Study Guide

Wolfgang Iser Influences

Edmund Husserl

Ed here loved aesthetics and phenomenology—hey, you'd be crazy not to. They make a great couple. Husserl really got me revved up about this combo because it got me thinking about how we perceive works of art from our subjective positions (i.e., our individual consciousnesses). Ed was fascinated by the individual's interpretation of the external world in the same way I am fascinated by the individual's interpretation of literature.

Roman Ingarden

Another fan of aesthetics and phenomenology. Roman has a special place in my heart because he also loved to think about how readers think. Sure, Husserl cared about perception, but Roman was into the perception of art, so aesthetics played a much more direct role for him.

He wrote this great book called The Literary Work of Art (don't judge it by its cover), which gave me all sorts of ideas about the connection between the brain and the work of art—or what he may have referred to as the "cognitive experience" with literature. Real brainy stuff—get it?

Hans-Georg Gadamer

You never forget your favorite teacher. I didn't even have to polish apples to please Prof. Gadamer; all I had to do was talk about things like interpretative positions and orientations and how we situate our assessment of books. I'm not talking about where we are sitting and hold a book; I'm talking about what limitations or psychological insights we may have in mind as we read. We all have our biases…

Richard II

I'm talking about the play—not the actual king. In fact, all of Shakespeare's history plays inspired a lot of my work and got me thinking about audience reception. There's a lot of detail in these works, so I wondered: who could actually follow those plots? There's so much intrigue and plotting, so much evil-doing and villainous action.

Shakespeare's plays—and especially Richard II—got me thinking about the tension between a leader and his role. Like, what's the difference between a king as a person and a king as a, well, king? There's so much ceremony and ritual around a king that the human being himself is often hidden. It's hard to tell what's real and what isn't in this play.

Even with all of this information, the reader is left to do some work with figuring out what is going on in Shakespeare's play. In Iser-speak, I would say that Richard II leaves a lot of "gaps" and "blanks." This engagement of the reader creates the experience that is reading—or performing—Richard II.

Walter Pater

I have a painting of Pater hanging over my desk. And I appreciate it only for its beauty—not for anything it tells me about the life of this famous art critic or the period in which he wrote. From the moment our eyes locked, Pater's "art for art's sake" idea held me in its spell. Who had been marginalized in the making of an artwork no longer mattered. The means of production? Don't make me laugh.

Life was grim before Pater came along. I thought that people only cared about writers and books and things like ideology. The reader, viewer, and audience did not matter… but then Pater showed me the way. Someone liked the reader. I felt vindicated.

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