Introduction to Literature
Reader-Response criticism is not a subjective, impressionistic free-for-all,
nor a legitimizing
of all half-baked, arbitrary, personal comments on literary works.
Instead, it is a school of criticism which emerged in the 1970s, focused
on finding meaning in the act of reading itself and examining the ways
individual readers or communities of readers experience texts. These
critics raise theoretical questions regarding how the reader joins with
the author "to help the text mean." They determine what kind of
reader or what community of readers the work implies and helps to create.
They also may examine the significance of the series of interpretations
the reader undergoes in the reading process.
Like New Critics, reader-response critics focus on
what texts do; but instead of regarding texts as self-contained
entities, reader-response criticism plunges into what the New Critics
called the affective fallacy: what do texts do in the minds of the
readers? In fact, a text can exist only as activated by the mind of the
reader. Thus, where formalists saw texts as spacial, reader-response
critics view them as temporal phenomena. And, as Stanley Fish states,
"It is not that the presence of poetic qualities compels a certain
kind of attention but that the paying of a certain kind of attention
results in the emergence of poetic qualities. . . . Interpretation is not
the art of construing but the art of constructing. Interpreters do not
decode poems; they make them" (326-327).
Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 7th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999.
Biddle, Arthur W., and Toby Fulwiler. Reading, Writing, and the Study of Literature. NY: Random House, 1989.
Fish, Stanley. Is There A Text in This Class? Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980.
Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts: Writing About Literature with Critical Theory. 2nd ed. NY: Longman, 1998.
Murfin, Ross, and Supryia M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.