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Article 2: Interaction between Text and Reader

Author: Wolfgang Iser

Source: Suleiman, Susan R. and Inge Crosman, eds. The Reader in the Text: Essays on Audience and Interpretation. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980.

 

Summary

Basically, this chapter is an elaboration of the idea of the phenomenological approach to the reading process. It demonstrates how interaction between the text and the reader can occur, and focuses on the literary/narrative text.It begins by asserting the underlying theory that a piece of work consists of its artistic (author) and aesthetic (reader) poles, in equal measure, with meaning production situated somewhere in between as a result of that interaction. The chapter then talks about the processes of social communication and interaction, and how they are somewhat similar to the communication that goes on in texts. The main motivation for the interaction between text and reader is the ‘gap’- the 'fundamental asymmetry’ that exists between them. All texts are made up of numerous gaps in the dialogue, and they denote that a piece of information has been concealed or made implicit. This spurs the reader to make connections and implications, and it is the combination of what has been told and what has been left out, that completes the whole picture, enabling the production of meaning. But this process is not arbitrary, because it is governed on certain terms set by the text, i.e. there is some structuring of the blanks and gaps, which the reader has to follow. Another point talks about the notion of the presence of four main perspectives in a narrative text – those of the narrator, the characters, the plot, and the fictitious reader. The implication is that the reader has to constantly switch around in a network of perspectives, and this network is regulated by the blanks in the text. There is a detailed description provided of this process, with reference to Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones for analysis.

 

Review

I chose this text as a complement to Barthes’ The death of the author, as my other article to do with modern critical theory. I personally am more inclined towards the  phenomenological approach to meaning production, and I felt that to answer the question of how hypertexts can enable the reader, I needed to know how the reader produces meaning in the first place. This article served that purpose to some extent by elaborating on the processes involved in making meaning out of a piece of writing. The notion of the gap being the pivot for producing meaning was something fresh to me, and I think it is something that is even more relevant in hypertext, where much is left to the reader to connect. The language used was very comprehensible and effective, and the analogy of interaction in human communication helped me to understand the points better. One drawback is that the discussion was focused on just narrative/literary works, meaning that I have to extend the points to other genres of text. Another is that a large part of the article was devoted to linguistic analysis of an example ('Tom Jones'), which I felt was not very relevant to my purpose.

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