Relationship between the Reader and the Text

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 ‘The Reader is a Producer rather Than a Consumer of Meanings.’ Discuss with Reference to Theories of the Role of the Reader/Audience.

The relationship between the reader and the text is indeed dynamic. Many theorists have interrogated such relationship and highlighted the significant role of social context in the making of meaning and signification. The academics have also considered the prospects and anticipations of the genre, as well as the presumptions created by such in the readers. However, the question that continues to be debatable revolves around the role of readers or audiences on the text. Whether the reader is a producer or consumer of meanings continues to be unsettled. The establishment of an answer to this question calls for individuals to polish the general term ‘text’ and consider what defines them as ‘readers.’ This way, they will come to realize that they should be a producer to a more significant extent than a consumer of meanings.

Other than just text, reading is a term that can apply to many things. In the same way, the term text is indefinable in what people could classify as a “text.” When someone takes time to revise the word “reader,” they can observe with disbelief the fact that there are little or no other meanings of such word than “a person who reads.” By deciding to research the act of reading in this, it is easier to come across a better clarification. As a noun, reading refers to a matter to be read, the act of reading, the interpretation made, view/interpretation taken, or the entertainment in which people read poems and plays. It is obvious here that “reading” as a term not only suggests understanding and processes the language in its inscribed form, but also demonstrates meaning through understanding and cognitive analysis. These two kinds of “reading,” for that reason, should be subject to the text that a person reads. The creator, for example, the writer or speaker in all languages, will certainly inflict meaning onto the language; since from the start, that is the intended purpose.

Nevertheless, the creator cannot deny the reader to have a different meaning in the “creator-to-reader” transition. More often than not, a corruption of the meaning happens. Burke, Crowley, & Girvin (2000, p. 54) claim that this corruption can always flaw or change the text in its natural form and possibly generate meaning that the creator did not intend. Moreover, the authors observe the theory of Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist. Ferdinand makes an essential distinction between parole and langue – between individual utterance and the system of language that pre-exists real examples of language.

In keeping with Ferdinand, langue refers to the shared system where people draw upon as speakers unconsciously. In other words, it is the social aspect of language. Parole, on the other hand, refers to the individual understanding of the system in real or practical language instances (Bennett & Royle 2014, p. 123). It is observable from this that the connection between the text and the reader is the subject to the personal experience of the reader with language. Again, this relationship is subject to the social elements of language; therefore, generating a personal understanding of the text. Ferdinand has pointed out parole and langue as two most important phases in which people understand and interpret texts. This demonstrates that merely texts never convey any meaning. It also illustrates that it is the social implications of communication and the language system process, which in turn help the generation of meaning via texts. Upon drawing this observation, people can now asses the degree to which the “creator” could alter this process using formal manipulations on language, for instance, the use of figurative language, sarcasm, and irony. They could as well asses the way this process may come to be subject of flaw owing to inconsistencies in grammar. There are many examples of how figurative language could manipulate the traditional understanding of texts (De Berg 2012, p. 314). One example is this: “she was a pool of desire; he wanted to swim in her.” The literal reading of this sentence could bring someone to the deduction that the statement does not make sense. In other words, there is neither a way in which people could ‘swim’ in others nor a way they can be a ‘pool’. Upon making and absorbing this observation, it leaves the reader with no choice but to consider the remaining possible meanings that surround the text. In such, they are in a position to draw upon their own, experience and assessment. 

From the observation made in the previous paragraph, not only do the ‘readers’ draw their respective meanings from the text effectively but also the ‘creators’ have depended upon the ‘readers’ in being in a position to do so. Hadfield (2013, p. 75) brings attention to the assertions made by Umberto Eco states. In keeping with the theorist, Umberto claims that the very presence of texts that the addressees cannot only interpret freely but also generate cooperatively suggests the problem of a rather odd communication strategy, which depends on a flexible system of implication. Text, in distinction to this, can as well be the subject to flaws in grammar, which could make the meaning open to discussion and doubtful, as well as have more than one implication (Groden, Kreiswirth, & Szeman 2012, p. 34). To illustrate, “The girl smashed the woman with the rod.” Drawing two different understandings of meaning in this sentence is possible. The first meaning is that the girl used the rod to smash the woman and the second is that the woman smashed required the rod to walk. Even though the original sentence seems to be coherent and reasonable, it is not until the reader brings two thinkable meanings together that the manipulation becomes underscored. This is as a result of people being curious about the undertones and meanings of the used language, as well as the manner in which it affects the readers directly in their processes of absorbing connotation. This understanding is hooked on the associations of individuals with the term ‘rod’, whether it is an ambulatory aid or a weapon relates directly to the implications of the word. Such kinds of variations in language usually bring about the understanding to become ‘untrue’ or taken aback to the ‘original’ texts, and, for that reason, people may overlook or misconstrue the intentions of the creator.

