The reader-response theory is based on the transactional relationship between a reader and the text and the text and a reader. All the components of the reading process work together—the reader, time, place, and text—creating a unique and specific poem. The text begins as a set of signifiers that prompts a reader to draw from his personal experiences. The reader then sorts through these experiences and chooses the referent that is most relevant to the context of the text. As the reader moves through the text, his mind interrelates all the words, shuttling back and forth between various emotions, images, attitudes, and ideas. Meaning emerges as the signifiers and referents combine and add-up as the text moves forward, weaving the reader’s stream of life into the literary process; the words transform from marks on a page to structured responses, full of meaning: a poem emerges.
There is no essential connection between a word (signifier), the specific thing it is referring to (referent), and what the word means in a given symbol system (signified) because different languages have different names and meanings for the same thing. In other words, language is arbitrary. Language is a social system of meaning, and reading is how a social system of signifiers works; it is the production of relations among signifiers. Words only have meaning in specific contexts; they don’t “mean” something mystically or naturally. Or, as Louise Rosenblatt puts it in The Reader, the Text, the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work, “any reading act is the result of a complex social nexus. Language is a socially generated and socially generative phenomenon” (20).
I made a chart to help me understand how signifiers, referents, and the signified all relate to each other. Language is arbitrary because the word “star” in English is replaced by the word “estrella” in Spanish, but both refer to the same referent.
As for my artistic endeavors, I drew a picture! It’s a scene depicting the ocean. I drew the surface of the ocean in black and white because I want it to represent the text in a reading process. If readers only engage with a text at face value then they are depriving themselves of a rich and complicated reading experience. If, however, readers decide to engage with a text then they move deeper into meaning, which makes the reading process more colorful and alive!
I like the reader-response theory because it’s interactive, like the world we live in. I think one of the most exciting things about living is change—it’s always happening! I understand Wimsatt and Beardsley and I think objectivity is important in certain circumstances, but for the most part, I prefer to engage with life, participating in a constant give-and-take. In chapter three of Rosenblatt’s article, she talks about efferent reading compared to aesthetic reading. Is efferent reading in the same realm as New Criticism?