A Matter of Shared Knowledge

By Nencini, Alessio | PSYART, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

A Matter of Shared Knowledge


Nencini, Alessio, PSYART


abstract

The link connecting a reader to a text is so strong that we cannot consider the one without also looking at the other. All too frequently, literary reception is studied by focusing either on the textual features or on the reader's dispositional characteristics, which come into play in the reading process. The present paper proposes an integrated approach: reader and text carry different kinds of knowledge in reading, which cannot be easily separated. This knowledge may differ according to the extent to which it is shared among readers, but it all contributes to construct the final literary meaning. Consequently, literary reception can be seen as the result of the action of both widely shared and less shared knowledge, which together produce nomothetic and idiographic forms of meaning.

A matter of shared knowledge. Possible theoretical integrations in the study of literary reception

Introduction

In 1975 Norman Holland wrote 5 readers reading, trying to shed light on one of the most controversial questions of literary studies: why do people interpret the same text differently? The question might appear of little importance; one might quickly provide several possible answers. But behind that simple interrogative statement, there are fundamental aspects that regard various disciplines, such as psychology, sociology, cognitive and literary studies.

Literature is probably one of the most ancient form of mass communication; even today it is an appreciated form of art and is often used, by other disciplines, as an impressive example of an explanation (or rather, a description) of our world, our feelings, relationships, shared meanings and ideas. Thus, literature must be considered a significant part of our sociality and therefore, a relevant issue for all who are interested in studying the world and the people that live in it.

A literary work and the person/s who will receive it are connected by an indissoluble link. This means that to study one of the two elements, the other must also be studied because reading is essentially a process that regards both the reader and the text in a work of cooperation (Eco, 1979). Information that enters the interpretation process and contributes to form the reader's complex representation of the literary work derives both from the text (and its features) and from the reader's personal characteristics: the literary meaning is constructed as function of these two variables.

But even if we accept this perspective (and this is all but given!), we need to pay attention to the way the two parts come together and construct the final, specific, and maybe idiosyncratic result, that is the literary fruition. What is the "weight" of the text and of the narration? And how important is the role played by the reader in this interpretation process? If we want to study literary perception, literary criticism or if we want to use literature in our field of study, we need to answer these questions more precisely.

The two faces of literature studies

Coming back to the initial question posed by Holland, most probably if we asked one hundred people to read Joyce's Ulysses and then asked them to give us a summary, we would probably obtain something close to one hundred different plots. This is because, as various authors have pointed out, every person has a personal experience of what s/he reads (Nemesio, 1999).

Some might say that each reader receives the text differently: others will say that readers re-construct the story in a personal way, while yet others will probably argue that different individuals will read the same book differently because the text is substantially undetermined and indeterminable. And, most probably, there will be further positions as to the causes that can explain the reception process.

Looking back on literary studies of the last decades, we might imagine an ideal continuum that goes from "text", at one end, to "reader", on the other and which represents how different approaches have defined the relationship implied in the construction of literary meaning. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Matter of Shared Knowledge
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.