In Parker (2015, p. 208), Roland Barthes excellently underscores the connection between a reader and the act of reading. Barthes explores connotations further in this extract by trying to find the meaning of ‘connotation’. In his description, connotation refers to an anaphora, a relation, and a feature, a determination, which has the power of relating itself to the exterior, ulterior, or anterior mentions to sites of another text or the same text. In this regard, Barthes supports the idea that texts are often subjects to exterior modulations, which relate to preceding experience of text and language. In such cases, there is a possible conclusion that the individual understanding of texts is a critical part of reading. There can also be a deduction that any text would be incapable of providing meaning without the insensible process in which people use this complex system of language.

Provided that the process continues to be ‘unconscious’ to the readers, it could then be conclusive that the reading process is not in its ‘truest’ form. Moreover, it can be convincing that the readers will get flawed revelations of texts. While commenting on E.D. Hirsch’s theory, Susan R. Suleiman claims that if people stipulate naturally in advance that by ‘connotation’ they will comprehend the intention of the author, then it follows reasonably that readers do not make meaning (Bennett & Royle 2014, p. 124). However, in such two delimitations of connotation, Hirsch contradicts himself, confirming in the first definition that words have meaning only from the perspective of an intending mind. He also affirms in the second definition that words mean something other than any ‘bigger perspective’ (because the meaning of words in any bigger framework is not connotation but ‘implication’).

With the lack of clearness demonstrated by Hirsch in light of where the creation and interpretation of meaning come from, one could easily conclude that an individual cannot exist without others. Therefore, texts that go unread hold no connotation until people use them for their primary functions. In the same way, readers cannot receive recognition as such without reading. The readers, in other words, are not in a position to generate ‘interpretations’ free from the texts, as consequently, this would change them into the ‘creators.’ Now, there is need to consider the extent to which the superficial relations, which surround texts can manipulate the interpretation of the reader (not just meanings, but the social and physical settings that surround respective texts) – For example, where the authors present the texts: the book, an internet blog, a mobile text message, a label on the back of a plug, or of course a signpost. Selden,  Widdowson, & Brooker (2017, p. 13) define text as a noun by referring to it as the original document or book; a book’s main body as distinct from a phrase; books approved for study; theme or subject, or data in a word-based form, especially as displayed, processed, or stored in a word processor. In this definition, it is obvious that the word ‘text’ firmly relates to the text’s collective body within a document or a book.

Nonetheless, this raises the question of why some kinds of written languages are considered as ‘texts’ while others are not (Rich 2007, p. 24). Regardless of the intents of meaning by the creator and then classification in which sorting of text happens, one would easily argue that grouping of all inscribed language should occur within the description of ‘text.’ Concerning this, the classification of all ‘texts’ or every written language transpires into more subgroups in one way or another; whether it is the genre of its classification, for example, thriller/romance, or a fiction or non-fiction. This continuum is massive, from the components on a tin of beans to the classic Literature.

It is apparent that there is a difference made in the process of understanding the two preceding examples of texts. What’s more, it is somewhat possible that this is the cause for people to draw the original distinction (Parker 2015, p. 212). Understandably, such categorizations transpire owing to the text’s direct content. Therefore, if a story precisely talks about romance or love, its classification will happen as such. The big question now becomes what would happen if people decide to manipulate or alter such associations. In this respect, it is believable that even though the text is to a great extent subject to its categorization, there is a possibility of varying the meaning of the connotation if people decide to manipulate the social forms in which they access it. The elements in a container of baked beans, for example, would often be considered as literal, non-fiction text used mainly in the identification of the ingredients of the pot and people would rarely misinterpret it for something else (Hadfield 2013, p. 78-79). Taking this text and putting it in a collection of contemporary poetry, and having the reader access it in such new categorization would perhaps make the reader look upon it differently and absorb the text in a clear classification. Maybe, the text would also become poetic or artistic.

