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The Author, the Text, and the Reader Empty The Author, the Text, and the Reader

السبت يوليو 17, 2010 6:57 pm

The Author, the Text, and the Reader


A study of reader-response theories, and some views
on how the objectivity of the literary text is or is not
distinguished from the subjectivity of the reader's response
by Clarissa Lee Ai Ling
In the academic study of literature very little attention
has been paid to the ordinary reader, the subjective individual
who reads a particular text. David S. Miall and Don Kuiken,
in their paper The form of reading: Empirical studies
of literariness state.

Almost no professional attention is being paid to the
ordinary reader, who continues to read for the pleasure of
understanding the world of the text rather than for
the development of a deconstructive or historicist
perspective. The concerns that an ordinary reader seems
likely to have about a literary text, such as its style,
its narrative structure, or the reader's relation to the
author, the impact on the reader's understanding or
feelings - such concerns now seem of little interest.


In this paper I should like to study a few kinds of reader and
the subjectivity of their responses to the objectivity found
within literary texts, quoting some views found within
reader-response criticism.


Before I begin, I should like to consider what
is meant by the term 'literary text', and what is meant by the
objectivity of it. According to Terry Eagleton, [1] the
definition of 'literary', as advanced by the Russian
formalists, (who included in their ranks are Viktor Shklovsky,
Roman Jakobson, Osip Brik, Yury Tynyanov, Boris Eichenbaum and
Boris Tomashevsky), is the peculiar use of language. Literature
is said to transform and intensify ordinary language,
deviating from the everyday colloquial tongue. The literariness
of the language spoken could be determined by the texture,
rhythm and resonance of the words used. There is a kind of
disproportion between the signifier and the signified, by
virtue of the abstract excesses of the language, a language
that flaunts itself and evokes rich imagery. Eagleton argues
that what distinguishes the literary language from other forms
of discourse is the way it 'deforms' ordinary languages in
various ways.
Under the pressure of literary devices, ordinary
language is intensified, condensed, twisted, telescoped,
drawn out and turned on its head. [1]



According to Wolfgang Iser, [2] a literary work
has two poles; the aesthetic and the artistic. The artistic
pole is the author's text, and the aesthetic is the realisation
accomplished by the reader. Hence the literary work cannot be
considered as the actualisation of, or identical to, the text,
but is situated somewhere between the two. Iser speaks of the
text as a virtual character that cannot be reduced to the
reality of text or to the subjectivity of the reader, and it
derives its dynamism from that virtuality. Readers passing
through the various perspectives offered by the text relate the
different views and patterns to one another, thus setting the
work and themselves in action.

Objectivity in literary texts had been discussed since the
days of Aristotle, for he originated the literary theory that
emphasises the objective features of the text and the authorial
intentions revealed by those features. His
Poetics
analyses the objective features of Greek epics and dramas as
means that are more or less appropriate to the full realisation
of various literary intentions.

The idea of objectivity in the text is also analysed in the
first chapter,
Theory before theory of Peter Barry's Beginning
Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory.
[3]
1. The literary text contains its own meaning within
itself. The best way to study the text is to study the
words on the page, without any predefined agenda for what
one wants to find there.

2. The text will reveal constants, universal truths,
about human nature, because human nature itself is constant
and unchanging. People are pretty much the same
everywhere, in all ages and in all cultures.


3. The text can speak to the inner truths of each of us
because our individuality, our "self," is something unique
to each of us, something essential to our inner core. This
inner essential self can and does transcend all external
social forces.


4. What critics do is interpret the text (based largely
on the words on the page) so that the reader can get more
out of reading the text.




But can readers, each having their own
subjective view, reconcile their responses to the grandiose
generalisations above?

