Thursday, February 25, 2010

Reader Types in one Reader Response Theory

Six different types of reader (Associative, Investigative, Speculative, Affective, Cognitive and Passive) were apparent from my data, and it appears that an optimal match or fit occurs between specific readers and certain texts. Certain readers were compatible with some texts and not others. The types of reader or identity style indicate the satisfactions a reader may seek from the reading event. In my longitudinal study the readers operated predominantly on one of the six styles consistently. Certain combinations of text and reader exhibited a ‘best-fit’. Where such compatibility exists, the reader is enriched by the encounter and the text is no longer the same text as it was when created by the author; it becomes infused with the life and experience of the reader. Both reader and text change in the process.

The Associative Reader: This reader enjoys a text if it is relevant to their own experience. This reader sees her task being the connection of their past experience with that of the poem. In journal entries of the associative reader the text seems to function prolifically as a ‘stimulus’, the text reminding them of one experience after another. Personal memories are evoked by the text. If the text has a message to communicate which the reader feels to be relevant to the reader’s life, a positive reaction is likely. This reader who associates a text with her own experience rarely finds comprehension a problem. This reader rarely comments on style in initial encounters with the text, because meaning is seen to be of prime importance. In some
respects this reader is similar to the cognitive reader, but an important difference is that the cognitive reader often focuses on social rather than personal significance in the text.

The Investigative Reader: This reader is similar to the speculative reader but differs in certain important respects. Like all good detectives the investigative reader likes to find a solution. This reader generates a number of tentative hypotheses about the meaning of a text, but this reader is not as relaxed as the speculative reader, as he wants to find a solution and bring the text to definite closure. The investigative reader often believes in the existence of one fine, fixed and definite interpretation. Nailing down the author’s views and message is often important. The investigative reader desires coherence in a text and attempts to fit the different parts of the text into a unifying whole. If some parts of the text cannot be reconciled with others, the reading experience becomes less enjoyable and can be frustrating. The investigative reader needs a sufficient degree of indeterminacy (to use Iser’s term) to be fulfilled. A negative reaction arises from too much indeterminacy, where a text ‘can mean anything’ (like ‘The Sick Rose’ by William Blake), or too little indeterminacy, where a single correct meaning is obvious.

The Speculative Reader: The speculative reader is able to adopt a detached viewpoint and set up a range of propositions or hypotheses which can be quickly and easily disregarded in favour of more plausible interpretations. This reader is philosophical and has an outlook that is characterized by more depth than most of the others – she thinks deeply about things. She easily engages in metacognition and rather introspective reflections about her own reflections. The speculative reader enjoys ambiguity and may enjoy obscure and impenetrable works. This reader tolerates confusion, ambiguity and incomprehension. The speculative reader is ‘laid back’ and is unperturbed by texts which do not easily yield up their meanings. The text’s resistance to closure simply increases this reader’s pleasure, and simple or straightforward literary texts are disliked. This reader dislikes texts that are too didactic or simplistic. The speculative reader focuses on meaning rather than form or literary techniques. This reader enjoys profound works that provoke her to consider the nature of the human condition. The focus in journal entries is on blueprint, not stimulus. Only after a text has been interpreted to some degree does this reader make connections between their own life experience and the text.

The Affective Reader: The affective reader judges a poem predominantly on its affective impact. Both in life and in reading this reader focuses on emotions. Feelings and moods are often referred to in journal entries. Any mood is better than no mood at all for this reader. This should not be confused with a text that is about an emotional experience – rather the experience, mood or feeling needs to be generated in this reader for the text to be appreciated. The affective reader believes that a text has been created as a result of an emotional experience on the part of the poet and feels that it should be apprehended through feeling. Understanding the meaning of a text seems to be important as it is a prerequisite for a mood to be evoked. Theme and subject are more important than form, and, as with the speculative reader, texts of profound significance to the human experience are appreciated especially if they make the reader ‘feel’.

The Cognitive Reader: This reader is more detached and less emotionally involved than the affective reader. More than the associative reader this reader enjoys the cognitive challenge of active reading and appreciates texts which require some effort to understand, revelling in the process of constructing meaning rather like the speculative or investigative reader. Like them, this reader tends to focus on content and meaning. The cognitive reader enjoys thinking and takes pride in the ability to use logic, imagination and lateral thinking. The desire for intellectual stimulation results in obvious and immediate poems being disliked. The cognitive reader may be more socially aware than the associative reader, and works are appreciated if they inform issues which have social relevance. A thoughtful, analytical reaction rather than an emotional response tends to be produced. The cognitive reader enjoys the mental process of interpreting poems but appreciates it if the message of the poem has social significance.

The Passive Reader: This reader fails to engage in the active construction of meaning, has a negative attitude to literary reading, and cannot tolerate ambiguity – prefers prose and non-fiction.

The above is from an online version of a lecture
by Mark A. Pike, Ph.D