Thursday, February 12, 2015

Reader-Response Theory

In opposition to the New Critics, Reader-Response Theory is a form of literary criticism that focuses on the audience in correlation to the creation of meaning in the text. Although Louise Rosenblatt developed this theory, Stanley Fish is also a scholar and critic that explored this thesis.

Rosenblatt makes a reference to plays to demonstrate the reading process. She writes "Without rejecting the idea that plays are usually written to be ultimately acted, I still insist that before they are acted they must be read—first by the author evoking his intended work and, second, by the director and the actors, who before they interpret must go through the process..." (Rosenblatt 13). I think that this quote is particularly interesting because she is speaking about a work of art that is quite possibly even more subjective that written work. She also says that the creator should be reading over what they have written, which is contradictory to what I gathered from the rest of her writing.

Of course we know that not everyone is going to read a text the same way because of their own preconceived notions and idiosyncrasies, but does it matter how the author intended the message to be received? While there may be no wrong perception, should we be taking the artist into account?

Considering the fact that this theory discredits the idea of the author pertaining to the text or creating its meaning whatsoever, I thought it would be interesting to elaborate and expand on the poem that I used for my Affective Fallacy post, and make it more about the author and the creation process. I wrote a poem about being an artist, more specifically an author, from the point of view of a writer, and I was sure to highlight what the process involves both intellectually and emotionally.

One who creates
something out
of nothing has to
be able to be a minimalist
when they begin and
slowly graduate through levels
of creation.
They need to be able to have
one thing, break it
down to its most
simple form and
see what it truly is,
and then use it to make
something new from it;
hence the cycle of destruction.

The process of creation
and destruction is very
similar to the levels of connection
and progression between you, the author
the words, the reader, and
the meaning that is created.

You see something beautiful
that perplexes you;
you want to know more about
it so you
take it apart, analyze it.
You learn from it,
and use your new
knowledge to
construct something of
your own.

You can be mad
and sane at the same
time when you have one
thought in mind
but elaboration just cannot
be helped.
The mirage of madness,
to an artist or an
seems close to sanity.


  1. Hi Katrina,

    I like how you wrote a poem to demonstrate the theory. The last stanza is my favorite part of the poem, but I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to say in it. Like, it's possible to understand something while also not understanding it? Is this a reference to the Rosenblatt article when she writes about literature versus reality?

  2. Like Janina, I am a bit confused on the poem itself, and could use a little more explanation of its purpose in connecting to the theory. But this is a fine post overall. I think for Rosenblatt, the author is mostly dead-- she is not intimately involved in making meaning once the text is released into the public. At that point, the text and reader are the only two left in the equation. But the sentence you quote above does indicate that she recognizes authors as a kind of first reader-- the first people who read the text and make meaning out of it. Which is kind of a cool idea, that authors are really readers of their own texts more than masters of their texts.