The Enmity of Joseph Conrad to Literature

Scientific Essay, 2016
66 Pages



Literature: Definition and Refutation


Chapter Two: Reader-Response Theory

Historical Development

Concretization and Affective Stylistic: Iser and Fish Two Critical Notions

Reader-Response Philosophical Debates: Reader and the Text

Chapter Three: Negative Effect of Reading Literature on Lord Jim

The oppositions on Literature

Lord Jim and the Influence of Reading Literature on Him

A Chance Missed: Jim’s Aesthetic and Efferent reading of literature

Jim’s Pipedreams: “The Psychological Effect of Reading Literature”

Jim’s Bafflement in Patna Incident: Norman Holland’s Three Models of Reading

Patusan: An Ephemeral Collision between Fiction and Reality


Works Cited

Literature: Definition and Refutation

From the very beginning of its life literature has been the target of attack by many for different purposes. What is this literature that has made some prominent men oppose it? In order to see this we have to begin with definition of the term; what exactly do we mean when we use the term literature? We might presuppose that answering the question “what is literature?”is simple. This question for all of us at first impression seems to be shallow; however, it is not the case. If a 9-year-old child is asking, it will be easy to answer this question. Literature, you would answer, ‘is stories, novels, poems, and plays.’ But if a literary theorist asks, it is very difficult to give a proper definition. Few theorists concur that literature can be defined precisely. Surprisingly, fewer theorists among those who try to give definition for literature can concede on how to define it, because most critics vacillate on the notion of the literary. Undertaking this question here in detail is not possible, so I will give a cursory background of some attempts of literature's definition which meet the argument of this book and the refutation of literature. The term literature is debated by different literary critics; however, theorists do not reach consensus on its definition. This challenging question about literature—or “poetics”1 as it is sometimes called—has gone through peevish analysis in contemporary times. Some take literature as “merely anything written, thereby declaring a city telephone directory, a cookbook, and a road atlas to be literary work along with David Copperfield and the Adventure of Huckleberry Finn.” 2 “Deriving from the Latin littera, meaning “letter,” the root meaning of the word literature refers primarily to the written word and seems to support this broad definition. Yet such a definition eliminates the important oral traditions upon which much of our literature is based, including the English epic Beowulf.” 3 Some theorists define literature as “an imaginative-writing or writing which is not literally true.” 4 However, if we open the Norton Anthology of English Literature, we will come across many works of literature which are not imaginative. The orations of John Donne, essays of Francis Bacon, and Bunyan's spiritual autobiography, for example, are not imaginative but they are listed as masterpieces in English literature. We might say that journalism is not under the category of literature, so what about the daily magazine of The Spectator written by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele which are now read as literature. Thereby, today journalism might be the literature tomorrow.

What makes a piece of work as literature for formalists is that the language of literature “foregrounds” itself.5 “The language of literature, formalists maintain, has special sound effects resulted from the presence of devices such as, alliteration, assonance, metaphor, paradox and rhyme.”6 This definition of literature is still not appropriate because most of our daily speech possess many of the above sound effects. Most of jokes and advertisements use poetic language but not generally classified as literature. Literature seems to be a contradictory institution because to make literature is to write according to established formulas – to create something that looks like a sonnet or that follows the conventions of the novel – but it is also to violate those conventions, to go beyond them. "Literature is an institution that lives by exposing and criticizing its own limits, by testing what will happen if one writes differently.”7 So literature is at the same time the name for the utterly conventional – depart rhymes with dart and for example, Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities starts with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, 8 – and for the completely volatile, where readers are perplexed to create any meaning at all, as in sentences like this from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake: “Eins within a space and a wearywide space it was erwohned a Mookse.”9