In his consideration of the reader’s experience of texts, Peter Barry states that there is a nearly generally felt concern that language will convey things people never intended; or betray people’s callousness, ignorance, or confusion; or express the wrong impression (Bennett & Royle 2014, p. 125-126). One can easily conclude that the social anticipations of text could manipulate the process of understanding. For instance, in the case demonstrated beforehand, if the components of a container of baked beans appear in an anthology of poetry, a number of readers may have the uncomfortable feeling of questioning the ‘right’ to have it there. This may happen considering the fact that poetry in itself is a categorization of text with several indirect specifications and indicators (Groden, Kreiswirth, & Szeman 2012, p. 43). It is common in all language that the conditions in which people make categorizations of text or bodies of speech are hard to identify effectively. In the spoken language, a good illustration of this would be the grouping or categorization of what defines “speech.” The question now becomes, “Would such be the only process where people generate sounds with the purpose of communicating?” or “Would this be the direct allusion to the inferred connotations of speech? Selden,  Widdowson, & Brooker (2017, p. 13) claim that the term ‘speech’ itself could even be applicable to a form of the articulated language often linked to special occasions and weddings where the speakers make a statement or sentiment about the occasion in place. How then can individuals distinguish such arrangement and grouping of speech from the colloquial style of language applicable when communicating in their routine lives?

The spoken language, like in texts, is as well subject to understated nuances such as sarcasm and figurative language. Nevertheless, there is no reason to deny the fact that the spoken words have the advantage of ‘tone’ and sound. Like Parker (2015, p. 211) ascertains, the tone has the potential of creating the atmosphere around the language. For that reason, tone allows the reader to interpret or deduce the meaning of the text by reason of social circumstance. There is a reason to believe that this is the point in which texts have ambiguity and that the association between the creator and the reader is so unfamiliar and unnatural, that people often lose translation or misconstrue the understanding/interpretation of language. In Burke, Crowley, & Girvin (2000, p. 54), Raman Selden examines the model of linguistic communication by Jacobson. Literary discourse, according to Jakobson’s belief, is different from other discourse types since it has a set to the message. To illustrate, epics, verses, or poems are about themselves: their literary meaning, their imagery, their form, before they are about the world, the reader, or the poet. Nonetheless, the rejection of formalism and embracing of the audience or reader’s perspective makes the entire orientation of the diagram of Jakobson to change. It is clear from his diagram for someone to see that the key implements required in the conversion of texts into meaning transpire within the course of the text associating or involving the creator and the reader.

To sum up, the information revealed in this paper suggests that all texts are not only subject to the understanding or elucidation of their readers but also that they keep inherent connotation that is changeable through perspective and time. Reading any ‘body of text’ as deduced from this assessment makes the readers go through a chain of steps to extract and compile meaning. These steps include the author’s: purpose/intent, reading, decoding language, creation, classification and tone, unconscious use of meaning/implication, and then the formation of interpretation. ‘Text,” like language, could only have a meaning if there is an association between the two persons that make the communication process possible. The reader’s role is as simple as to read the text, therefore, letting the processes of expression, interpretation, and communication take place. This way, they will come to realize that they are a producer of meanings to a larger extent than a consumer.  

Reference List

  • Bennett, A., & Royle, N. (2014). An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory. Hoboken, Taylor and Francis.
  • Burke, L., Crowley, T., & Girvin, A. (2000). The routledge language and cultural theory reader. London, Routledge.
  • De Berg, H. (2012). Freud’s Theory and its Use in Literary and Cultural Studies: an Introduction. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Groden, M., Kreiswirth, M., & Szeman, I. (2012). Contemporary literary and cultural theory: the Johns Hopkins guide. Baltimore, Md, The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Hadfield, A. (2013). The English Renaissance, 1500-1620. Oxford [England], Blackwell Publishers.
  • Marran, C. L. (2017). Tomioka Taeko’s narative structure: objectivity and authorial presence.
  • Parker, R. D. (2015). How to interpret literature: critical theory for literary and cultural studies.
  • Rich, J. (2007). An introduction to critical theory. Tirril, Penrith, Humanities-Ebooks.
  • Selden, R., Widdowson, P., & Brooker, P. (2017). A reader’s guide to contemporary literary theory.

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