To begin my discussion using reader-response theory, I should
like to start with Stanley Fish's concept of phenomenology. In
his books
Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost
and Self-Consuming artefacts: The Experience of 17th
Century Literature (1972), Fish focuses on the reader's experience
of reading literature. Fish argues that a work of literature
becomes reality for the critic through the act of reading,
a process he terms 'reception'. As reading occurs through
time, the experience of literature involves a continuous
readjustment of perceptions, ideas and evaluations, with the
meaning of the work encountered in the experience of it.
Literature becomes a process in which its criticism involves
the processing of phrases and sentences in a slow sequence of
decisions, revisions, anticipations, reversals and recoveries.
This view reflects Fish's definition of phenomenology as
defined in the preface to his book Surprised by Sin -
Meaning is an event, something that happens not on the
page, where we are accustom to look for it, but in the
interaction between the flow of print (or sound) and
the actively mediating of the reader-hearer. [4]



This means that however subjective a reader's
response is to the text, it is the continuous shaping of the
events of the reader's mental process that slowly adjusts the
thoughts to finally reach an understanding of the actual
meaning of the text. Hence according to Fish's phenomenology
theory, what starts out as a subjective process of the reader
ends up in the reader achieving the objective of the
literary text. According to Fish, the objectivity of the text
is no longer distinguishable from the subjective inferences of
the reader in the process of reading. To him, meaning and form
are co-extensive with the reader's experience, and the
phenomenology of time determines the meaning and form of a
work.

Fish breaks the traditionalist mode by making the work
disappear into the reader's experience. Fish regards the text
as a rigorous, authoritative controller of the reader's
developing process, with meaning created in the reader by the
author as the text develops during the reading process. The
kind of reader he is aiming at is the 'informed reader', one
who not only possesses a mature grasp of language, but is also
able to deal with literary conventions, to make appropriate
choices concerning connotations, implications, suggestions etc
about the text while reading it. [5] This enables the
objectivity of the literary text to be retained throughout the
process. This view bears a resemblance to Husserl's idea of
phenomenology, when the critic/reader is asked to empty his
mind of all pre-conceived ideas and to respond directly to the
text, hence discovering in the process, the unique mode of
consciousness of the author. Interpretation of the text is
possible, as the reader's consciousness melds with the
author's, as described by Georges Poulet in his lecture,
Interiority
and Criticism.
Take a book, and you will find it offering, opening
itself. It is the openness of this book that I find so
moving. A book is not shut in by its contours, is not
walled up as in a fortress. It asks for nothing better than
to exist outside itself, or to let you exist in it. In
short, the extraordinary fact in the case of a book
is the falling away of the barriers between you and it.
You are inside it; it is inside you; there is no longer
either outside or inside. [6]



Poulet goes on to describe the significations
grasped by his mind when the object (the book) he holds is no
longer a mere object, when it becomes animated. He becomes
aware of the consciousness found within the book, the
consciousness of the author.

Hans Robert Jauss, an exponent of the reception theory, coins
the term 'horizon of expectation' in describing the criteria
readers use to judge literary texts. These are the criteria
that would help the reader judge between a poem, a drama, an
epic or a tragedy. One example is that of judging a poem in
accordance to the period in which it was written, for example
whether it is a Spenserian love poem or a poem by Pope from the
Augustan period. But it does not tell us the true value of the
poem. Hence the objectivity of the poem is distinguishable
from the subjectivity of the reader's response, because the
reception of different groups of readers from different
ages and periods would differ. Taking again the example of a
poem by Pope; during the second half of the eighteenth century,
commentators began to question whether Pope was a poet at all
and to suggest that he was a clever versifier who could put
prose into rhyming couplets but lacked the imaginative power to
create great poetry. Yet today, we appreciate Pope's poems for
their wit, complexity, moral insight and renewal of literary
tradition. [7] This is because the 'horizon of
expectation' only tells us how the work was valued and
interpreted when it appeared, but does not establish its full
meaning.


According to Jauss, it is equally wrong to say that a work is
universal, that its meaning is fixed forever and open to all
readers of any period. Hence, there is no single predetermined
'adequate' reception of a given text on which the literary
theory needs to focus. Instead, all actual receptions in the
past and present are valid, with their particular
characteristics becoming the objects of study. Thus historical
knowledge is of importance to the reader. This approach
contradicts what the phenomenologists have to say about the
universability and openness of the text. He goes on to
elaborate that a literary work is not an object that could
stand by itself, nor is it a monument which reveals its
timeless essence in a monologue.


