The Reading Process

Topics: Literature, Fiction, Writing Pages: 31 (9252 words) Published: November 28, 2013
The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach
Author(s): Wolfgang Iser
Source: New Literary History, Vol. 3, No. 2, On Interpretation: I, (Winter, 1972), pp. 279-299 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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Accessed: 18/08/2008 13:48
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The Reading Process:

A Phenomenological

HE PHENOMENOLOGICAL THEORY of art lays full stress on the
idea that, in considering a literary work, one must take into account not only the actual text but also, and in equal measure, the actions involved in responding to that text. Thus Roman Ingarden confronts the structure of the literary text with the ways in which it can be konkretisiert (realized).1 The text as such offers different "schematised views" 2 through which the subject matter of the work can come to light, but the actual bringing to light is an action of Konkretisation. If this is so, then the literary work has two poles, which we might call the artistic and the aesthetic: the artistic refers to the text created by the author, and the aesthetic to the realization accomplished by the reader. From this polarity it follows that the literary work cannot be completely identical with the text, or with the realization of the text, but in fact must lie halfway between the two. The work is more than the text, for the text only takes on life when it is realized, and furthermore the realization is by no means independent of the individual disposition of the reader-though this in turn is acted upon by the different patterns of the text. The convergence of text and reader brings the literary work into existence, and this convergence can never be precisely pinpointed, but must always remain virtual, as it is not to be identified either with the reality of the text or with the individual disposition of the reader.

I Cf. Roman Ingarden, Vom Erkennen des literarischenKunstwerks (Tiibingen,

1968), pp. 49 ff.
For a detailed discussion of this term see Roman Ingarden, Das literarische Kunstwerk (Tiibingen, 1960), pp. 270 ff.



It is the virtuality of the work that gives rise to its dynamic nature, and this in turn is the precondition for the effects that the work calls forth. As the reader uses the various perspectives offered him by the text in order to relate the patterns and the "schematised views" to one another, he sets the work in motion, and this very process results ultimately in the awakening of responses within himself. Thus, reading causes the literary work to unfold its inherently dynamic character. That this is no new discovery is apparent from references made even in the early days of the novel. Laurence Sterne remarks in Tristram Shandy: ". . . no author, who understands the just boundaries of decorum and...
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