Study Guide

Wolfgang Iser Quotes

This is why, when we have been particularly impressed by a book, we feel the need to talk about it; we do not want to get away from it by talking about it—we simply want to understand more clearly what it is in which we have been entangled. We have undergone an experience, and now we want to know consciously what we have experienced. Perhaps this is the prime usefulness of literary criticism—it helps to make conscious those aspects of the text which would otherwise remain concealed in the subconscious; it satisfies (or helps to satisfy) our desire to talk about what we have read. [From Reader Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism]

You can tell I love books. If I had time, I would start my own book salon. Like Gertrude Stein. Perhaps later… Just as much as reading books, I love discussing books. Have you ever noticed how people (perhaps yourself included) say things like: "You have to read this book!"? Well, I know you usually ignore recommendations, but that person is reaching out to you—perhaps to form an interpretive community, or perhaps to get you to turn off the television.

Whatever the motivation, the pleasures of discussing a good book are infinite. It's not that feeling that we get when we have to throw together a 5-paragraph essay on a summer reading book; it's a deep and profound connection to a book and the compulsion to share that feeling with the world. It's really quite joyful.

Sometimes we may even go so far as to read some criticism of the book to find out what someone else thought. This undertaking is especially useful if your friends have no interest in discussing the book, much less reading it. Find your book friends where you can.

Whenever the reader bridges the gaps, communication begins. [From Prospecting: From Reader Response to Literary Anthropology]

When we (as readers) fill in the gaps that the writer has peppered throughout the book, we form a meaningful bond with the book. We are not just pulling information from it; we're participating in a reciprocal relationship, creating and deriving meaning in an extravaganza of interpretation.

…there have been and still are types of interpretation that claim universal validity for their assumptions, thus pretending to provide an overall explanation of everything. A case in point is Marxism, which, in its heyday, claimed nothing less than a monopoly of interpretation. [From The Range of Interpretation]

Nothing miffs me more than a theory that comes along like a bully on a playground, claiming to have all of the answers. Hey Marxism and Feminist Theory and Post-Structuralism: let's give the reader some room, all right?

Let's face it: if we have to interpret every text— from Invisible Man to Mad Magazinethrough a Marxist lens, things will get a little routine. There can't be one, single, all-explaining system. And if the system has already explained everything, why even read in the first place?

No one knows it all, which is why I have enormous respect for the individual reader hunched in the corner making meaning by hook or by crook. Don't let an interpretation push you around. Not even Deconstruction.

The world of experience therefore depends on the individual mind for its reality, since the impressions that it makes will vary from one observer to the next. [From Walter Pater: The Aesthetic Moment]

You know why this quotation sounds so much like the others—even though it comes from another book? Because I felt that I had an important point to make. So I made it more than once.

Allow me to digress—in a useful way. According to phenomenology, we know and understand the world through perceptions that themselves are processed in our bodies. We aren't eyeballs floating around taking in information; we see the world through who we are—embodied people; therefore, it's ridiculous to think we can ever ever be totally objective. That is why each reader will have a different interpretation.

If you don't believe me, conduct a random survey of what any text is about—doesn't even have to be a book; it can be Dexter or an Arcade Fire video, for all I care—and see how different each response is.