Posted 2006-04-23 by The E
It seems to me that it behooves a writer to understand literary theory. much in the way an artists needs to understand the rules of composition and form and so forth, the more a writer understands how text is understood, the better he can forumulate that text to evoke the message and response he desires. Thus, I will indulge myself in a little bit of criticism about literary criticism. Specifically, reader response.
The problem with the reader response theory is communicating the theory itself. (This gets pretty metaphysical, so watch out) You see, the reader response theory states that a text is nothing except for how a reader, well, responds to it. In other words, it is the reading of a text that creates the work of art, not the writing it, unless you want to go deeper and acknowledge that the writer is experiencing those words as he writes them, but that amounts to the same thing, and in any case, the writer’s experience it essentially different than the reader’s; if not simply because generating the text is essentially different than having it given to you, but also because each reader, and in fact, during each reading, the experience is different, which is the crux of the idea behind reader response theory, and also the main thrust of the paradox involved.
It’s easy enough to agree that no text is anything if it is not read. The extent to which we agree to it may differ, but we can agree it doesn’t function if it simply sits on the shelf. It may have done something at the writing, but if it is never read again, there never is an aesthetic experience. It only generates that experience when read. Each reader, and, as I said, each reading, of a text is a different aesthetic and communicative experience because each reader brings a different consciousness to the reading. He has a different background and knowledge that helps interpret and colors each new thing that he experience or reads in the future. Everyone reading a text understands it differently.
But that’s the problem. How do I know that what you read just now was understood anything at all like I understood it or meant it? I don’t. Especially if we assume the validity of reader response theory. You may simply be giving it a meaning that makes sense to you in your background. There is not guarantee that your understanding was anything like mine. So what’s the point of the theory? The only possibility is intellectual relativism, but that’s a dangerous theory that’s a story for another time.