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Reader Response

By loisniccole09 Jan 07, 2015 1345 Words
Reader-response criticism is a school of literary theory that focuses on the reader (or "audience") and their experience of a literary work, in contrast to other schools and theories that focus attention primarily on the author or the content and form of the work. Although literary theory has long paid some attention to the reader's role in creating the meaning and experience of a literary work, modern reader-response criticism began in the 1960s and '70s, particularly in America and Germany, in work by Norman Holland, Stanley Fish, Wolfgang Iser, Hans-Robert Jauss, Roland Barthes, and others. Important predecessors were I. A. Richards, who in 1929 analyzed a group of Cambridge undergraduates' misreadings; Louise Rosenblatt, who, in Literature as Exploration (1938), argued that it is important for the teacher to avoid imposing any "preconceived notions about the proper way to react to any work"; and C. S. Lewis in An Experiment in Criticism (1961). Reader-response theory recognizes the reader as an active agent who imparts "real existence" to the work and completes its meaning through interpretation. Reader-response criticism argues that literature should be viewed as a performing art in which each reader creates their own, possibly unique, text-related performance. It stands in total opposition to the theories of formalism and the New Criticism, in which the reader's role in re-creating literary works is ignored. New Criticism had emphasized that only that which is within a text is part of the meaning of a text. No appeal to the authority or intention of the author, nor to the psychology of the reader, was allowed in the discussions of orthodox New Critics.

Reader-response  theory

Reader response stresses the importance of the reader's role in interpreting texts. Rejecting the idea that there is a single, fixed meaning inherent in every literary work, this theory holds that the individualcreates his or her own meaning through a "transaction" with the text based on personal associations. Because all readers bring their own emotions, concerns, life experiences, and knowledge to their reading, each interpretation is subjective and unique. Many trace the beginning of reader-response theory to scholar Louise Rosenblatt's influential 1938 work Literature As Exploration. Rosenblatt's ideas were a reaction to the formalist theories of the New Critics, who promoted "close readings" of literature, a practice which advocated rigid scholarly detachment in the study of texts and rejected all forms of personal interpretation by the reader. According to Rosenblatt, the New Critics treated the text as "an autonomous entity that could be objectively analyzed" using clear-cut technical criteria. Rosenblatt believed instead that "the reading of any work of literature is, of necessity, an individual and unique occurrence involving the mind and emotions of some particular reader and a particular text at a particular time under particular circumstances.

Over the last several decades, reader-response techniques have become firmly established in American classrooms. Language arts teachers at all levels now widely accept central tenets of the theory, particularly the notion that learning is a constructive and dynamic process in which students extract meaning from texts through experiencing, hypothesizing, exploring, and synthesizing. Most importantly, teaching reader response encourages students to be aware of what they bring to texts as readers; it helps them to recognize the specificity of their own cultural backgrounds and to work to understand the cultural background of others.

Using reader response in the classroom can have a profound impact on how students view texts and how they see their role as readers. Rather than relying on a teacher or critic to give them a single, standard interpretation of a text, students learn to construct their own meaning by connecting the textual material to issues in their lives and describing what they experience as they read. Because there is no one "right" answer or "correct" interpretation, the diverse responses of individual readers are key to discovering the variety of possible meanings a poem, story, essay, or other text can evoke. 

Students in reader-response classrooms become active learners. Because their personal responses are valued, they begin to see themselves as having both the authority and the responsibility to make judgments about what they read. (This process is evident in the video programs, when students are asked to choose a line of poetry and explain why it is important to them.) The responses of fellow students also play a pivotal role: Through interaction with their peers, students move beyond their initial individual reaction to take into account a multiplicity of ideas and interpretations, thus broadening their perspective.

Incorporating reader response in the classroom
As increasing numbers of elementary, middle, and secondary school language arts teachers have come to accept reader-response theory over the last 25 years, the instructional techniques that support it have become more common in classrooms: Literature circles, journal writing, and peer writing groups all grew out of the reader-response movement. These teaching strategies value student-initiated analysis over teacher-led instruction, promote open-ended discussion, and encourage students to explore their own thinking and trust their own responses. 

Benefits and challenges of using a reader-response approach
Research has shown that students in reader-response-based classrooms read more and make richer personal connections with texts than students using more traditional methods. They tend to be more tolerant of multiple interpretations, and because they learn techniques that help them recognize the ways in which their own arguments are formed, they are better equipped to examine the arguments of others. In short, reader response helps students to become better critical readers. 

While these techniques encourage a broad range of textual interpretations and reactions, students must learn, however, that not every response is equally valid or appropriate. The meaning of a text is not an entirely subjective matter, of course, and it is crucial that responses be grounded in the text itself and in the context in which the text is read. One way of guarding against students "running wild" is to make sure that there's a community restraint on interpretation. That is, if the teacher structures reader-response exercises carefully, each individual student is challenged by the discussion to go beyond his or her first response. Even though an individual reader's reactions are based on his or her own "schema" (the expectations that arise from personal experiences), he or she will realize in class discussion that not everyone shares that same perspective. 

Reader Response Literary Criticism
 In the reader response critical approach the primary focus falls on the reading rather than on the author or the text.  
Theoretical assumptions:
Literature is a performative art and each reading is a performance. Literature exists only when it is read; meaning is an event The literary text possesses no fixed and final meaning. Literary meaning is created by the interaction of the reader and the text. According Louise Rosenblatt a poem is “what the reader lives through under the guidance of the text.”  

How text govern readers:
Focus on how texts guide, constrain, control reading.
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
the implied reader , who is established by the response-inviting structures of the text (this type of reader is assumed and created by the work itself) and the actual reader, who brings his/her own experiences and preoccupations to the text. The Implied Reader

The author creates a relationship with a reader and enables him/her to discover the meaning of the text. The tone of voice or features of the narrative voice imply what kind of reader  - in terms of knowledge and attitude is addressed, what kind of attention the book is requesting  and what kind of relationship of the narrator and the reader is assumed to be. For the child- implied reader authors try to reinforce the relationship by a very sharply focused point of view. (inthe centre of the story is a child) Techniques”

the author puts him/herself into the narrator (3rd person godlike all-seer) or the 1st person child character the way s/he comments on the events in the story
by the attitude s/he adopts towards his/her characters 

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