Reading is a Duet

Texts Can't Speak for Themselves

Here’s a handmade response (what I’m calling my drawings now) to Louise M. Rosenblatt’s 6th chapter in The Reader, The Text, The Poem titled “The Quest for ‘The Poem Itself’.”  In this chapter, she explains the history of critical attention in literary studies, pointing to the critical desire to isolate the literary text as a impersonal object of study.  She concludes this discussion  with the claim once again that the object we call a poem, novel, or play can’t speak for itself and must be activated in a transaction with the reader: 

“The transactional view of the ‘mode of existence’ of the literary thus liberates us from the absolutist rejection of the reader, preserves the importance of the text, and permits a dynamic view of the text as an opportunity for ever new individual readings, yet readings that can be responsibly self-aware and disciplined” (130). 

In other words, accepting the active role of the reader in creating meaning doesn’t mean a free-for-all or pure relativism.  It doesn’t relieve readers of the responsibility to acknowledge their contributions to meaning as well as the text’s guidance.  And this partnership or duet analogy for reading does not seek “rightness” or “the correct interpretation.”  Aesthetic response is, at the the end of the day, an individual reader’s response.  No truth claims are made, except for that reader’s experience in that relationship with that text.