What are the main arguments in Teaching, Studying, and Theorizing the Production and Reception of Literary Texts?

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McCormick advocates for her cultural studies position on text and the act of reading. Reception theory is the idea that consumers of a film, text, or photograph develop the meaning of it. In other words, the meaning behind a text is always changing and out of the hands of the author. The reader is an integral part of text. It is similar to the philosophical question: if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound? She argues that a text has no meaning without a reader. The meaning is developed from the reader. Every reader may have a different interpretation, making it a fluid space of creation. The text is being recreated with each reading. It is continually redefined. This is most obviously played out in the endless interpretations of the Bible. This piece of text has been reinterpreted and argued over in countless ways. Meaning is made based on the reader of the text. However, McCormick acknowledges that the way readers interpret text is not in a vacuum. Rather, our social surroundings play an integral role in how we come to make meaning. She says,

The position of reader or spectator is increasingly seen as balanced between autonomy and social determination...

As such, readers have some free will in their interpretation of a text, however, they are also influenced by all they have learned up until that reading. McCormick is one of many theorists arguing against textual determinism.

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Teaching, Studying, and Theorizing the Production and Reception of Literary Texts by Kathleen McCormick promotes reception theory, which states that meaning is constructed upon the reader or viewer’s reception of a text or film. As such, according to McCormick, readers and viewers are active participants in work. Furthermore, McCormick puts forth the argument that there is no such thing as “the text itself,” but rather that the text exists only as long as there is a reader to respond to it. It results from this theory that a text develops a historicity, and is more properly considered a “function” or set of “effects” based on its history of interpretation. Furthermore, the readers’ interpretations are naturally subjective, and subject to change in the course of history. Any text, this theory holds, is primarily bound to the structures and social norms in which it was produced, but the reader is an active participant nonetheless.

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