Positions

Copyright John Lye,1996; may be used, with attribution, for non-profit purposes.
As is the case with all my posts for this course, this is a working document;
suggestions, arguments, comments are welcome: mail me.

For another approach to reception theories, see my page Who Controls the Media and Their Meanings?


These are general positions within the understanding that the 'meaning' of a text is what happens when the reader reads it. The positions presuppose various attitudes towards such considerations as: For some related considerations, see my page on the the Death of the Author.

Psychoanalytic view:

The reader responds to the core fantasies and the symbolic groundwork of the text in a highly personal way; while the text contributes material for inner realization which can be shared across consciousnesses (as we share fundamental paradigms, symbols, etc), the real meaning of the text is the meaning created by the individual's psyche in response to the work, at the unconscious level and at a subsequent conscious level, as the material provided by the text opens a path between the two, occasioning richer self-knowledge and realization.

Hermeneutic view:

The text means differently because the reader decodes it according to her world-view, her horizons, yet with the understanding that the text may be operating within a different horizon, hence there is an interaction between the world of the text as it was constructed and the world of the reader. The reader can only approach the text with her own foreunderstanding, which is grounded in history. However as the text is similarly grounded in history, and as often there is much in the histories that is shared and well as what is not, there is both identity and strangeness. See my page Phenomenological Hermeneutics.

Phenomenological view:

The text functions as a set of instructions for its own processing, but is as well indeterminate, needs to be completed, to be concretized. The 'reality' of the text lies between the reader and the text: it is the result of the dialectic between work and reader.

Structuralist view:

Decoding the text requires various levels of competence -- competence in how texts work, in the genre and tradition of the text, etc, as the work is constructed according to sets of conventions which have their basis in an objective, socially shared reality. The 'meaning' then depends largely on the competence of the reader in responding to the structures and practices of the text and which operate implicitly (i.e. they affect us without our knowing it); the competent reader can make these explicit.

Political or ideological view:

Texts include statements, assumptions, attitudes, which are intrinsically ideological, i.e. express attitudes towards and beliefs about certain sets of social and political realities, relations, values and powers. As a text is produced in a certain social and material milieu it cannot not have embedded ideological assumptions. The reader herself will have ideological convictions and understandings as well, often unrecognized, as is the nature of ideology, which understandings will condition and direct the reading and the application of the reading (you might see my brief page on Ideology).

A 'critical' reading will demystify the ideologies of the text within the frame of the ideologies of the reader while maintaining awareness of the reader's ideologies. . Without such a 'critical' reading, the text may reinforce (potentially pernicious, even if only because unrecognized) aspects of the reader's (culturally produced) ideology, and/or the reader may 'miss' meanings and connections for want of an understanding of the ideological structure of the text.

Post-structuralist view(s):

Meaning is indeterminate, is not 'in' the text but in the play of language and the nuances of conventions in which the reader is immersed: hence the reader constructs a text as she participates in this play, driven by the instabilities and meaning potentials of the semantic and rhetorical aspects of the text. Stanley Fish's view here is that the reader belongs to an interpretive community which will have taught the reader to see a certain set of forms, topics and so forth; his is one view which refers to the world of discourse of the reader as being the determining factor. Tony Bennett, from a more marxist position, sees readers as belonging to 'reading formations'. In various sorts of post-structuralist reading the reading process may involve the reader's countering and/or re-interpreting prevailing views, depending on various things, including: the force of the direction of the text to the reader; the potential reconceptualization, freeing-up of meaning the text can effect; the openness to the play of language and meaning of the reader. The text may 'deconstruct itself', i.e. the reader may experience or see that the language of the text implicitly undermines its own assumptions -- the real agent here as in all post-structuralist positions being the reader, open to polysemy (multiple meanings and the sliding and interplay of signs) -- in her 'own' (socially shared) world of discourse, in a world discursively and socially constructed. See my pages on poststructuralism and on deconstruction.