Literature, for Reader-Response Theory, however, “exists merely as what the Polish theorist Roman Ingarden calls a set of schemata or general directions, which the reader must actualize.”10 This definition still leads us to nowhere; because every written text becomes literature depending on the taste of the readers. It is the reader who would pinpoint which text is literary or nonliterary. If we pick up the novel A Farewell to Arms and remove its title and give it to different readers, one might consider it a historical book. If we ask him/her the reason, he/she will answer that this text is a historical account of Italy’s participation in World War I. Another reader might read it as a literary masterpiece. Some other reader might consider it as mere diary or autobiography. All these readers, Bring to the work certain 'pre-understandings', a dim context of beliefs and expectations within which the work's various features will be assessed… Striving to construct a coherent sense from the text, the reader will select and organize its elements into consistent wholes, excluding some and foregrounding others, 'concretizing' certain items in certain ways; he or she will try to hold different perspectives within the work together, or shift from perspective to perspective in order to build up an integrated 'illusion'. … as we read on we shed assumptions, revise beliefs, make more and more complex inferences and anticipations.11

Reader –Response theory, as the name implies, highlights the relationship between the reader and text. Texts as mentioned above “revise belief” of the reader. We conclude that literature has a formative power in shaping the reader’s identity and beliefs. The literary text in this case can be didactic in both negative and positive ways.

Not only the definition of literature but also its social function has been a problematic issue throughout history. From the rise of literary criticism, Plato was astutely cognizant about the negative effect of literature on the individual. Plato denounced poetry, and he believed that “poets produce an art which is irrational, relying heavily on inspiration rather than reason".12 He maintained, “for the poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his sense, and then the mind is no longer in him.”13 Plato argues in one of his dialogues Ion that “poetry is a kind of divine madness, because the poet is two steps removed from ultimate reality. These imitators of mere shadows cannot be trusted.” 14 Aristotle, however, had a different idea about poetry. Aristotle sees poetry as a “source of universal knowledge of human behavior,” and he claims “good poetry as a positive emotional effect on its audience.”15

The negation or approbation of poetry has since been the main challenge of literary criticism. Longinus(first century AD) in his On Sublimity like Aristotle views poetry as having positive values. Longinus differs from Platonic doctrine, which distrusted the frenzied and irrational flight of poetic inspiration. He considers poetry “as a work of noble mind.” 16 The same notion can be traced in literary criticism of the Roman Rhetorician Marcus Fabius Quintilian(c. 35 – c. 100). Quintilian asserts that “the study of literature is worthwhile because it can make us more virtuous and discriminating, while instilling in us proper moral values.” 17 During the medieval period, Plato’s views of literature were eagerly embraced by the church authorities and theologians. St. Augustine, asserted that poetry is largely a waste of time. It must be recognized that St. Augustine rejected poetry in large part due to its religious ties. He notes that the negative influence upon us is enormous, “we go astray in the footsteps of poetic fictions.”18 He spent most of his life refuting literature, and his Confession stated that “with joy I blushed at having so many years barked not against Catholic faith, but against fiction.”19 Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica is a compelling amalgam of religion and reason with its refutation of poetry as “the least of all the science.” 20 Aquinas, like other medieval religious writers, has inherited Platonic distrust of poetry. He argues that “figurative language obscures truth.”21 Aquinas notes that while “poetry promotes deception, Scriptures reveal spiritual truth.”22 In the Middle Ages, both philosophy and theology enjoyed immense prominence in this period, beside which all other ilk of knowledge, including poetry were considered as trivial.

Giovanni Boccaccio’s Genealogia Deorum Gentilium is a negation of Medievalrefutation of poetry. Boccaccio puts poets in “high place” and demotes philosophers and other critics of poetry like Plato as a “noisy crowd.”23

After the Middle Ages and during the renaissance period in England mostgenres of literature prospered opulently. But attackers of poetry were also there in this period. The prominent refuter of poetry in the Elizabethan period was a Puritan named Stephen Gosson who manifested his hatred toward poetry in his The School of Abuse. Supported by his Puritan myrmidons, Stephan Gosson wrote a spiteful piece and venomously dedicated it to Sir PhilipSydney who was an eminent literary figure in Elizabethan period. Gosson had indicted in his tract four main objections about poetry. First, he asserted that “a man could employ his time more usefully than in poetry.” 24 Second, Gosson argued that “poetry is the mother of lies.” 25 Third, “poetry is the nurse of abuse.” 26 Fourth, he followed Platonic distrust of poetry and he declared that“Plato had rightly banished poets from his ideal commonwealth.”27 Moreover Gosson censured drama spitefully and maintained that drama has abused “Greece of gluttony, Italy of wantonness, Spain of pride, France of deceit, and Dutchland of quaffing.”28 Gosson's School of Abuse arousedSidney’s rejoinder in An Apology for Poetry. Sir Philip Sidneyasserts that “poetry alone is a teacher of virtue, moving the mind and spirit to both teach and desire to be taught,” and “the poet is the most persuasive advocate of virtue.”29 Sidney also considers poetry as “the noblest of all works of humankind.”30 Such a lofty statement concerning the nature and the role of poetry finds advocate in Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) in Victorian period. Arnold notes that “more and more humankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us.”31 He also declares that “poetry can provide the necessary truths, values, and guidelines for society.”32

