Michael Raine




Wolfgang Iser (b. 1926) was born in Mariengerg, Germany. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Heidelberg in 1957. Iser’s influences come mainly from the school of phenomenology and theorists such as Husserl, Ingarden, Gadamer and Poulet. Iser is professor of English and Comparative literature at the University of Constance in Germany and UC Irvine..

Iser and his colleague Hans Robert Jauss are the leading contributors to Reception Theory. Reception Theory is a broad category of criticism that shifts the focus of textual interpretation away from the author towards dialectic of production and consumption. For Iser, reading is a performative, creative act. An author leaves open certain ‘indeterminacies’ in the wording, structure or that allow for speculation or are ambiguous and need ‘conretization.’ It is the reader’s job in the literary event to fill in the gaps or indeterminacies as the author presents them. To do this, the reader will draw on a horizon of expectations, prejudices and presuppositions. The reader may find his or her expectations are incorrect, at which time they must be changed—at least within the world of the text. And so the literary event, an interaction between producer and consumer is consummated anew for each varying horizon of expectations.

There are several variances within the school of reception theory, most of which center around the relation of immanent properties in the text to properties brought to text by the reader. Roman Ingarden, using Husserl’s phenomenology, first introduced this relationship. The question being: Is the work of fiction purely intentional, virtual and inert, needing the reader to bring it to fruition? Or is it autonomous, and containing within it an implied reader, or an ideal reader to whom it is addressed? The leading reception theorists mix and match elements of each other’s theories, but there is little harmony between any two. For his part, Iser is most interested in the reader and the act of reading as it unfolds. Other Reception Theorists include: Hans Robert Jauss, Norman N. Holland, Stanley Fish and Peter Rabinowitz.

by Wolfgang Iser

Wolfgang Iser Bibliography

Reception Theory (Johns Hopkins)

Completing the Wretch

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