Reception theory is a school of literary theory that is associated particularly with the University of Konstanz and the journal Poetik and Hermeneutik (published from 1964). One theorist, namely Hans Robert Jauss, is especially associated with the theory. He is concerned with the general response to literature in terms of reception aesthetics rather than the individual’s response, and he suggests that literary work should be studied in terms of the impression or impact it makes on its contemporary audience and that literary value is judged according to how much the view of a text alters over time.
‘Aesthetic distance’ is the term used by Jauss to denote the difference between the contemporary view of a work of art (at the time of its first publication) and the present-day view. But still, the idea holds that the reader has a contribution to make in the process. So there is a kind of balance and cooperation between text and what it provides and what the reader contributes. However, all readers are different and therefore may be supposed to bring a different response to any text.
More recently a number of American critics (e.g. Edward Said, Jonathan Culler, and Stanley Fish) have become interested in ‘reading communities’ and institutions as determining forces in the reading of texts. Fish, for instance, holds that it is only within a given community or institution that the facts of literary study (i.e. genres, periods, authors, texts) are available and that these ‘facts’ are as much a product of the community as they are of the interpreters. Fish contends that all interpreters are extensions of communities. His collection of essays Is There a Text in This Class? (1980) is relevant.
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