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Reader-Response Criticism

Critical approaches to literature that stress the validity of reader response to a text, theorizing that each interpretation is valid in the context from which a reader approaches a text.

Reader-response criticism arose as a critical theory in response to formalist interpretations of literature. Unlike the latter, which stressed the primacy of the text and an objective interpretation of it based on established criteria, advocates of reader-response criticism focused on the importance of the reader and their individual, subjective response to the text. One of the earliest proponents of this theory was Louise Rosenblatt, who stated in her Literature as Exploration (1938) that a poem is what the reader lives through under the guidance of the text and experiences as relevant to the text. The significance Rosenblatt and other reader-response critics placed on the reader was in direct opposition to the position taken by formalist critics in the pastfor them, the text was the primary focus, and its impact on the reader or the idea that the reader's response was in any way relevant in the interpretation of the work was inconceivable. In addition to Rosenblatt, other influential reader-response critics include Stanley Fish and Wolfgang Iser, both of whom argued against regarding literary works as objects. In his essay on readerresponse criticism, Steven Mailloux explains that Fish, Iser, and other reader-response critics actually had very different approaches to the critical study of literary texts. However, all of them were unanimous in their rejection of the affective fallacy theory proposed by William K. Wimsatt and Monroe C. Beardsley in an influential essay in 1949. In this essay, Wimsatt and Beardsley stated their misgivings about what they termed as obstacles to objective criticism and the dangers of intentional fallacy (defined as confusion between the text and its origins) and affective fallacy (explained as the distinction that should be made between what a text is and what it does). According to Wimsatt and Beardsley, as well as many other formalist critics, the effect of the text on the reader should be irrelevant to the study of the text because this type of approach leads to the destruction of the text as an object of specifically critical judgment. In contrast, reader-response critics advocated the primacy of a reader's response to the text, stressing that there was no such thing as an objectively correct interpretation, says Mailloux. During the late 1970s and 1980s, reader-response criticism, influenced in part by trends in other disciplines, especially psychology and psychoanalytical theories, expanded to include a study of the reader as subject, a combination of various social practices, defined and positioned socially by his or her environment. This shift from the relationship between reader and text, and their mutual impact, to a focus on self-knowledge and observation has been summarized in anthologies, including Jane Tompkins's Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Poststructuralism (1980). Recent works by critics including David Bleich, Normal Holland, and even Stanley Fish, have also expanded the

focus of reader-response theory to include the validity and significance of interpretations guided by the environments or communities inhabited by the readers. This is a departure from their earlier-held position, which emphasized the primacy of the relationship between reader and text, regardless of environment. Fish, in particular, laid out his theories regarding interpretive strategies, which, he stated, are shared by interpretive communities in several essays during the 1980s and later. In his study of the history of reader-response criticism, Terence R. Wright explains that while the field has expanded its boundaries to include numerous approaches, the concern reader-response critics have with the act of reading remains constant. What has changed is the awareness these theorists now have of the ways in which environment, history, politics, and even sexual orientation, can affect a reader's response to a text. This expansion of criteria has led many contemporary critics to refer to this type of critical theory as reader-oriented criticism rather than reader-response criticism.

Reception theory is a version of reader response literary theory that emphasizes the reader's reception of a literary text. It is more generally called audience reception in the analysis of communications models. In literary studies, reception theory originated from the work of Hans-Robert Jauss in the late 1960s. It was most influential during the 1970s and early 1980s in Germany and USA (Fortier 132), amongst some notable work in Western Europe. A form of reception theory has also been applied to the study of historiography; see Reception history (below). Cultural theorist Stuart Hall is one of the main proponents of reception theory, having developed it for media and communication studies from the literary- and history-oriented approaches mentioned above. This approach to textual analysis focuses on the scope for "negotiation" and "opposition" on the part of the audience. This means that a "text"be it a book, movie, or other creative workis not simply passively accepted by the audience, but that the reader / viewer interprets the meanings of the text based on their individual cultural background and life experiences. In essence, the meaning of a text is not inherent within the text itself, but is created within the relationship between the text and the reader. Stuart Hall also developed Hall's Theory of encoding and decoding, focusing on the communication processes at play in the televisual form. Reception theory has since been extended to the spectators of performative events, predominantly theatre. Susan Bennett is often credited with beginning this discourse within theatre. Reception theory has also been applied to the history and analysis of landscapes, through the work of landscape historian John Dixon Hunt, motivated by recognition that the survival of gardens and landscapes is due to their public reception. [edit]General

A basic acceptance of the meaning of a specific text tends to occur when a group of readers have a shared cultural background and interpret the text in similar ways. It is likely that the less shared heritage a reader has with the artist, the less he/she will be able to recognise the artist's intended meaning, and it follows that if two readers have vastly different cultural and personal experiences, their reading of a text will vary greatly. Umberto Eco coined the term aberrant decoding to describe the case when the reader's interpretation differs from what the artist intended.[1] [edit]Reception theory and landscape architecture

In literature, the interaction between text and reader occurs within a framework that controls and limits the interaction, through genre, tone, structure, and the social conditions of the reader and author, whereas in landscapes the interaction occurs through movement and viewing, framed by typology instead of genre and tone. Instead of an implied reader, reception theory of landscapes assumes an implied visitor, who is an abstracted concatenation of responses of many visitors at different times. The theory recognizes that there is no single reading of a landscape that fulfills its entire potential, and that it is important to examine the motives of visitors and the factors influencing their visits (whether they read guidebooks about the place before visiting, or had strong feelings about the place or the designer, for instance). One key difference between reception theory in literature and reception theory in landscape architecture is that while literary works are accessible only to the imagination, physical landscapes are accessible to the senses as well as to the imagination. However, purely mythological gardens (such as the Garden of Eden and the gardens of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili) are accessible only to the imagination, and extant historical gardens form a middle ground, with their reception influenced by sensory experience as well as readings of historical accounts of visits to those gardens. Reception theoretical analysis of landscapes differs from typical writing on the history and analysis of landscapes, which tends to focus on the intentions of the designers, the conditions leading to the creation of the design, and the building process. Reception theory also tends to de-emphasize commonly used terms of description like 'formal' and 'picturesque,' unless those terms were known to have meaning to landscape visitors themselves. [edit]Reception history

According to Harold Marcuse,[2] reception history is "the history of the meanings that have been imputed to historical events. It traces the different ways in which participants, observers, historians and other retrospective interpreters have attempted to make sense of events both as they unfolded and over time since then, to make those events meaningful for the present in which they lived and live."