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english literature

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Amani Abdel Sabour Professor I.A.Ahmed Contemporary Literary Criticism 26 December 2007 Reader Response Criticism; A Comparative Study of Norman Holland and David Bleich Reader Response criticism is a general term that refers to different approaches of modern criticism and literary theory that focuses on the responses of readers and their reactions to the literary text. It also, in M.H Abrams' words, "does not designate any one critical theory, but a focus on the process of reading a literary text that is shared by many of the critical modes"(268). Reader Response criticism is described as a group of approaches to understanding literature that explicitly emphasize the reader's role in creating the meaning an experience of a literary work. It refers to a group of critics who study, not a literary work, but readers or audiences responding to that literary work. It has no single starting point. They seriously challenge the dominancy of the text-oriented theories such as New Criticism and Formalism. Reader Response theory holds that the reader is a necessary third part in the author-text-reader relationship that constitutes the literary work. The relationship between readers and text is highly evaluated. The text does not exist without a reader; they are complementary to each other. A text sitting on a shelf does nothing. It does not come alive until the reader conceives it. Reader Response criticism encompasses various approaches or types. Of theses types is the 'Subjectivist' Reader Response criticism, which embraces critics such as David Bleich, Norman Holland, who are my focus in this paper, and Robert Crossman. Those critics view the reader's response not as one guided by text but as one motivated by a deep-seated, personal psychological needs. They also are called 'Individualists'. As they think that the reader's response is guided by his psychological needs, therefore some of them, like Norman Holland, have a psychoanalytic view of that response. In the psychoanalytic view the reader responses to the literary work in a highly personal way. ...read more.


Holland's thinking about texts reversed after David Bleich's prodding who insisted that texts do not have fantasies, people do. To understand a literary work, Holland claims that you should perceive it through the lens of some human perception, either your own experience, or someone else, or even a critic's analysis of the work. These perceptions vary from individual to individual, from community to community, and from culture to culture. He thinks that one cannot perceive the raw, naked text, as he can only perceive it through some one else's process of perception. Thus Holland claims that "if readers' free responses to texts are collected they [will] have virtually nothing in common" (Newton, Interpreting Text 143). According to Holland the relation between the 'subjective' and 'objective' is undifferentiated and can not be separated. For there is a 'transactional' process of interpretation where the roles of the reader and the text are intertwined, and the line dividing them blurs and dissolves. He thinks that readers should accept interpretation as a 'transaction' between the reader's unique 'identity' and the text. Holland, however, does not want to take the side of the objective or that of the subjective, yet he is looking for a vanishing point between them, and wants to make both text and reader meet at an intersection of interpretation. David Bleich (1936-) is a Jewish critic, a son of a rabbi, a professor of Talmud, and a Subjectivist Reader Response critic. In Subjective Reader Response, the text is subordinated to the individual reader. The subject becomes the individual reader as he reacts to the text and reveals himself in the act of reading. For example, when a reader is addressed with a story of a father who ignores his child, then the intensity of that reader's reaction may lay it his/her conflicted relation with his own father. Subjective criticism has been attacked as being too relativistic. Defenders of this approach point out that literature must work on a personal, emotional level to move us powerfully. ...read more.


Thereby, the dividing line between the objective and subjective blurs and dissolves. This constitutes that we cannot ignore the entanglements of subjective reactions and motives to the objective text or to be accurate, the text which is a 'symbolic' object. Both critics agree on the idea of the transactional process of reading, whether by Holland's identity themes which help reader interpret the text and understand himself, or by Bleich's desire to self-knowledge that motivates reader to interpret the text and understand it. Both apply a transaction that leads to an understanding and interpretation of a text along with the reader's own self. This aim of gaining knowledge and this study of ourselves and of art are ultimately a single enterprise. I think that Holland does not agree that there could be a consensus interpretation which is agreed upon by a group of readers. He thinks that each reader has his own personality or identity theme, and thereby interpretations will be multiple and diverse. While Bleich's idea of 'negotiation' among readers can lead to a unanimous decision about the meaning of the literary work. The negotiation among readers enable them to express their personal feelings freely and depict their responses without the fear of being rejected. For instance, in David Bleich's class, there is a democracy. Each reader's response receives the same respect, and there is no underestimation of their idiosyncrasies. This helped them develop from the personal to the interpersonal and then to the social. While in Holland's view, there can be no unanimous interpretation of a given work of art. For each reader is influenced by his/her identity theme. Also, "Holland's subjects report their responses in terms of 'the clich�s of the various subcultures and cultural discourses work to constitute the consciousness of American college students'.... [Holland concludes that not] the individuality of his students but...the way their 'individuality' is in fact a' product' of their cultural situation"(Rabinowitz 86). In conclusion, "Holland and Bleich did not [in a way or another] negotiate a consensus; rather, by some irritated leap, Holland becomes convinced of what Bleich had to tell him"(Berg 271). ...read more.

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