The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach by Wolfgang Iser

"The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach" by Wolfgang Iser offers profound insights into the dynamic interaction between readers and texts. This theory, developed by the German literary scholar in 1967, explores how readers construct meaning during the reading process.

  • Evolution of the Theory:
    • Iser's theory challenges the traditional view of reading as a passive activity.
    • Meaning, according to Iser, is not inherent in the text but emerges in the space between the text and the reader.

Two Poles of a Literary Work

1. Artistic Pole

  • Represents the tangible, written text crafted by the author.
  • The concrete manifestation of the author's creative endeavor.
  • Example: The actual words and sentences on the pages of a novel or poem.

2. Aesthetic Pole

  • Embodies the realization accomplished by the reader in response to the text.
  • The reader's engagement, interpretation, and imagination bring the literary work to life.
  • Example: How different readers interpret and visualize characters, settings, or events in a story.

Interaction Between Poles

  • The literary work comes to life through the convergence of the artistic and aesthetic poles.
  • It exists in the dynamic interplay between the fixed world of the text and the varied interpretations of readers.

Critique of Iser's Theory

  • Stanley Fish's Perspective:
    • Iser's theory differs from other reader-response theories by not analyzing the actual reading experiences of individuals.
    • Literature, according to Iser, generates meaning in a virtual space between the reader and the text.
    • Rejects a simple dichotomy between fiction and reality.

Narrative Gaps

  • One text holds the potential for various realizations, and no single reading can exhaust its full potential.
  • Gaps within the text serve as spaces for readers to engage their imagination.
  • Example:
    • In a mystery novel, the author may deliberately leave gaps in the plot, encouraging readers to speculate about the resolution.
    • These gaps allow for diverse interpretations and engage readers in the process of filling in the missing pieces.


  • Readers fill in the blanks or gaps in the text with their own imagination.
  • The written part of the text provides knowledge, while the unwritten part allows readers the freedom to use their imagination.
  • Example:
    • In a science fiction story, the author may describe an alien world vaguely, leaving indeterminate details for readers to envision based on their own creativity.


  • Involves the process of anticipation and retrospection, grouping together written parts of the text to form consistency for the reader.
  • Example:
    • In a complex novel with multiple storylines, readers anticipate connections between different characters and events, creating a cohesive understanding.


  • The reader absorbs unfamiliar elements in the text through the process of identification.
  • Reading induces a change in the reader, blurring the line between the reader's thoughts and the author's ideas.
  • Example:
    • A reader might identify with the struggles of a protagonist, experiencing a change in perspective that alters their own understanding of certain situations.


"The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach" delves into the intricate relationship between the text and the reader, emphasizing the dynamic nature of meaning construction. Iser's concepts, such as the two poles, narrative gaps, indeterminacy, consistency, and identification, provide a framework for understanding the complex process of reading literature. The theory encourages readers to recognize the active role they play in shaping the meaning of a literary work.

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