Hans-Robert Jauss (1922–1997), Wolfgang
Iser (1926-) and the School of Konstanz
The Konstanz School is named after the university founded in the early 1960s in soudiern Germany on the shore of the Bodensee, or Lake of Konstanz, and it denotes the group of scholars and critics who established in the late 1960s and developed through to the late 1980s the critical orientation known variously as the aesthetics of reception (Rezeption.' sästhetik), the aesthetics of literary response and effect (Wirkungsästhetik), or more broadly as reader-response theory. As a fairly loosely affiliated and liberal academic community, it drew together researchers from various German universities and also formed international links, especially with France and the USA. Its ongoing work was published in a series of volumes, largely untranslated, from 1964 until the early 1980s, under the general title Poetik und Hermeneutik (Poetics and Hermeneutics). As Paul de Man has observed, the linkage of these two terms indicates the ambition of the project: to unite the formalistic and rhetorical approaches to literature with the interpretative – to understand at once how the literary work is made, how it works and takes effect, how it signifies and what it means. All these approaches are to be incorporated under the aegis of a theory of reception or response. The two most celebrated members of the Konstanz School are Hans-Robert Jauss and Wolfgang Iser, and their work will be the focus of this essay.
A range of philosophical and dieoretical influences bear upon the critical positions of Jauss and Iser, which are importantly different from each other, though both centrally affirm the crucial function of reception in the constitution of the work of art, specifically the literary text. Both critics are situated, notwithstanding their claims to radical positions, in firm relation to the major German philosophical tradition that emanates from Kant, and – that major late current deriving from, even as it seeks to reorient, Kantian thought provides the philosophical grounding for their theorizing. The filiation is from the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl through its development in the reception theory of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Roman Ingarden and the Geneva School, but other approaches psychoanalytic, sociological and historical – are employed where they are felt to be productive. Reader-response theory seeks to be both eclectic and syncretic.
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Publication information: Book title: Modern European Criticism and Theory: A Critical Guide. Contributors: Julian Wolfreys - Editor. Publisher: Edinburgh University Press. Place of publication: Edinburgh. Publication year: 2006. Page number: 278.
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