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Wolfgang Iser

(1926—2007)


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(1926–2007)

Germanliterary scholar, best known for establishing Reception Theory. Together with his colleague Hans Robert Jauss, he is the founder of the Konstanz School of reception aesthetics which has had a significant influence on Anglo-American reader-response criticism. Born in Marienberg, Germany, he studied literature in Leipzig and Tübingen as an undergraduate. He then completed a PhD in English at Heidelberg, writing a dissertation on the work of the 18th-century English novelist Henry Fielding. His most significant books are Der implizite Leser: Kommunikationsformen des Romans von Bunyan bis Beckett (1972), translated as The Implied Reader: Patterns of Prose Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett (1974) and Der Akt des Lesens: Theorie ästhetischer Wirkung (1976), translated as The Act of Reading (1978). The concept of the implied reader. has been widely used in literary studies. In a marvellous cameo written about himself in the middle of a textbook published near to the end of his life entitled How to do Theory (2006), Iser explains that his theoretical explorations arose not from philosophy (although they owe an obvious and acknowledged debt to phenomenology), but out of a recognition that the study of literature was in a state of crisis in the 1950s. Cultural heritage, he argues, could no longer serve as the unquestioned justification for studying literature and readers could no longer be expected to mine canonical texts for a standard set of ‘improving’ meanings. Having set aside the idea that all texts contain a specified set of meanings readers should find, Iser then set about trying to understand how meanings are in fact formed. His key publications pertain to this problem.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.


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