Der Implizite Leser, The Self-Consuming Artifact, Is There a Text in this Class?
This approach to criticism derives from Hermeneutics, a discipline which places at its centre the practice of interpretation rather than particular results. In such a perspective, the reader of a literary text, so long ignored or taken for granted, makes a dramatic reappearance as the focus of meaning, the site of the construction of significance, if not always the actual constructor. Hans Robert Jauss developed what he called an ‘aesthetics of reception’, and Wolfgang Iser, in a book entitled Der Implizite Leser (1972), explored the concept of the implied or implicit reader, that is, the reader called for by a specific text, a reader we may recognize without wishing, or being able, to identify entirely as ourselves. For Stanley Fish, in The Self-Consuming Artifact (1972) and Is There a Text in this Class? (1980), the very mistakes we make as readers are an integral part of the reading process, and indeed the notion of a ‘mistake’ is problematic for him. Fish's answer to the apparent suggestion of anarchy in his approach is the concept of the ‘interpretive community’: we agree (or we can discuss) an interpretation, or different ages and cultures have agreed or discussed interpretations, not because we have settled on a permanent truth of the text but because we speak the same language, because we are able to make our interpretations intelligible to those who share our idiom. Literary history therefore is the story not of progress and correction but of changing communities and sets of assumptions. For Roland Barthes, the death of the Author (the title of a well-known essay of 1968) was to be the price of the birth of the reader; but it is important to note that his Author is capitalized, a tyrannical old literary deity to be dethroned, not a mere writer, and that the reader has a small r and is (implicitly) plural, a liberated but not irresponsible collaborator with the text's proposals.