Magnolias, for instance, when in bud
Are right in doing anything they can think of;
Free by predestination in the blood,
Saved by their own sap, shed for themselves,
Their texture can impose their architecture;
Their sapient matter is always already informed.
(Empson, 'Letter', 1928)
I.A. Richards decided that literary criticism was effectively a branch of behaviourist psychology, and as a consequence he was less interested in the aesthetics of criticism, which could never attain explicitness, than in a psychologically oriented close reading that perhaps could. For him analysing text was, therefore, in accordance with the philosophy of A.J. Ayer (Ayer, 1936), an exercise in evaluating the different kinds of formal complexity in the text that control the reader's response.
Behaviourism argues for 'a science of the observable'. What that means in practice is that it effectively rules out scientific discussion of what is going on 'in the mind', because that is not observable. For Richards, this basically means that the critic must concentrate on what is observable in a literary text: literary expression. More importantly, perhaps, this view also focuses attention on the reception of the text. The behaviour of the reader, in attempting to understand the message of the writer, becomes crucial, and can result in a scientific approach that uses subjective responses in an analysis of objective stimuli. The response comes about because of a stimulus 'encoded' in the text by the writer. Because these stimuli and responses are observable, they can also be used as bits of information and hence form part of a behaviourist theory of predictable infer-