The Literary Road Map

According to Iser, the process of reading, the creating of expectations and frustrating of those expectations, is what allows readers to generate individual discussions of the text including literary criticism.

It is this interplay between “deduction” and “induction” that gives rise to the configurative meaning of the text, and not the individual expectations, surprises, or frustrations arising from the different perspectives. Since this interplay obviously does not take place in the text itself, but can only come into being through the process of reading, we may conclude that this process formulates something that is unformulated in the text, and yet represents its “intention.” Thus, by reading, we uncover the unformulated part of the text, and this very indeterminacy is the force that drives us to work out a configurative meaning while at the same time giving us the necessary degree of freedom to do so. (Iser 292)

The expectations and frustrations that the reader experiences while reading are what create the basis of a critical reading. These expectations and frustrations do not exist within the text itself or within the final reader understanding of the text.

In this particular interpretation, the critical reading of a text is something that exists outside of both the text and the reader’s understanding of the text. Therefore, the phenomenological approach to literary criticism differs from the new critical approach when deciding where the critical reading takes place. The new critics believe that the tensions and contradictions that can be developed into a critical reading of the text exist within the text while the phenomenologists believe that these same tension and contradictions are generated in the reader’s mind as part of coming to an understanding of the text.

In a phenomenological reading of a text, each word and each sentence in a text work essentially like a set of sequential road signs. Each sign within the text has its own meaning and can only be brought together into a larger meaning through the introduction of a reader. The reader must interpret his or her way through the text one step at a time. Each time a new sign comes along the reader must update his or her understanding of the trip. Just like the road signs on the road the words of a text exist separate from each other and only have meaning once interpreted by an outside source.



Work Cited

Iser, Wolfgang. “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach.” The Johns Hopkins University Press. N.p., 9 June 2016.

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