Sunday, November 13, 2011

wolfgang Iser / "Indeterminacy and the Reader's Response in Prose Fiction" - summary

Wolfgang Iser /  "Indeterminacy and the Reader's Response in Prose Fiction" (1971)

Wolfgang Iser's 1971 "Indeterminacy and the Reader's Response in Prose Fiction" deals with the nature of the relationship formed between the reader and the literary text.

Iser opens "indeterminacy and the Reader's Response in Prose Fiction" claiming that hermeneutics and interpretation were always suspicious of the manifested form of prose fiction, believing that the meaning is always somewhere behind the text, waiting to be discovered and determined by the act of interoperation.  Iser's main problem with this perception of prose is the invalid assumption of a fixed meaning of a text waiting to be unraveled. Reading, Iser holds, is an action, and as an action it always involves the actor as an individual. It is the reader who actively responds to the text, and he does so in relation to the text and its content but also in accordance with his own idiosyncratic knowledge, tendencies, experience etc. meaning, for Iser, is not something embedded in the text but rather something which lies in the complex relationship between the reader and the text.

Therefore, Iser's  "Indeterminacy and the Reader's Response in Prose Fiction" is an attempt to discuss the nature of relationships between the reader and prose fiction. Iser starts by defining the status of the literary text as one which stands "half way" between the actual world of referential meaning and the readers' own person experience.

Another point made by Iser is the prose fiction is never fully determined, never fully definded. The reason for this is that for every information provided there is information left out, and for every manner in which an object is presented in the text there might be others ways to comprehend it, ways that the reader is aware of. Every gap is filled in by the reader according to his own personal preferences, tendencies and the way he experiences the world.

Every text, according to Iser, invited a certain degree of participation from the reader. What is explicitly said by the text never exhausts its full intentions. However, not all prose fiction invites reader's participation to the same extent and here we arrive at the historical part of Iser's  "Indeterminacy and the Reader's Response in Prose Fiction". Iser holds that modern 20th century prose fiction tends to be more undetermined, invoking greater reader participation in comparison with earlier 18th and 19th prose fiction. Such modern prose (Iser illustrates this through James Joyce, Henry Fielding and William Thackeray) utilized the essential gap-filling requirements of reading as a central, not just collateral, part. Readers, according to Iser, are constantly invoked to take part, to bring themselves, and to challenge their own perceptions in their interaction with the text. The reality of such prose fiction becomes dependant on the reader.

In concluding the summary of Wolfgang Iser's "Indeterminacy and the Reader's Response in Prose Fiction" the main point understood is that prose fiction isn't just what is says, but also what it doesn’t say, because that is where the reader gets to work, becoming a partner in the process of creating meaning. The more undetermined the text, there the reader has a chance to see himself reflected from the pages of the book.  

suggested reading:

wolfgang Iser /  "Indeterminacy and the Reader's Response in Prose Fiction"