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Reading Theory
Dale Sullivan
[email protected]
Something in the actual text “triggers” an interpretation
of genre in in the reader, an interpretation that then
dominates the reader’s own creation of what Wolfgang
Iser calls a “virtual text.”
Jerome Bruner
•writing about texts and integrating texts
•entering into a scholarly conversation
•absorbing and responding to texts
•summarizing and springboarding
•seeing genres as typified responses to recurrent
•DEFTing, reader response theory
•reading cultural codes and signs, semiotics
Semiotics/Structuralism in a nutshell
* A method of reading individual texts as reflecting a tacit set
of cultural codes and as governed by ways of seeing the world.
*A sequence of events is a story, but the telling of the sequence
of events is and artificial structuring based on available patterns
and character types. The telling is discourse.
*The further the telling of the story is from a co-present,
straightforward comment on shared perception, the more literary it is.
*A piece of literature can always be analyzed by mapping
its population of binary oppositions.
*A piece of literature can always be analyzed in terms of its
narrative structure and character types.
*Literature is a self-referencing, intertextual system, so a piece of
literature can always be analyzed by discovering its intertextual
A Collection of Comments on the Reader’s Construction
of Meaning by Interacting with Cues in the Text
Booth: authorial intentions and indwelling
Tolkien: authors as makers of secondary worlds
Ong: the fictionalized reader
Eco: inferential walks
Rosenblatt: the aesthetic reader
Iser: the virtual dimension of the text
When someone paints a picture . . . recounts the Passion according
to St. Matthew in a Gospel oratorio, I can sometimes come to
understand and share his intentions and the shared intentions of
others participating with me; and I sometimes know them with a
sureness that has often been overlooked. That the resulting
knowledge is a kind of indwelling . . . , that it includes subjective
states not provable or demonstrable by ordinary hard tests should not
trouble us . . .
Wayne Booth
[The Author] makes a Secondary World which your mind can
enter. Inside it, what he relates is “true”: it accords with the laws
of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were,
inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the
magic, or rather art, has failed. You are then out in the Primary
world again, looking at the little abortive Secondary World from
the outside.
J. R. R. Tolkien
. . . the writer must construct the reader in his imagination
. . . the audience must correspondingly fictionalize itself. A reader
has to play the role in which the author has cast him, which seldom
coincides with his role in the rest of of actual life.
Walter Ong
In order to make forecasts which can be approved by the further
course of the fabula, the Model Reader resorts to intertextual frames.
The reader [is] encouraged to activate this hypothesis by a lot of
already recorded narrative situations (intertextual frames). To identify
these frames the reader [has] to ‘walk’, so to speak, outside the text,
in order to gather intertextual support.
I call these interpretative moves inferential walks (32).
The type of cooperation requested of the reader, the flexibility of
the text in validating (or at least in not contradicting) the widest
possible range of interpretative proposals--all this characterizes
narrative structures as more or less ‘open’ (33).
Umberto Eco, The Role of the Reader
Louise Rosenblatt:
“. . . only a reader in aesthetic transaction with the text can
synthesize the parts into a ‘whole’ or structure which is a work
of art. The reader draws on his own reservoir or past life
experience; he has notions of what to expect of a novel or
poem or satire. But he has to use whatever he brings to the text
and build out of his responses to the patterned verbal cues a
unifying principle. The structure of the work of art corresponds
ultimately to what he perceives as the relationships that he has
woven among the various elements or parts of his livedthrough experience. Instead of thinking of the structure of the
work of art as something statically inherent in the text, we need
to recognize the dynamic situation in which the reader, in the
give-and-take with the text, senses or organizes a relationship
among the various parts of his lived-through experience.”
The fact that completely different readers can be differently
affected by the ‘reality’ of a particular text is ample evidence
of the degree to which literary texts transform reading into a
creative process that is far above mere perception of what is
written. The literary text activates our own faculties, enabling
us to recreate the world it presents. The product of this
creative activity is what we might call the virtual dimension
of the text, which endows it with its reality. This virtual
dimension is not the text itself, nor is it the imagination of
the reader: it is the coming together of text and imagination (279).
Wolfgang Iser, The Implied Reader
. . . all objects are made and not found, and that they are made
by the interpretive strategies we set in motion. This does not,
however, commit me to subjectivity because the means by
which they are made are social and conventional. That is, the
“you” who does the interpretative work that puts poems and
assignments and lists into the world is a communal you and
not an isolated your (331).
. . . we have readers whose consciousnesses are constituted
by a set of conventional notions which when put into operation
constitute in turn a conventional, and conventionally seen,
object (332).
Of course poems are not the only objects that are constituted
in unison by shared ways of seeing (332).
Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class