Parker’s Reader Response Criticism

Hey guys, so I presented on an overview of Parker’s chapter on reader response crit and the possible ways we could draw parallels with Cave’s ideas. In case you don’t have the handout, it’s posted below:

Basic Definition

Reader response criticism, broken down into simple terms is just what it sounds like.       The focus of the reader’s response to a text.

“We might go as far as to say that there is no separate category of “reader-response      criticism,” because all criticism is reader-response criticism” (330).

When any form of criticism is taking place, it is in essence, a response coming from a     reader. Therefore, can apply to all forms of criticism.

  • Cave: “Cognition […] is alert, attentive, responsive… Correspondingly, literary criticism needs to be as alert and attentive” (1).


Opposition to New Criticism

“Reader-response critics oppose themselves to new criticism” (331).

“William K. Wimsatt and Monroe C. Beardsley decided that to interpret the meaning of a text based on our affective response to the text was a fallacy, an error in interpretive           logic” (331).

  • Affective Fallacy bottom of page 30

“They may believe that their interpretations reveal the intrinsic meaning of a text, but    they still derive their sense of intrinsic meaning from their own responses” (331).


Ideal, Implied, and Actual Readers

Ideal Reader – Stanley Fish (333)

  • Informed reader – can understand the text – can change throughout the text and over time.


  • Cave: “If you know Latin […] you’re familiar with Latin verse, you know […] what Montaigne’s reinvented line means” (10).


Implied Reader – Wolfgang Iser (334)

  • The readers that fill in gaps that the text may or may not fill in.


  • Cave: “Language as […] porous, full of spaces waiting to be filled” (26).


  • “Respond by forming hypotheses about the text and then testing those hypotheses against the continuing sequence of text” (334).
  • “The meaning of a text, then, comes not from the text alone (as new critics thought) or from the reader alone, but from the two together” (334)

Actual Readers – Norman Holland & David Bleich (334)

  • Holland – Ego psychology – “each reader forms a […] “primary identity” based on early childhood and then projects the concerns of that identity onto a literary text” (334-335)
  • Bleich – “focus on the readers’ subjectivity […] grounding their view of a text in the ways that it connects to their personal experience” (335).
  • “Bleich’s method may tell us a great deal about individual readers, but […] not […] much about the texts they read” (335)
  • “might not even tell us much about readers […] if we follow its logic […] we project our own personal interests […] making them yet another text […] Not a very communal logic” (335).


  • Cave: “investigate (for example) the way in which people read, or perceive dramatic action on the stage” (16).


Structuralist Models of Reading and Communication

Basic model of communication – Roman Jakobson (335)

The Message

Addresser ———————— Message ———————— Addressee


  • Addresser sends the message
  • Addressee receives the message
  • The message requires:
    • Context – What is referred to
    • Contact – “a physical channel and psychological connection”
    • Code – Method of communication/expression – ie language



Language of the Message

Emotive ———————— Poetic ———————— Conative


  • Emotive focuses on Addresser – (think emotes – “expressing an attitude or emotion”)
  • Conative focuses on Addressee – speak directly to addressee
  • Referential – refer – context
  • Phatic – focuses on connection between addresser and addressee
  • Metalingual – language about language – understanding – linguistics
  • Poetic – focuses on the message itself – attends to aesthetics


  • Cave also comments similarly on communication calling it conversation and quoting Michel de Montaigne: “Speech belongs half to the speaker, half to the listener” (2).


Narrator vs Narratee – Gerald Prince (337)

Jakobson’s work allows for examining language between a narrator and narratee.

“[a] narrator […] is in some ways like the author, so the narrate […] is in some ways like the reader” (338)

Encoding and Decoding – Stuart Hall (338)

  • Communication is asymmetrical – imperfect because of “differing discourses, ideologies, technologies” of “encoder” and “decoder.”


  • Cave: “Every time we hear or read an utterance, we […] draw an enormous number of inferences that allow us to project ourselves into the mind of the speaker, to fill out the sketch […] and to make it into something we can understand” (25).


  • Three types of decoders (339)
    • Dominant-hegemonic – “accept ideological assumptions of the encoders.”
    • Negotiated – “accept some of the encoders’ ideological assumptions but oppose others.”
    • Oppositional – “reinterpret […] through […] assumptions that oppose.”

Aesthetic Judgment, Interpretive Communities, and Resisting Readers

Aesthetic Judgment – Barbara Herrnstein Smith (340)

  • “what is good or not varies with the reader or group of readers and even, for any given reader, varies from reading to reading.”

Interpretive Communities – Stanley Fish (341)

  • Have own “strategies and conventions.”
  • There is no originality – trying to be original is not original


  • Cave: “The affordance culture encourages us to think and act as if we were different from those around us, even if the others select their personal styles from the same range of offered potentialities” (50)


Reception Theory and Reception History

Reception Theory – Hans Robert Jauss (344)

  • Expectations “when and where a work was written.”
  • Expectations “for a work’s readers, both when the work was written and as those expectations change over time.”


  • Cave: “In humans, the range of available responses is potentially enormous” (1).


Reception History (345)

  • “Studies the history of how readers responded.”
  • “keep in mind the multiplicity of readers” (346).


Paranoid, Suspicious, and Symptomatic Reading Versus Surface Reading

Paranoid, Suspicious, Symptomatic – Eve Sedgwick, Paul Ricoeur, Stephen Best, Sharon Marcus (346)

  • “contemporary critics as trying to put themselves in a superior position above the works that they interpret.”
  • “digging up and exposing […] repressed meaning” (347).
  • Symptomatic reading
    • “interpretation that treats a text as a series of symptoms that express something deeper and buried” (348).


Surface Reading (348)

  • Study what people do with literature besides reading it
  • Study the language
  • Savor the provoked emotions
  • Take at face value
  • Patterns shared with other works
    • Also use “computer-mediated searches”

Pros of Suspicious Reading – Rita Felski (349)

  • Can lead to both “political insights [and] aesthetic pleasure.”
  • Reveals “layers of meaning.”
  • “turn […] scrutiny on literary works that fascinate.”

Readers and the New Technologies

  • Henry Jenkins – Media study scholar
    • “Consumers participate in the culture they consume, and their participation changes what they consume” (350).
  • David Gauntlett – Web 2.0
    • “audiences and readers […] as partners who share in producing what they receive” (350).

“texts do not make meaning by themselves […] readers […] read with varying degrees of passivity and criticism” (351).

Leave a Comment

Spam prevention powered by Akismet

Skip to toolbar