Debates regarding the refuters and the supporters of literature can be traced up to time of Joseph Conrad. In early nineteenth century, literature was considered as positive and important. Most novelists in that period wanted to justify the imperialist acquisitiveness through literary works. Henry Rider Haggard (1856 –1925) , for example, wrote Allan Quatermain to teach his son and readers of this novel certain positive creeds:

I inscribe this book of adventure, to my son, Arthur John Rider Haggard, in the hope that in days to come, he, and many other boys whom I shall never know, may, in the acts and thoughts of Allan Guatermain, and his companions, as herein recorded, find something to help him and them to reach, to what, with sir Henry Curtis, I hold to be the, highest rank whereto we can attain—the state and dignity of English gentlemen.33

Henry Rider Haggard’s novels like early nineteenth century literary works are imbued in the positive depiction of chivalric deeds. Such assumption of these novels is to instruct the readers specific beneficially codes of conduct. Most of the novelists at that era consider literature as positive. Yet such notion is diminished in the late nineteenth century because of the failure of the imperialism. When we come to Joseph Conrad(1857 –1924), however, literary works are not only vapid in their help but also dangerous to follow. Intriguingly anticipating this idea that reading literature is negative in Lord Jim, Conrad explores the fallout out such idealization that literature is advantageous.

Despite all these ado about the topic we cannot ignore the very fact that literature affects us profoundly. We get startled, pleased and even terrified when we read a literary work. Usually, our emotions are for the characters we encounter in the works. We pity Oedipus, in Oedipus Rex, when the truth revealed for him that he had done an odious flaw; we are delighted for Elizabeth Bennett, in Pride and Prejudice, when she andMr. Darcy finally become engaged, and we feel terror for the moment Macbeth slaughters his king. Sometimes, though, literature entices us to do heroic actions. As in the case of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, the protagonist reads literary books and subsequently he tries to embody fiction into reality. The relations between the process of reading literature and aspiration for traveling have been significantly elaborated by Cervantist Stephen Hutchinson. Considering specifically Don Quixote, Hutchinson delineates Don Quixote’s traveling in terms of a physical quest spurred on by reading literature:

As an avid reader, Don Quixote is already a traveler who transcends some of the limitations of place. His kind of traveling may be surmised from numerous speeches inspired by his readings in chivalric literature Don Quixote’s geography is as immense and often imaginary as that of his readings, which give constant examples of extra-ordinary movement transversing such space. His sense of being there is all the more acute because he believes what he reads and identifies with the knightly protagonists. The literature which most enthuses him, it should be kept in mind, is largely that of (chivalric) travel and adventure, which brings on a sensation of sympathetic movement and accompaniment. 34

Psychologist Richard Gerrig, in Experiencing Narrative Worlds: On the Psychological Activities of Reading, illustrates the experiencing of narratives by an individual by using two metaphors: “readers are often described as being transported by a narrative by virtue of performing that narrative”.35 While the reader is transported by a text to a narrative world, it is he who decides to engage in the activity of reading, which according to Gerrig is the act of performing a narrative. Jim, as reader, offers a distinctive opportunity to examine the process of being transported by narratives and the performances that are the results of reading. It is important to examine the characteristics of the metaphor of being transported in order to understand the initial cognitive processes of reading. The characteristics as Gerrig mentioned are that “someone (‘the traveler”) is transported by some means of transportation as a result of performing certain actions, The traveler goes some distance from his or her world of origin .” 36

