Wolfgang Iser as a Reader Response Critic: A Brief Note

Negating the Formalist notion of objective reality and autotelic text that nullifies the participation of the readers, Wolfgang Iser in The Implied Reader, follows the phenomenological theories of Husserl and Ingarden, and formulates two aspects of a literary work: the artistic pole (created by the author) and the aesthetic pole (realisation accomplished by the reader), and describes reading as an active and creative process that brings the text into life by unfolding its “inherently dynamic character”.

In Iser’s view, a literary text contains a number of “gaps” or “indeterminate elements” which the reader must fill by active participation, and he observes that meaning evolves through the convergence of the text and the reader, as the active and creative reader fills the “gaps” or the “unwritten implications” by exercising his/her imagination. Iser distinguishes between the “implied reader” who is established by the text itself, as one who is expected to respond in specific ways to the “response inviting structures” of the text, and the “actual reader” whose responses are influenced and determined by his/her experiences, perception and background. Iser suggests that reading is a temporal and non-linear activity, a process of aesthetic recreation that is dialectic and continually interrupted by expectation, defamiliarization, contradictions, disillusion. In fitting the “gaps” or the in.determinate areas, the readers attempt to impart consistency and coherence to the text, which, in a typical poststructuralist vein, is eternally delayed, thereby making the reader aware of the inexhausabitity of the text and its potential to generate numerous meanings, according to the interpretation of different readers. Iser further elaborates his concept of the “implied reader” in The Act of Reading, in which he discusses the “real reader” (the actual reader whose response is documented in the text” and the “hypothetical reader” (who is a “projection of all possible realisation of the text”).

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