Literary Approach - Reader-Response Criticism

The Norton Introduction to Poetry
Editor: J. Paul Hunter, University of Chicago
(Norton & Company, 1999)

The Norton Introduction to Poetry: Reader-Response Criticism

University of Chicago professor emeritus J. Paul Hunter defines critical approaches to evaluating poetry and prose in this excellent text published by Norton & Company. The book is now in its ninth edition with contributing editors Alison Booth, University of Virginia, and Kelly J. Mays, University of Nevada.

“The conventional notion of reading is that a writer or speaker has an ‘idea,’ encodes it—that is, turns it into words—and the reader or listener decodes it, deriving, when successful, the writer/speaker’s ‘idea.’ The critic follows the text sequentially (such as in a novel), observing what expectations are being aroused, how they are being satisfied or modified, how the reader recapitulates ‘evidence’ from the portion of the text he has read to project forward a configuration, a tentative assumption of what the work as a whole will be and mean once it is done. The expectations are in part built by the text and in part by the repertoire of the reader—that is, the reader’s reading experience plus his or her social and cultural knowledge.”

Interpretation of words unveils reader perception. Subjected to belief and assumption, critique of a literary work can promote a philosophical view far removed from the writer’s intent—a world foreign to the author, familiar to the critic. Academic communities foster objective scrutiny of fiction and poetry. Complete detachment may be impossible.