, thereby excluding the various other possibilities”(959)

    Part 3:

    Main points:

    Author of a text may influence the reader’s imagination but not set the whole picture.

    Text plays 2 parts: 1) Written- to give knowledge.

                                       2) Unwritten- opportunity for reader to picture items in the text.

    Selected quotations:

    -“It will always be the process of anticipation and retrospection that leads the to the formation of the virtual dimension, which in turn transforms the text into an experience for the reader”(960)

    -“ With the literary text we can only picture things which are not there; the written part of a text give us the knowledge, but it is the unwritten part that gives us the opportunity to picture things”(961)

    “ without the element of indeterminacy, the gaps in the text, we should not be able to use our imagination”(961)

    Part 4:

    Main points:

    -Picturing done by the imagination is only one of the activities through which we form the gestalt philosophy of literature.

     – Gestalt is not the true meaning of the text but a configurative meaning.

    Selected quotations:

     -“By grouping together the written parts of the text, we enable them to interact, we observe the direction in which they are leading us, and we project onto them the consistency which we, as readers, require”(962)

    -“Once the reader is entangled, his own preconceptions are continually overtaken, so that the text becomes his ‘present’ whilst his own ideas fade into the “past”; as soon as this happens he is open to the immediate experience of the text, which was impossible so long as his preconceptions were his present”(966)


    Main points:

    -The reader needs three aspects in order to acquire a relationship with the text:

    anticipation and retrospection, 2- the text as living event, 3- life-likeness.

    We, as readers, absorb what unfamiliar in the text through the process of identification.

    Selected quotations:

    – “In the act of reading, having to think something we have not yet experienced does not mean only being in a position to conceive or even understand it; it also means that such acts of conception are possible and successful to the degree that they lead to something being formulated in us”(986)


    -Phenomenological: the study of the development of human consciousness and self- awareness.

     Artistic: the text created by the author.

     Esthetic: the reader’s interpretation of the author’s text.

    Virtual dimension: the coming together of text and imagination.

    Gestalt: the interaction of the individual parts of a text to make up a complete literary work.

     –  Identification: the absorbing of the unfamiliar.

     -The phenomenological approach to reading states that in viewing a literary work one must take in account the actual text created by the author as well as the reaction of the reader.

    Literary work has 2 components:

    Artistic: refers to the text created by the author

    Esthetic: refers to the awareness/ realization accomplished by the reader.

    Iser believes that “ through the conversion of the 2 poles the reader will enhance the text by allowing his intimate feelings to flow”

    – Iser says: “ the work is more than the text, for the text only takes on life when it is realized.” Iser argues that the text and its reader are 2 inseparable entities. These components when combined create the life of a piece of literature. That is true, because, it seems impossible for a text to be meaningful or reaching, to anyone without an audience to receive the meaning.

    -Reading is only enjoyable when it is active and creative and engages the reader’s imagination.

    “ Reading causes the literary text to unfold its inherently dynamic character”

    Literary text converts reading into a creative process allowing the reader to become implicated/ involved in the text events; therefore, creating a virtual dimension.

    – He also discusses how different people read or realized a text differently. For example, we have the novella “ Heart of Darkness”, it is read on several different levels: some reads it as a symbolic journey to the inner soul of man, while others see it as an indictment to the British Empire and so on. We realized literary works in different ways because simply we are different.

    Not only that but Iser adds that each time we read a piece of literature, it can evoke a completely new meaning in us. He says that the virtual dimension varies all time we are reading. Again let’s take “Heart of Darkness as an example: it can be read over many times before the reader picks up on any of the symbolization or “ hidden meanings” in the text. Similarly, for an 18 years old person to read this novella, and then reread it 10 years later, he or she will grasp a newfound meaning.

    -Iser believes that the author intentionally leaves out certain parts of the text so the reader can use his imagination and make connection and fill those gaps. So his work can progress to a more significant and meaningful level. He adds that one text is capable of many different interpretations because each individual will fill those gaps in his own way. He believes that the good artist should leave out certain colors for us to fill in and bring our own life into creation.

    Iser’s philosophy is just like Fraud’s that is “ the text is an extension of our consciousness”

    -Iser also talks about the element of indeterminacy in a literary text. He says that the good writer is the one that doesn’t set the whole picture before his reader’s eyes, and if he does so he will lose him. Iser believes that the reader of a literary text can only picture things which are not there, the written part of the text gives us knowledge but it is the unwritten parts that gives us the challenge to picture things. In this way the author gives the reader a chance to use his imagination and makes him feel that he is involved in the events of the story.

    He gives us the example of a movie version of a novel and he believes that a movie version o f a literary work can give too much indeterminacy. He says:      “ the moment these possibilities are narrowed down to one complete and immutable picture, the imagination is put out of action, and we feel we have been somehow cheated”.

    Again we can use “ Heart of Darkness” as an example, since we all watch the movie. When we read the story before watching the movie we had different images of the characters of the places and of the events, but when we watched the movie we all started to have the same picture and not necessary to be the one we imagined before watching the movie. This is in short what iser meant by the element of indeterminacy. 

    A virus reading a book

     “ This gestalt inevitably be colored by our own characteristic selection process. For it is not given by the text itself; it arises from the meeting between the written text and the individual mind of the reader with its own particular history of experience, consciousness, its own outlook”(962)

    By: Wadha Al-Ajmi & Maha Al- Subaiee

    Wolfgang Iser

    b. 1926

    Implied Reader: the kind of reader that the writer expects to have; a reader who can read objectively, not influenced by anything.

    Actual Reader: subjective reader who is influenced by her/his surroundings.

    Virtual Text: “the text represents a [possible] effect that is realized in the reading process.”

    “Reading is . . . a process of discovery; a reader questions, negates, and revises the expectations that the text establishes, filling in what Iser calls “blanks” and “gaps” in the text and continually modifying his or her interpretation” (1671).

    “Iser focuses on the individual interactive in the context of its reception by others-the phenomenology or cognition-of the act of reading” (1671).

    Interaction between Text and Reader

    Phenomenological theory of art: “draw[s] attention to the fact that the study of literary work should concern not only the actual text but also the actions involved in responding to the text” (1673).

    Literary work Artistic: is the author’s text

    has 2 poles

                                        Aesthetics: the realization accomplished by the reader

    “Pure” Perception: perception that is not influenced by anything. It does not exist because usually “they are the result of interpretation” (1674).

    R. D. Laing writes, “I may not actually be able to see myself as others see me, and I am constantly supposing them to be seeing me in particular ways, and I am constantly acting in the light of the actual or supposed attitudes, opinion, needs, and so on the other has in respect of me.” Now, the views that others

    have of me cannot be called “pure” perception; they are result of interpretation. We have no experience of how others experience us” (1674-5).

    “Your experience of me is invisible to me and my experience of you is invisible to you” (1675).

    “The reader . . . can never learn from the text how accurate or inaccurate his views of it” (1675).

    Intangible communication between the text and the reader because it occurs mostly in the imagination. “The unsaid comes to life in the reader’s imagination” (1676).

    What is significant in any text is not what is written on the page, but what is hidden is more important. “[The reader] is drawn into the events and made to supply what is meant from what is not said” (1676).

    Both the text and the reader must be in contact which will help her/him fill in certain gaps. “Whenever the reader bridges the gaps, communication begins” (1676).

    Blanks “control the process of communication in [its] own way . . .
    [It] leave[s] open connection between” the text and the reader.  Whenever the text is connected, the blanks disappear. (1677).

    Prepared by:

                Nour Al- Khuraibet

                Hanan Al- Mutawa