Stanley Fish’s “Is There a Text in This Class?” clarifies reader response theory and its implications for fearful critics. Reader response theory suggests that readers will and should interact emotionally with a text, rather than attempt (and inevitably fail) to devoid their analyses of any and all personal reaction. Fish argues in support of this theory and seeks to remind reader response skeptics that accepting a variety of different meanings as valid, in accordance with readers’ diverse contexts and backgrounds, does not fate literary analysis to an “infinite plurality of meanings” (307). He shows that language, especially the sentence, is subject to change in meaning depending upon context. Although language (and context) is extremely fluid and subjective, Fish claims that all communication takes part within a larger structure which “is not abstract and independent but social” (318). For this reason he shows personally relevant communication to be both communal and significant.
To illustrate this theory I sculpted a web from last week’s New Criticism art, which showed caged figures (emotions) unwillingly held captive within a cell. Rather than oppress the figures, this sculpture shows diverse emotions and responses (illustrated by the colorful “connection” pieces) to be active and necessary agents within the sculpture itself. Much like reader response theory’s emphasis on both the reader and text working together to create meaning, it is the presence and communication of the individual “emotions” and black bars that allow the sculpture to take form, thus creating the most meaning.
I am particularly interested in how reader response theory allows for communal representation through individual perspective. Although some critics believe its relativist nature to be destructive of meaning, I think both Stanley Fish and my sculpture work to show that personal response and communication allows for meaning to take a much more expansive and inclusive form. Because humans are social beings, no individual perspective can stand alone in total isolation from others. It is for this reason that I believe multiway communication that values the individual and the text equally is capable of productively generating webs of meaning that are accommodating of diverse groups within a culture while drawing attention to the most populated or “connective” ideas, without neglecting others. It is also for this reason that this particular model allows for growth and change, as any model honestly reflective of a given society or culture should.