The Play of Meaning(s): Reader-Response Criticism and Dialogics I. Reader-Response Criticism The book cover of ReaderResponse Criticism, edited by Jane P. Tompkins. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980. •Reader-response theory arose in large measure as a reaction against the New Criticism, or formalist approach. •Reader-response critics feel that readers have been ignored in discussions of the reader process, when they should have been the central concern. A text does not even exist until it is read by some reader. •Reader-response critics are saying that in effect, if a text does not have a reader, it does not exist– or at least, it has no meaning. •The text is not the most important component; the reader is. The reader created the text as much as the author does. •The interaction that takes places between the reader and the text. Davis,Todd F. Formalist Criticism and Reader-Response Theory. N.Y: Palgrave, 2002. Reader-response critics see formalist critics as narrow, dogmatic elitist and certainly wrong-headed in essentially refusing readers even a place in the reading interpretive process. I. Reader-Response Criticism • Paradoxically, the ultimate source of this subjectivity is modern science itself, which has become increasingly skeptical that any objective knowledge is possible. • Einstein's theory of relativity stands as the best known expression of that doubt. Thomas S. Kuhn’s demonstration that scientific fact is dependent on the observer’s frame of reference reinforces the claim of subjectivity. I. Reader-Response Criticism • Another special feature of reader-response theory is that it is based on rhetoric, the art of persuasion. • The New Criticism, which strongly influenced the study of literature and still does maintaining that it was a critical fallacy to mention any effects that a piece of literature might have on them. • Fro example, in a close reading of Jane Austen’s Emma, Booth demonstrates the rhetorical strategies that Austen uses to ensure the reader’s seeing things through the heroine’s eyes. I. Reader-Response Criticism • Louise Rosenblatt, Walker Gibson and Gerald Prince are critics who affirm the importance of the reader but not willing to relegate the text to a secondary role. • Gibson injects the reader further into the interpretive operation as a way of gaining fresh critical insights. • Prince demonstrates the strategies by which the narrative creates the readers. I. Reader-Response Criticism • Wolfgang Iser is a German critic who applies the philosophy of phenomenology to the interpretation of literature. The critic should not explain the text as an object but its effect on the reader. • Iser says a text does not tell readers everything; there are gaps or blanks, which he refers to as the ‘”indeterminacy” if the text. Wolfgang Iser, the writer of The Act of Reading. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978. Iser ‘s implied readers are fairly sophisticated: they bring to the contemplation of the text a conversance with the conventions that enables them to decode the text. Text is subjective and no longer the author’s. I. Reader-Response Criticism Promulgated by Hans Robert Jauss, in his Toward and Aesthetic of reception • Yet another kind of readeroriented criticism is reception theory. Such criticism depends heavily on reviews in newspapers, magazines, and journals and on personal letters for evidence of public reception. • Jauss seeks to bring about a compromise between that interpretation which ignores history and that which ignores the text in favor of social theories. I. Reader-Response Criticism • Flaubert’s Madame Bovary was not well received by its mid-19th century readers, whi objected to the impersonal, clinical, naturalistic style. • Delayed hostile reader response to firmly established classics surfaced in the latter half of the 20th century. • Huckleberry Finn became the target of harsh and misguided criticism on the grounds that it contained radical slurs in the form of epithets like “nigger” and demanding portraits of Negroes. I. Reader-Response Criticism • Feminists have resented what they considered male-chauvinist philosophy and attitudes in Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.” Horizons of expectations do not establish the final meaning of a work. We regard our interpretations as stemming from a dialogue between past and present and thereby representing a fusion of horizons. • More recent psychological critics have focused on the unconscious of readers. • Norman Holland argues that all people inherit from their mother an identity theme or fixed understanding of the kind of person they are. I. Reader-Response Criticism • David Bleich, in Subjective Criticism, denies that the text exists independent of readers. • Bleich claims that individuals everywhere classify things into three essential groups; objects symbols and people. I. Reader-Response Criticism • Stanley Fish calls his technique of interpretation affective stylistics. • Fish rebels against the so-called rigidity and dogmatism of the New Critics and especially against the tenet that a person is a single, static object, a whole that has to be understood in its entirety at once. • Fish argues that meaning in a literary work is not something to be extracted, as a dentist might pull a tooth; meaning must be negotiated by readers, a line at a time. • His term for such readers is “informed.” I. Reader-Response Criticism • Two distinguishing features characterize reader-response criticism: 1. The effect of literary work on the reader 2. The relegation of the text to secondary importance: the reader is of primary importance. • When reader-response critics analyze the effect the text on the reader, the analysis often resembles formalists criticism or rhetorical criticism or psychological criticism. II. Dialogics Mikhail Bakhtin’s constant focus is on the many voices in a novel. • Dialogics is Bakhtin’s key term used to describe the narrative theory. Dialogics refers to the inherent “addressivity” of all language. • It is safe to say that Bakhtin would have rejected any “ism” as an approach to the novel if it failed to recognize the essential indeterminacy of meaning outside the dialogic relationship between voices. II. Dialogics • Indeed, Bakhtin seems to believe that a writer such as Dostoevsky actually thought in voices rather than ideas and wrote novels that were thus primarily dialogical exchanges. • Bakhtin’s constant focus is thus on the many voices in a novel, especially that way that some authors in particular allow characters’ voice of the author. Fyodor Dostoevsky creates a polyphonic discourse in which the author’s voice is only one among many and the characters are allowed free speech. Carnivalization • Another of Bakhtin‘s key term is carnivalization. • Just as the public ritual of carnival inverts values in order to question them, so the novel may call closed meanings into question. Bakhtin, Mikhail. Speech Genres & Other Late Essays. Trans. Vern W. McGee. Texas, Austin: U of Texas P, 1986. Emerson, Caryl. The First Hundred Years of Mikhail Bakhtin. New Jersey, Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997. • As carnival concretizes the abstract in a culture, so Bakhtin claims that novel carnivalizes through diversities of speech and voice reflected in its structure. • Bakhtin extends his ideas to dialogicity. The person is always the “subject of an address” because one “cannot talk about him; one can only address oneself to him.” • Such “dialogic opposition” means that the greatest challenge for an author, ” to create out of heterogeneous and profoundly disparate materials of varying worth a unified and integral artistic creation,” cannot be realized by using a single “philosophical design” as the basis of artistic unity. • Dialogicity in characterization thus leads to particular structures. • Not “evolution” but “coexistence and interaction” characterize such structures.