Iser, another major proponent of the German reception theory,
who, like Jauss, also draws heavily on the phenomenological
hermeneutics of Ingarden and Gadamer, decontextualises and
dehistoricises the text and the reader, which means that the
reader always reads the text in relation to his or her
extra-literary norms, values and experiences. This brings forth
the concept of 'concretization' in a text where the text is
'completed' in reading, meaning that the 'gaps' in the text are
said to be 'filled' by the reader in the act of reading or
producing the 'virtual' work referred to earlier. While Iser
does not set the boundaries of the text's determinacy and the
reader's filling of the 'gaps', the phenomenological aspect of
his work calls for the reader's experience to be the central
concept. Unlike Jauss, Iser's subjectivity of the reader's
response becomes less distinguishable from the objectivity
of the text. [8]


These views bring certain questions to mind. Whose opinion
are we to accept? Would the opinion of the first readers of the
text be questionable? (This question has actually been
answered in cases where certain authors were not accepted by
their peers but became regarded as literary greats
posthumously). Should we work on the assumption of collective
acquiescence? We could try using hermeneutics to find the
answer.


Husserl thought of meaning as the 'intentional object'. By
this he meant that it was neither reducible to the
psychological acts of a speaker or listener, nor completely
independent of the mental process. Meaning is not as objective
as a table is, but neither is it simply subjective. It is an
'ideal' object that can be expressed in a number of different
ways but retain its meaning. Hence, it is considered that the
meaning of the literary work is fixed (or objective in its
meaning, in accordance with the definition above), identical in
every sense to the mental object the author had in mind, or
'intended', at the time of writing.


A slightly different position is taken up by the American
hermeneuticist, E.D. Hirsch Jr., whose work
Validity in
Interpretation is indebted to Husserlian phenomenology.
Hirsch does not see the author's intended meaning as his mental
process at the time of writing, for that would nullify any
attempt to determine the objective meaning of the text. By not
getting into the consciousness of the author, your
interpretation of the work is not influenced by it. One might
take the view that this differs somewhat from the phenomenology
theory of Fish, because the authorial intention or the
consciousness is rendered invalid within Husserlian
phenomenology. He also speaks of the 'intrinsic genre', where
the sense of the whole is the means by which an interpreter
could understand the text. This relates closely to the concept
of horizon, which sets the boundaries of the text. Yet it goes
further to specify that the genre is merely a rough guide to
the meaning of the text, reached in part through educated
guesses. Hence one can say that the subjectivity of the reader
is indistinguishable from the objectivity of the text. This
is because Hirsch's author-centred theory of meaning, in
taking this rather strict sense of intention, considers verbal
meaning as the will of the author. This allows for limitless
'intentional acts', which in the end would reach the same
conclusion (or meaning).

Hirsch takes a referential view of the theory of meaning. He
defines verbal meaning as 'a willed type'. Hence the idea of
meaning is initiated personally, leaving the text to not exist
outside the interpretation of the reader. An important facet of
Hirsch's author-centred theory of meaning is his
differentiation between meaning and significance. He found that
these two have often been mistaken for each other, which led
to the banishment of the author as the ultimate source of
meaning for the text. When the disciples of the new hermeneutic
refer to the meaning of the text changing for the author, they
are actually referring to his change in 'response' to the
text rather than some idea of a revising of his text. This
clearly points to a difference between 'response' and meaning.
This boils down to the need to differentiate between the
meaning (what the text on the page represents) and significance
(the relationship of meaning and almost anything else). [9] A
change of significance does not lead to the change in meaning.


But the objections that some critics (and I myself) have are
the fact that not all authors of literary texts are known (take
Beowulf for instance). The second objection to this theory is
as quoted by Pogemiller, writing of Hirsch;

Two possibilities are available as candidates for what
makes up radical historicism: time and individual
perspective. If time is the key ingredient, then the
realisation must be made that each new moment brings with
it a new perspective and new language, which will have to
be accounted for with regards to interpretation. Given
the argument by radical historicists that only the
present texts are available for interpretation, this view
of time must be ruled out. No text would be available 'in
the present'. If individual perspective is the key, then
historicist dogma reduces to simple psychologism: men in
general, being different from one another, cannot
understand the meanings of one another.



Heidegger also rejects the objectivity of the
reader for he argues that the distinctiveness of human
existence is that of 'givenness': our consciousness projects
things into the world, and at the same time receives the thing
from the world. We can never adopt an attitude of detached
contemplation, and this is the facet of the theory that is
adopted by Gadamer in Truth and Method. He says that the
linguistic nature of all interpretation includes the
possibility of a relationship with others. There can be no
speech that binds the speaker and the person spoken to. Hence
when understanding another person, we assimilate the point
into our lives, living as much as possible in that person's
contexts and symbols. Hence history poses no problems for
interpretation. The interpreter interprets from within history
with the gap filled by the 'continuity of custom and tradition,
which determine the patterns of thought and language of the
contemporary culture'. [10] Hence a bridge is built between
history and interpretation.

