critical approach, the primary focus falls on the reader and the process of
reading rather than on the author or the text.
- Literature is a performative art and each reading is a performance,
analogous to playing/singing a musical work, enacting a drama, etc. Literature
exists only when it is read; meaning is an event (versus the New Critical
concept of the "affective
- The literary text possesses no fixed and final meaning or value; there is
no one "correct" meaning. Literary meaning and value are
"transactional," "dialogic," created by the interaction of
the reader and the text. According to Louise Rosenblatt, a poem is "what
the reader lives through under the guidance of the text."
How readers interpret texts: Sometimes
called "subjective." May deal with published "readings" of
texts and/or study nonprofessional readings (e.g., students). These critics
explain similarities in readings in varying ways:
- "styles" or "identity themes" of readers are similar
(Norman Holland--psychoanalytic approach): cf. George Dillon's classification
of students' responses to Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily":
- "Character-Action-Moral Style" ("connected
knowers")--treat literature as coextensive with experience
- "Diggers for Secrets"--find hidden meanings in literature,
psychoanalyze motives of characters, etc.
- "Anthropologists"--look for cultural patterns, norms, values
[e.g. feminists, New Historicists].
- readers belong to same "interpretive communities" (Stanley Fish)
with shared reading strategies, values and interpretive assumptions (i.e.,
shared "discourse"); concept of the "informed reader."
- readers are situated in a common cultural/historical setting and shaped by
dominant discourses and ideologies (New Historicist emphasis). "Reception
theory/aesthetics" studies the changing responses of the general reading
public over time.
How texts govern reader: Focus on how
texts guide, constrain, control reading; often use linguistic, stylistic,
narratological methods of analysis. Wolfgang Iser argues that the text in part
controls the reader's responses but contains "gaps" that the reader
creatively fills. There is a tension between
reader," who is established by the "response-inviting
structures" of the text; this type of reader is assumed and created by the
- "the actual reader," who brings his/her own experiences and
preoccupations to the text
Barbara F. McManus
Readings and Assignments