What is reader response Criticism?

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neneta | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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The Reader Response theory is an interesting approach to literary texts in that it places the reader at the centre, and the process of reading itself is viewed as a dynamic and ever changing experience depending on the readers, their background and combined set of experiences.  The reader’s participation in the text is required to infer meaning, and "concretize" the words on the page.  The readers will bring their own perceptions and experiences to bear on a text, and no two will bring the same interpretation.  

In order to understand the Reception Theory, another name for Reader Response, some terms have to be identified:

Textual Indeterminacies or Gaps

These are instances when a reader is faced with insufficient information and as a result, he/she must bring his/her own interpretation into play in order to make sense of the text.

Horizon of Expectations

The “horizon of expectations” refers to the collection of assumptions that particular “reading communities” (groups of actual or implied readers) have (or had) when they read texts. The horizon of expectations concept recognises that ideal characteristics or cultural/moral norms will change over time. Thus, new generations of readers will bring evolving meanings and experiences to a text.

Implied Reader

The “implied reader” is the “ideal” reader for any particular text; this will generally be the reader whom the author “had in mind” when he wrote the text. Characteristics of the implied reader would include:

1) Facility with the language the text is written in;

2) Familiarity with the cultural references and literary allusions explicitly used in the text;

3) Familiarity with the social norms assumed but not necessarily described in the text (so that the reader will have the ability to fill in the “gaps” that the author leaves in, either to create literary effects or simply because she doesn’t think of them as gaps);

4) For intentionally difficult works, someone willing to read slowly and work hard at an understanding;

Thus, the implied/actual reader would have the correct set of attitudes/beliefs to comprehend the text, and obtain/take on board its full intended effects. 

Actual Reader

The actual reader is the reader who, in real life, can appreciate/engage with a text without necessarily sharing the set of attitudes and beliefs to understand the text.

Some of the theorists that helped to develop the Reader response theory are: Hans Robert Jauss, Wolfgang Iser and Stanley Fish.