Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Wolfgang Iser

Wolfgang Iser was born July 22, 1926, in Marienberg, Germany, the son of Paul and Else (Steinbach) Iser. He studied as an undergraduate at the University of Leipzig and the University of Tubingen, and earned his Ph.D. in 1950 from the University of Heidelberg. He went on to teach English literature at the Universities of Glasgow, Wurzburg and Cologne. In 1967 he became a professor of English and comparative literature at the newly founded University of Constance in Germany. Since the mid-1980s Iser has been a permanent visiting professor of English at the University of California at Irvine.
Iser is a leader of the "Constance School," which concerned itself with Rezeptionasthetik, "aesthetic of reception," or reader-response theory. Iser was interested in "the way in which texts are actively constructed by individual readers through the phenomenology of the reading process" (Norton 1671). According to Norton, Iser's two most influential works are The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett (1972; trans. 1974) and The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response (1976; trans. 1978). He first introduced the concept of reader response in Die Appellstruktur der Text (1970, The Affective Structure of Text). In Implied... Iser established that meaning of text is gained by an interaction between the text and the reader. "Neither text nor reader has autonomy: the text depends on the reader for its meaning to be realized, and the meaning produced by the reader is controlled by the text" (Wolfreys 284). Three elements are involved in the reading process: the text, the reader, and the context, meaning the socio-historical norms and assumptions taken into the reading.
In The Act of Reading... Iser introduces the notion of the virtual text, meaning "the text represents a potential effect that is realized in the reading process" (Norton 1671). Iser complements his "Constance School" contemporary and colleague Hans-Robert Jauss . Jauss aimed to develop a historical approach to literature and developed the concept of the "historical reader." Iser was more interested in the "implied reader." Robert Holub said Jauss was interested in the "macrocosm of reception," Iser with the "microcosm of response" (Wolfreys 284).
Search process
I started out my search with the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism on the advice of a classmate, Amanda, who said she found a good entry on Iser when she took an undergraduate course in literary criticism. I then used ABELL (Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature), The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism, Contemporary Critical Theory: A Selected Bibliography and Research in Critical Theory Since 1965: A Classified Bibliography. All of these are recommended by Harner under the "Literary Criticism and Theory" heading (Harner numbers 6120-90). I also lucked across, while searching for these texts, The Continuum Encyclopedia of Modern Theory and Criticism, which proved to be a valuable resource. The only difficulty I had in the search process was trying to understand and define Iser's reader-response theory. ABELL provided the most comprehensive bibliographic sources. Available online at http://sun3.lib.uci.edu/~scctr/Wellek/iser/index.html is a comprehensive bibliography created at The Critical Theory Institute, University of California, Irvine, by Eddie Yeghiayan for the Wellek Library Lectures for 1994, though the reliability of that resource has not been determined.
Criteria for selection
I chose my 10 seminal works from the collected bibliographies of the aforementioned sources and the biographical data mentioned by Norton and Wolfreys. Works mentioned in Norton and Wolfreys hold considerable weight because both books seem to highlight only important works. Iser has also contributed to literary criticism, but since neither biography makes much mention of them, I have only included articles on Walter Pater, T.S. Eliot and Samuel Beckett because they are mentioned in every bibliography. I have also included a criticism of Iser by Stanley Fish, "Why No One is Afraid of Wolfgang Iser," and Iser's response, "Talk Like Whales: A Reply to Stanley Fish."
I chose to list articles first by chronological order, Fish's article and Iser's response, then a pamphlet where Iser first introduces his views on reader response, then books in chronological order. Since Iser's main contribution is his reader-response theory, most of the citations focus on works that deal with that topic. I have chosen to include the English translations and dates when possible.

Iser, Wolfgang. "Walter Pater und T.S. Eliot. Der Übergang zur Modernität." Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift 9 (1959): 391-408.
--------. "Samuel Becketts dramatische Sprache." Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift 11 (1961): 451-467.
Fish, Stanley. "Why No One is Afraid of Wolfgang Iser." Diacritics 11 (1) (1981): 2-13.
Iser, Wolfgang. "Talk like Whales: A Reply to Stanley Fish." Diacritics 11 (3) (1981):82-87.
Iser, Wolfgang. Die Appellstruktur der Texte. Unbestimmtheit als Wirkungsbedingung literarisher Prosa. Konstanzer Universitätsreden, 28. Constance: Universitätsverlag, 1970. 38pp. 2d edition, 1971. 41pp. 4th edition, 1979.

Iser, Wolfgang. Walter Pater. Die Autonomie des Ästhetischen. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1960.
---------. The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974.
-------. The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.
-------. Prospecting: From Reader Response to Literary Anthropology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.
-------. The Range of Interpretation. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. The Wellek Library Lectures.