Iser: “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach”

In his essay on the reading process, Wolfgang Iser argues that in analyzing literary works, the reader’s response to a literary work is just as important as the text itself. All readers interpret and react to any given text differently, and these different reactions to the same piece of writing combine to shape the overall meaning of the literary work. In addition, when a single reader interprets a text, and later revisits that same piece of writing, the reader often emerges with two different interpretations of the text and its overall purpose and meaning. In his essay, Iser also stresses the importance of the imagination of the reader. In reading, one is forced to imagine within the mind the information being read, and so one’s perception is “simultaneously richer and more private” (Iser, 196).  In reading, one also separates information into groups and form illusions in order to make sense of a literary text. In his essay, The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach Iser argues that these different ways in which a reader interprets and makes sense of a literary work all combine together to create the overall meaning and purpose of the text.

I found Iser’s essay on the reading process interesting, especially his comments on how a reader’s interpretation and reaction to a text serves to shape the overall impression of the work. Iser quotes Georges Poulet, who states that “books only take on their full existence in the reader.” I had never considered the reader as having an active role in shaping a literary text, and so I found Iser’s arguments for this extremely interesting and refreshing. In addition, I found many of his insights on the process of reading, such as creating an illusion in reading, as well as our preconceptions when approaching the text for the first time, and also revisiting a same piece of writing at a later date to be highly accurate and reminiscent of my own experiences in reading. I also found Iser’s argument that two people may have entirely different interpretations of a text and both be right, to be extremely interesting. “Two people gazing at the night sky may both be looking at the same collection of stars, but one will see the image of a plough, and the other will make out a dipper” (195). In comparing the fixed words of a literary text to the unchanging stars in the night sky, Iser shows his readers that while the text is fixed, the ways in which each person views the “lines” connecting them are unique and ever-changing.

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