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Situating the Reader in the Field of Literary Production

Situating the Reader in the Field of Literary Production

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Tsz Kiu Lee. Originally submitted for The Fields of Cultural Production at University of Edinburgh, with lecturer Prof. Bill Bell in the category of English Literature
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Tsz Kiu Lee. Originally submitted for The Fields of Cultural Production at University of Edinburgh, with lecturer Prof. Bill Bell in the category of English Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/27/2013

 
Abstract
The concept of the reader, multifaceted and problematic, has become so familiar that itis more often skimmed over than investigated. On the hermeneutical level, it is temptingto view the reader as a completely autonomous subject, free to roam among texts anddecide how to interpret them. Conversely, the reader is treated as a subjugatedconsumer ready to devour whatever is fed. The actual station of the reader, however, isfound somewhere between two, complex, vacillating and by no means stable, ininteraction not only with the text, but also with its author and the literary milieu. Thereader is able to feed back into the process of literary production, thus sharing thegenerative role commonly assigned to the author, and at times, defy the flow of literarycurrents, finding new directions in a bewildering vortex of deterministic ideology. ItaloCalvino
ʼ
s
If on a Winter 
ʼ   
s Night a Traveler 
serves as a fictional and self-reflexiveillustration to the otherwise predominantly theoretical inquiry. It raises importantcounterargument against the assumption of passivity on the reader
ʼ
s part and helpssituate the reader in the field of literary production more truthfully and authentically.Ultimately ambiguous, the reader, by evading definitions, lends himself to literaryimagination.
1
 
What and where is a reader in the field of literary production?Situating the Reader in the Field of Literary Production
"
To delineate the role and function of the reader in the field of literary production isto juxtapose him with the other components in the same production cycle, namely, thetext, the author and the society which complement the reader, and to assess theirinterdependence. By making use of a range of critical essays, and drawing parallels tothe fictional R/reader in Italo Calvino
ʼ
s
If on a Winter 
ʼ   
s Night a Traveler 
, this essay aimsto substantiate the proposition that the reader-consumer is at once active and passiveas a generative reading subject, sustaining and expanding the cycle of literaryproduction.
"
The Oxford English Dictionary 
defines the word
ʻ
reader,
ʼ
primarily as
ʻ
anexpounder or interpreter of dreams, occult signs, etc.,
ʼ
then more literally as
ʻ
a personwho reads written matter.
ʼ
Nevertheless, it will be remembered that the reader is not amonolithic function which performs the act of reading exclusively. Most parties involvedin literary production are in one way or another readers, although they can read for awide variety of reasons according to their functions in the process of production. Someread for pleasure, others for more practical ends. Academics read to produce analysessupported by textual evidence. Book reviewers read to produce well-informedevaluation of the readability of latest releases. Publishers read to appraise new works,and gauge their marketability. Regardless of the reader
ʼ
s varied reading aims, methodsand habits, in the field of literary production, he always embodies a site of conflicts. Asan interpreter, the reader may defy the already available exegeses, some purportedlyintended by the original creators. As a scrupulous consumer, the reader may go against
2
 
the grain of manipulative producers and market strategies, and pose challenge to thewell-disguised ideological monopoly. As an agent demanding for books that are yetunwritten, the reader questions the deterministic complacency of market availability, andspurs new directions in literary production.
"
On the rudimentary level, literary production comprises the reader
ʼ
s subjectivereception of the text. Unless one agrees with the strictly formalist approach such as thatfound in Brooks
ʼ
s
The Well Wrought Urn 
, in which he presumes that meanings aresecurely and inalterably fastened to the text, one would find in the process of reading avarying and flexible degree of readerly involvement. On the reader
ʼ
s status as a readingsubject, Certeau and Poulet put forward two diametrically opposite theses. Certeausuggests that
ʻ
readers are travelers; they move across lands belonging to someoneelse, like nomads poaching their way across fields they did not write, despoiling thewealth of Egypt to enjoy it themselves
ʼ
(174). The reader is therefore an untethered,roaming subject who gleans from the text but does not alter its essence. By defining thereader as a free, interpretive agent, he questions the misguided notion of the reader
ʼ
s
ʻ
passivity,
ʼ
a result of what he considers to be
ʻ
scriptural imperialism
ʼ
(169). Since thetext cannot exist independently of the act of reading, which is in turn dependent on thereader (170), Certeau is confident that the reader possesses an authority andpredominance that can eclipse those of the author and the text.
"
At the other end of the spectrum, Poulet suggests in
ʻ
Phenomenology ofReading
ʼ
that the reading act entails a willing handover of subjectivity on the reader
ʼ
spart. In his formulation, the reader assumes a position of an intricate, if not poorlydefined, active passiveness. The reader authorizes the intrusion of
ʻ
a second
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