A story; wrapped up in pages or churned through web browsers, is in its rawest form a river of words. When called upon by an author this river can be transformed into an entity of potential meaning. I use the word ‘potential’ with great emphasis for as Ursula acknowledges in her quote ‘the reader, reading it, makes it live’, the life of a story does not begin until it has been unleashed upon the reader. I will argue that before a story is read it is merely a craft-in-conception. Only after it has been read is it truly born into meaning.
Reader-response critics have argued since the early 20th century that the reader’s opinion should be given greater value than the author’s original intent. This school of thought was built on the premise that the author’s intention is a limiting factor for no one can guess what an author was or was not feeling. Instead, critics argued that readers can offer multiple interpretations that open doors rather than close them. Normal Holland went a step further to imply that a reader’s psychological state affects their interpretation of a text so much that we could just as easily unpick a reader’s intentions as we do so readily to authors.
I wouldn’t advocate delving into the minds of readers/authors, but instead merely recognise the magic that happens when an individual interprets a string of words. We should be constantly conscious of the fact that any work of fiction that we interpret rests solely on the inner workings of our mind colliding with the author’s chosen diction; a unique recipe.
Derrida famously wrote ‘il n’y a pas d’hors-texte’ or in simple English ‘there is no such thing as outside of the text’. She argued that deconstructing a text could only be done within the parameters of the vocabulary provided. As much as I love to agree that picking apart a writer’s diction allows for a rich pool of multiple meanings; am more inclined to believe in the power of the reader’s ability to create an even richer pool of meaning. A pool that is able to expand beyond one written word into a web of fragmented and distorted personal interpretation.
I use the word ‘distorted’ because what every good book critic doesn’t want you to know is that their mind in some way is distorted. Why it is distorted or in what way does not need to be public knowledge. But a critic’s psychology will undoubtedly shadow their interpretation of a story. I do not see this as a negative but as a glorious triumph that what shapes our lives, shapes how we view art.
Our psychological shroud of interpretation is now even more crucial in Alan Kirby’s declared age of ‘digimodernism.’ Kirby argued that we now live in an age where computerisation has affected all forms of culture and art and that a new digital landscape now engulfs our textual reality. Our psychological fingerprint is spread out over every web browser and search engine we ever come into contact with. This digital footprint, together with our minds, creates a unique and traceable mindset that when in contact with a text, can only expand its sphere of influence.
Now more than ever texts can be edited in a click of a computer button. They can be erased, edited, retracted, modified, blacklisted and quoted. Now not only is every reader offering possible interpretations of a text, but they can offer possible re-writes too. Therefore, readers as well as making a text come to life with their unique responses are also becoming a part of its ongoing re-conception.
The digital age has birthed the creature most people refer to as a cyborg. A being that is both human in its organic nature and robotic. I would argue that so too has the story become a hybrid creature, part paper, part digital. This new ‘cyborg’ creature requires a new theory of reader response that does still rest on the reader’s responsibility for giving a text meaning but more importantly promotes the reader as co-author, editor and publisher of a text.
*Disclaimer 1 – Any post written on this blog will be subject to editing after the fact and versions will not be recorded in public domain
*Disclaimer 2 – My review of any work of fiction/non-fiction will be the ramblings of my own distorted personal opinion and therefore, is not be taken personally or officially