Study Guide

Hans Robert Jauss Introduction

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Hans Robert Jauss Introduction

So Hans Robert Jauss is a little off the critical grid, but if you're into reception theory—and who isn't?—he's your man. In fact, he invented the term "reception theory" way back in the days of polyester slacks and Charlie's Angels (the real one, with Farrah Fawcett). Plus, he's on your side—the reader's, that is. How the reader "receives" a text is a question that really floated this guy's boat.

With Jauss, it's not all about close reading a text. It's not about the historical and cultural and biographical context in which a text was written. It's not even about what the author may or may not have meant. It's about how a reader experiences a text.

Jauss got all fancy pants with a three-part "how-to" to help the author anticipate the reader's reception of a book: in this theory, the reader has a general awareness of literary history, historical context, and ideas about fiction and reality. But all you need to worry about right now is that this theory is about you. For Jauss, you matter more than the text. And the way all of your friends read the text matters, too.

Jauss wasn't a solo flyer. He had a bunch of pals who partied with him over reception theory (more on that crew later). In a world that overplayed the importance of a text's context (don't even get started on the New Historicists), these folks carried the banner for "Horizons of Expectation," which has everything to do with a reader's position and nothing to do with projected sunset and sunrise times.

"Horizons of Expectation" simply means that what the reader "expects" of the text will change according to the time and place of the reader, so a reader from ancient Rome reading Cicero's Tusculanae Disputationes (Tusculan Disputations), for example, will have a different experience from today's undergraduate reading the same text. We can only read books within our own social and cultural contexts.

P.S. In the interest of full disclosure, we will tell you that Jauss was a member of the SS. Yep, that means he was a Nazi at one time... which may have to do with his place at the margins of criticism. Even more problematic is the fact that Jauss himself was totally not about full disclosure: he tried to hide the full extent of his involvement, and it's only recently that the full story has come to light. Even so, Reception Theory's not Reception Theory without Jauss, so you'll have to give him a gander if you want to know what that's all about.

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