Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Wolfgang Iser and Reader-Response Theory

I have journals due in one of my current MA classes, but the instructor is only going to glance at them. I have done all of this work for very little return. I know, a journal is often written only for oneself, but I also wrote it as a conversation with the instructor which now will not happen. So as to make this a more fruitful endeavor, I am going to post some of the journals here. Enjoy and feel free to respond so as to make these truly a conversation.

A brief story. I had a friend who wrote what I considered to be a brilliant poem. In it was the line “brown leaves change and paper.” I had always read that as brown leaves change into paper. He insists that it is just a list. Now, the claim could be made that with proper punctuation, this could be cleared up, like the Facebook memes that tell why grammar is important. (“Let’s eat, Grandma.” Vs. “Let’s eat Grandma.”) But in another way, this gets to reader-response theory. Most of us had only heard the poem as it was read at an open mic and so our interpretation was based on the words, not on the punctuation. The pauses were assumed to be dramatic pauses, not a sequential list. And I was not alone in how I had interpreted the poem. Many other people who talked to the poet said that they had assumed the same thing, but he insisted that it was just a list, as he had intended.

As I read the introduction to Wolfgang Iser, I read the objections to his theory about the “dynamic interaction of text and reader” (1522). I am reading how some thought that his theory would destabilize the text and that “there might be an infinite number of possible readings for every text,” to which I have written “Horrors!” in the margin. Obviously, it depends on the text. If one is reading/writing a medical textbook, you do not want an infinite number of possible readings. You want only one. If you are reading “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock,” although TS Eliot might want you to “get” only his intent in writing the piece, it is possible and no less desirable, for every person to interpret the poem in an idiosyncratic way, unique to that individual. There is no harm to that, and you can even acknowledge that x is what Eliot intended, but c is the reading that you got from the text based on your gender, class, education, worldview, etc.

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