Reading Cultures: The Construction of Readers in the Twentieth Century

Reading Cultures: The Construction of Readers in the Twentieth Century

Reading Cultures: The Construction of Readers in the Twentieth Century

Reading Cultures: The Construction of Readers in the Twentieth Century

Synopsis

Molly Abel Travis unites reader theory with an analysis of historical conditions and various cultural contexts in this discussion of the reading and reception of twentieth-century literature in the United States.

Travis moves beyond such provisional conclusions as "the text produces the reader" or "the reader produces the text" and considers the ways twentieth-century readers and texts attempt to constitute and appropriate each other at particular cultural moments and according to specific psychosocial exigencies. She uses the overarching concept of the reader in and out of the text both to differentiate the reader implied by the text from the actual reader and to discuss such in- and-out movements that occur in the process of reading as the alternation between immersion and interactivity and between role playing and unmasking.

Unlike most reader theorists, Travis is concerned with the agency of the reader. Her conception of agency in reading is informed by performance, psychoanalytic, and feminist theories. This agency involves compulsive, reiterative performance in which readers attempt to find themselves by going outside the self -- engaging in literary role playing in the hope of finally and fully identifying the self through self-differentiation. Furthermore, readers never escape a social context; they are both constructed and actively constructing in that they read as part of interpretive communities and are involved in collaborative creativity or what Kendall Walton calls "collective imagining".

Excerpt

Why is the writerly our value? Because the goal of literary work (of literature as work) is to make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text.

-- Roland Barthes, S/Z

Elizabeth Freund in The Return of the Reader argues that reader theory has reached an impasse, with the determinant text and the constitutive reader locked into an irresolvable opposition. Rather than seeing this point as an impasse, I perceive it as a juncture in the development of the theory. As a result of the influence of a variety of cultural analyses, including feminist, queer, ethnic, and postcolonial theories -- reader-response and reader-reception studies have begun to contemplate audience response in terms of specific political and historical situations. To prove adequate to the theoretical moment, reader theories should acknowledge the resistant and creative reader, theorize differences among readers and audiences, place reception within the wider field of cultural production, and begin to consider the vast changes in reading that will occur with the transition from print technology to electronic/digital technology.

This study moves beyond such provisional conclusions as "the text produces . . .

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