Pragmatic Reading and Beyond:
Rosenblatt and Feminism
Pragmatism 4. Philos. The doctrine that the whole “meaning” of a conception expresses itself in practical consequences, either in the shape of conduct to be recommended, or of experiences to be expected, if the conception be true (W. James); or, the method of testing the value of any assertion that claims to be true, by its consequences, i.e., by its practical bearing upon human interests and purposes.
—F. C. S. Schiller, “Pragmatism”
Louise M. Rosenblatt's work is modern in her attempts to describe language processes in a general way and to develop models that apply across categories. She uses the singular rather than the plural in the title of her theoretical statement, The Reader, the Text, the Poem, and when she addresses feminist concerns, her perspective is primarily liberal-feminist in orientation. The individuals she mentions most frequently as influencing her work are male, Anglo-American pragmatists 1 such as John Dewey, Arthur Bentley, William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, 2 and Franz Boas. Furthermore, her commitment to modern anthropology becomes evident when contrasted with that of African American writer Zora Neale Hurston who, like Rosenblatt, studied with Boas at Barnard. I will suggest, however, that in developing an approach to reading that is in some ways nonfoundational, in distinguishing between aesthetic reading and efferent reading, and in emphasizing the emotional components of reading, Rosenblatt moves beyond modern conceptions of reading. Contrasting Rosenblatt's perspective with that of Wolfgang Iser makes clear the nature of her resistance. 3 I will also suggest that her concept of aesthetic reading is useful to contextualize in relation to radical, cultural, and multicultural feminisms, and her emphasis on fluid transactions between readers and texts bears some resemblance to a postmodern-feminist conception of reading. Steven Mailloux in “The Turns of Reader-Response Criticism” calls Rosenblatt a neopragmatist and emphasizes her antifoundationalism. I am suggesting that Rosenblatt's orientation is primarily pragmatist but that in some ways she anticipates postmodernism and neopragmatism.