Pogemiller writes,

Within his new approach to the gap problem, Gadamer
takes the traditional position of the new hermeneutic in
combining interpretation, understanding and
application into one entity. He writes: "understanding
always involves something like the application of the text
to be understood to the present situation of the
interpreter. . . . [we must regard] not only understanding
and interpretation, but also application as comprising one
unified process."



So the objectivity of the text is linked to the
response of the reader, if we are to accept the implications
of Gadamer's view.

In the introductory page of her book, Elizabeth Wright [11]
writes of psychoanalytic criticism as contributing to the
creative process, both before and within the language, hence
leaving implications to aesthetics. To illustrate the idea in
psychoanalytic theory that reading might be another form of
rewriting the text by the reader (the virtual dominion created
by the reader to temporarily store his/her perceptions and
impressions), hence rendering the objectivity of the text to
the subjectivity of the reader, I would like to quote Wright on
Freud:



Freud detects three particular analogies
between this writing apparatus and the perceptual
apparatus, to which Derrida draws attention: (1) the
celluloid corresponds to the protection that the psyche
institutes for itself against an excess of stimuli
from without; (2) the fact that the paper is re-usable
represents the endless capacity of the perceptual system
for responding to the sensory stimuli without becoming
overloaded in any way; (3) the impressions that actually
remain in the underlying wax-'legible in suitable lights',
as Freud puts it (XIX, p. 230)- stand for unconscious
traces which remain hidden in the unconscious. Derrida
fixes upon the writing metaphor, especially through the
third analogy, which brings out the continuous interaction
of those hidden traces with the succeeding script. The
unconscious is thus active at complex and profound levels
as the marks of repression are inscribed. Blurrings and
obliterations take place beneath the concealing paper.
Derrida sees the possibility of the unconscious as
thus active in all experience with the signifiers of the
repressive order, which is only a form of rewriting,
becoming 'legible in certain lights' (Wright p.136).




The seductiveness of a text involves it being
slowly unveiled to the reader who is trying to grasp the
textual and contextual meaning. Wright differentiates between
'structural' and 'post-structural' psychoanalytic theory by
putting the former in the context of the reader of both
literary and life texts, determined by a history that precedes
the reader. So it is the reader who is transformed. This would
mean that the objectivity of the text remains and becomes
distinguishable from the reader. In the latter analysis,
the reader engages in a dialectical play that moves the text to
a new meaning, undermining the old power and exposing the text
as being self-contradictory. She summarises the differences as
being non-differentiable since -
the reader / writer distinction is no longer valid
because making sense of the sign system implicates both:
each is caught in a net of signs, is up against language.
Reading, writing and criticism are part of a
continuum whereby readers write in the act of reading and
writers are shown to read in the act of writing. [11
p.122-123]



As to how the author impacts the consciousness
of the reader through the use of narrative techniques, Iser
proposes that the structures of the literary text are fixed but
the lines joining them are variable. An author might try to
influence the reader's imagination, but none worth their
salt would lay the whole text bare before the reader, since it
is by activating the imagination of the reader that the author
can hope to involve him. [12]

David Bleich found fault with Hirsch's argument that when a
reader shares the meaning of the words with the author, this
makes the meaning of the words in the text objective and
determinate. He also notes Hirsch's argument that literary
forms and conventions also create meaning, which to him is a
mere triviality in interpretation since it does not amount to a
dispute. To Bleich, Hirsch's argument fails when there is
verbal ambiguity. [13] Bleich says;

By deciding on a purpose in common and in advance, and
by then pursuing this purpose in dialectic with the
response statement, the knowledge developed is understood
as one sort among many likely interests of each reader.
The ethical precepts formulated from the dialectic
between the reading experience and one's own life
experience represent genuine, usable, consequential
knowledge, as opposed to ritual locutions or sanctimonious
declarations of having discovered the true moral purpose of
the author. [Bleich p.158]



Hence, Bleich is inadvertently saying that
there is no existing standard of right and wrong, with the
reader determining the interpretation of the text most suitable
to his or her needs. In this case, there is no clear
distinction between the objectivity of the text and the
subjectivity of the reader.

