Literary criticism is the practice of evaluating and interpreting works of literature. It can be performed on individual works or on entire genres or movements. Literary theory, on the other hand, is a framework for understanding how literary texts work. It provides a set of tools for analyzing literary texts, and it can be used to think about all kinds of different aspects of literature, from character development to authorial intention.
Reader response theory is a Literary Theory that emphasizes the reader’s experience and reaction to a text. This theory suggests that meaning is not inherent in the text itself, but is instead created by the reader. In other words, the reader plays an active role in creating the meaning of a text. This theory has its roots in phenomenology and hermeneutics, two philosophical approaches that focus on the nature of human experience.
There are a few different schools of thought within reader response theory, but one of the most influential is that of Stanley Fish. Fish argued that readers bring their own assumptions and prejudices to a text, and these affect the way they interpret it. He also believed that there is no such thing as an objective interpretation of a text; instead, all interpretations are subjective and shaped by the reader’s individual worldview.
Other important figures in reader response theory include Louise Rosenblatt, who developed the idea of transactional reading, and Wolfgang Iser, who proposed the concept of the implied reader.
Today, reader response theory is often used in Literary Criticism, as it provides a way to think about how different readers might interpret a text. It is also sometimes used in the teaching of literature, as it can help students to understand that there is not necessarily one correct interpretation of a text.
In contrast to other schools of criticism, reader-response analysis is a form of literary theory that focuses on the reader’s (or “audience”) experience of a work rather than on the author or the content and form of the text.
Modern reader-response criticism began in the 1960s and ’70s, particularly in America and Germany, with work by Norman Holland, Stanley Fish, Wolfgang Iser, Hans-Robert Jauss, Roland Barthes, and others.
These critics emphasized the ways that readers actively construct meaning from a text, rather than passively receiving it from the author.
Reader-response criticism has been particularly influential in children’s literature and feminist literary criticism, as well as in other areas such as second-language reading and applied linguistics.
There are a number of different approaches to reader-response criticism, but all of them share a focus on the reader’s experience and construction of meaning. Common approaches include affective response criticism, which emphasizes the emotions or feelings evoked in the reader by a work; textual poachers, who focus on how readers appropriate and make use of texts in their everyday lives; and Reception Theory, which looks at how a work is received by different groups of readers.
Although it is a secondary idea, I. A. Richards, who in 1929 analyzed a group of Cambridge students’ misinterpretations, deserves mention as the precursor of an important school. In Literature as Exploration (1938), Louise Rosenblatt urged that teachers avoid imposing any preconceived notions about how to react to any work; and C. S. Lewis argued in An Experiment in Criticism that critics must remain open-minded and unbiased while looking at all aspects of their subject with analytical precision.
In Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism (1980), Louise M. Rosenblatt argues that literary texts are like tools which readers use to fashion their own meanings.
Literary criticism is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often informed by literary theory, which is the philosophical discussion of literature’s goals and methods. Though the two activities are closely related, literary critics are not always, and have not always been, theorists.
Literary theory is a site of debate and disagreement among scholars. Some common debates include whether literature can be objective or subjective, what role history plays in interpretation, whether interpretations should be evaluated according to some intrinsic or extrinsic value system, what the role of the reader is in interpretation, and what sort of linguistic and psychological factors are involved in understanding a text.
There is no one “right” answer to any of these questions, and different theorists approach them in very different ways. Literary theory can be classified according to historical periods (e.g., Renaissance theory, Neoclassical theory, Marxist theory, Feminist theory), schools or movements (e.g., Formalism, New Criticism, Structuralism, Post-structuralism, Deconstruction), or the focus of its attention (e.g., close reading, psychoanalytic criticism, gender studies). Literary theory has been applied to all genres of literature, including poetry, drama, fiction, and non-fiction.
In reader-response theory, the reader is seen as an active participant who brings “real existence” to the work and completes its meaning through interpretation. According to reader-response criticism, literature should be viewed as a performing art in which each reader creates their own performance that is related to the text.
This theory was developed primarily by Louise Rosenblatt, Stanley Fish, Jane Tompkins, and Wolfgang Iser. It has its roots in the work of early 20th-century theorists such as I. A. Richards and William Empson.
Reader response theory is generally divided into two schools: transactional and intentional. Transactional reader-response criticism views the reading process as a transaction between the text and the reader, while intentionalist criticism emphasizes the role of the reader’s intentions in creating meaning.
Critics in the transactional school include Louise Rosenblatt, who developed the concept of efferent and aesthetic reading; Stanley Fish, who argued that all readings are interpretive acts governed by “interpretive communities”; and Jane Tompkins, who argued that the reader’s subjective response is the most important element in the interpretation of a text.
Intentionalists include Wolfgang Iser, who argued that the reader fills in the gaps in the text to create meaning; Hans-Robert Jauss, who developed the concept of horizon of expectations; and Umberto Eco, who argued that texts are “open” and can have an infinite number of interpretations.
Reader-response theory has been applied to a wide range of literary works, including novels, plays, poems, and short stories. It has also been used to interpret non-literary texts such as legal documents and historical narratives.