Response Paper – “Interaction Between Text and Reader”
In Wolfgang Iser’s “Interaction Between Text and Reader,” the author notes that the reading of a literary work is contingent entirely upon how the structure and its recipient interact with each other (Iser 1673). In essence, when reading a work of literature, the reader is providing just as much to the overall interpretation of the text as the author; it is an interactive experience that is not the same between readers. It is known as the phenomenological theory of art, as humans interpret what they see around them in different ways, and is the same with art. I found this to be incredibly interesting, as I have often thought about the ways in which I contribute to works of literature as I read them – my own interpretation of symbols, character interactions and more. Iser’s theory hinges greatly on reader-response, in which the reader reacts almost instinctively to the text, filling the ‘gaps’ in the text itself through our own experiences.
Iser believes that the purpose of structures is to allow the reader to interact with the text in order to “prompt acts of ideation” (Iser 1677). The reading process itself becomes incredibly important, as works cannot be understood if they are not read. Iser makes note of the interaction between text and reader being somewhat different from interpersonal communication; it is not two-sided, both sides constantly changing their input based on the other’s reactions (no “dyadic” interaction (Iser 1625). This means that the book is static; it cannot change what it says, the only thing that changes is the reader’s reaction to it. The gaps become somewhat more ambiguous; it becomes less clear where something is “missing” in an interaction, thus making the convergence of the gaps and the reader more significant (Iser 1676).
Looking at Iser’s criticism, I absolutely love the idea of hermeneutics – that a work continually changes its meaning based on the interaction the reader has with the text. Literature can be fluid like that; given a different perspective or set of life experiences, a work can completely change meaning. This makes literature much more malleable and meaningful for the individual, as it allows the reader to insert their own biases, prejudices and needs into the text. I’m a huge proponent of Death to the Author, as I love Barthes’ notion that authorial intent is not nearly as important as the meaning of the work itself as interpreted by the reader. This follows along with that notion, as the reader is not interacting with the author, but with the text – they might glean a meaning the author did not intend to write in their text.
In conclusion, I find myself agreeing greatly with Iser’s notion of reader-response theory as a valid way to interact with a text. The act of reading itself is a transformative and influential process for an individual, and readers take from a work what they put into it. Readers who are engaged with a work will find themselves filling in the “gaps” in structure and adapt the meaning of the work to their own experience. This is one of the primary ways in which I engage with a text, as ultimately the effect of a work upon the reader is the end-goal of the process of reading.
Iser, Wolfgang. “Interaction Between Text and Reader.” in Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (2nd ed.) Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: WW Norton, 2010. Print.