So what is the text? Iser feels that the text only takes on
life if it is realised. This is another way of stating Poulet's
position. So, if the text is in an object which the subject
creates, there is no way one can differentiate the text from
the reader. The paradoxical situation that we are encountering
now is that there exist no 'text' before there is a reader.


This argument is further complicated by the idea of the
implied reader being of a specific kind, an informed one, who
can fill in 'textual gaps'. Would that mean that the
objectivity of the author (and the text) no longer exists?
According to most of the reader-response theories, they do not,
except in the realm of the imaginary, until they achieve
Konkretisation, to quote Ingarden. [14] But there exists also
an ambivalent attitude of some theorists who initially tried to
draw the line between text and reader, but eventually reached
the similar conclusion of the text not being distinguishable
from the reader. Perhaps the text would remain only a mere
hypothesis. In which case, how would one critique the 'inspired
text', such as the
Koran or the Bible? The question
remains as yet unanswered by the reader-response theorists.
References

1. Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory, 2nd ed. Blackwell
Publishers, Oxford, 1996, p.3


2. Readers and Reading. Ed. Bennet, Andrew. Longman Publishing,
New York, 1995, p.20-21


3. Barry, Peter. Chapter One, "Theory Before Theory. Beginning
Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory".
Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press. 1995


4. Bennet p.35-36


5. Bennet p.237


6. The Structuralist Controversy: The Language of Criticism and
the Science of man. Ed. Macksey, Richard et. al. John Hopkins
Press, Baltimore, 1970. p.57


7. Selden, Raman & Widdowson, Peter. Contemporary Literary
Theory. 3rd ed. University Press of Kentucky, Kentucky, 1993.
p.53.


8. Selden and Widdowson. p.55


9. Pogemiller, Dwight. Hermeneutics and Epistemology: Hirsch's
Author Centered Meaning, Radical Historicism and Gadamer's
Truth and Method Premise. vol. 2, no. 8, Sept 27, 1995 p.10


10. Pogemiller p.10


11. Wright, Elizabeth. Psychoanalytic Criticism: Theory in
Practice. Methuen: London, 1986, p.5


12. Iser, Wolfgang. The Implied Reader. John Hopkins University
Press: Baltimore, 1974, p. 285


13. Bleich, David. Subjective Criticism. John Hopkins
University Press: Baltimore, 1978, p.95


14. Iser p.274.



Bibliography




Aristotle. Poetics.


Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and
Cultural Theory. Manchester and New York: Manchester
University Press, 1995


Bennet, Andrew. Ed. Readers and Reading. New York: Longman
Publishing, 1995


Bleich, David. Subjective Criticism. Baltimore: John Hopkins
University Press, 1978


Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory, 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell
Publishers, 1996


Fish, Stanley. Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost


Fish, Stanley. Self-Consuming artefacts: The Experience of 17th
Century Literature (1972)


Hirsch, E. D. Jr. Validity in Interpretation


Iser, Wolfgang. The Implied Reader. Baltimore: John Hopkins
University Press, 1974


Macksey, Richard et. al. ed. The structuralist Controversy: The
Language of Criticism and the Science of man. Baltimore: John
Hopkins Press, 1970


Miall , David S. and Kuiken, Don. The form of reading:
Empirical studies of literariness


Pogemiller, Dwight. Hermeneutics and Epistemology: Hirsch's
Author Centered Meaning, Radical Historicism and Gadamer's
Truth and Method Premise. Verbatim 2.8 (1995): 10


Selden, Raman & Widdowson, Peter. Contemporary Literary
Theory. 3rd ed. Kentucky:

University Press of Kentucky, 1993

Wright, Elizabeth. Psychoanalytic Criticism: Theory in
Practice. London: Methuen, 1986





The Author, the Text, and the Reader Ouuuso11



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The Author, the Text, and the Reader Empty رد: The Author, the Text, and the Reader

الجمعة مارس 30, 2012 4:19 am

The Author, the Text, and the Reader 1431078303




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The Author, the Text, and the Reader Empty رد: The Author, the Text, and the Reader

الإثنين أكتوبر 08, 2012 10:51 pm

It is a highly effective topic

thanks


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