Jim is transported by the romances by performing the act of reading. He is transported to the world of adventure by reading literature. The entire novel encompasses the first five characteristics outlined by Gerrig. Gerrig’s references to a reader’s performing a narrative deal with what he terms as participatory responses (p-responses).One of the ways in which a reader can respond to a narrative is in re-plotting. According to Gerrig, readers do not stop guessing and commenting on a work once the initial suspense is gone and the work has been read for the first time:

Presponses to outcomes do not cease once suspense has been alleviated. Rather, once readers are made privy to particular outcomes, they mentally begin to comment on them, often engaging in an activity I call re-plotting. It is easiest to observe these re-plottings when an outcome has been particularly negative. 37

As becomes very obvious throughout the novel, Lord Jim constantly shapes his participatory responses to what he has read through re-plotting. Jim tends to take his reading processes and simply applies them to the reality he faces. It is much easier to re-plot reality if it is treated as if it were a book. People become characters who can be easily created and re-created in Jim’s mind. His journey into Patusan is an extension of the reading literature.

In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Emma Bovary loses contact with reality by identifying with the romance of the sentimental novel. Like Jim, Emma was a victim of reading literature. Flaubert presents pastiche to illustrate how Emma’s fantasies – her most tangible real world – are formulated from literature that fed her nunnery-school pipedreams. The result is not just a stylistic innovation but a new kind of content embodying the idea of how literature has effects on readers and how subjectivity and desire are formed. Thus literature is instrumental in desire making in the case of Madame Bovary. “Conrad found much more to interest him in Flaubert than technicalities of narrative style.”38

Joseph Conrad himself was enticed by literature to join the sea life. In the ‘Author’s Note’ to Almayer’s Folly, written in 1895 but not included until the 1921 Collected Edition, Conrad outlines the popular perception of “that literature which preys on strange people and prowls in far-off countries.”Joseph Conrad abandoned Poland for Marseilles to be a sailor. This was to be the fulfillment of a childhood dream caused by reading literary books. George Palmer Putnam recounts a story from Conrad’s childhood by Konstantin Buszczynski that indicates how, from a very early age, the sea and foreign adventures fired Conrad’s imagination. Buszczynski recalls Conrad thus:

And in there, in a corner of the courtyard,’ he continued, pointing through the archway, ‘that strange boy told us – his play-mates – the most extraordinary stories. They were always of the sea and ships and far-away countries. Somehow, the scent of salt water was in the blood of Conrad.39

To sum up, Jim like Conrad provides a prime example of an individual whose identity originates from the reading process and develops a capricious persona. Jim possesses a complex identity that cannot be defined as either crazy or sane. He is the essence of a contextualized world, a man who perceives his surroundings through the narratives he has read, while simultaneously combining this knowledge with each new experience or character. The result of his dialogic encounters produces events that are not only fickle and unpredictable but also dangerous. Undoubtedly, nothing could be clearer than that works of fiction arouse emotions, or, more generally, psychological reactions, in us, and that it is fictional characters and events that are the objects or the source of those reactions. The main objective of this book is to shed lights on the didactic interaction which happens between the reader and the text. This instructive aim of literature can be positive or negative. I focus mainly on the negative effect of reading literature which entices its reader to a specific way of behavior. We must follow the next chapters to see exactly how reading literature shapes our identity.


Many novelists trace the geography and the language of their native region for the formation of their novels, but the subject matter of Joseph Conrad’s novels was not Poland but the sea. He wrote his novels not in his native tongue, but in English. He began to speak English in the age of twenty one. His first attempt of novel writing started at the age of forty. His novels are remarkable and startling, and he gradually became a very celebrated novelist. Conrad novels are pleasingly diverse, but many critics acknowledge that self-deception is the main theme namely Jocelyn Bain. Much has been written about Lord Jim. Many critics believe that the framework which marks out Conrad’s art reflects some experience or pipe dream of Conrad’s own. In his biography of Conrad, Jocelyn Baines has conjectured on this relation between his life and art. Baines structures his argument on historical framework, and he clearly defines the relevance between Jim and Conrad. For instance, Baines claims that Jim’s “jump” is a symbolical representation of Conrad action in leaving Poland.1 The idea of guilt and betrayal proposed by Baines is related to the thesis I am developing. A similar view with deep analysis regarding a historical study of Lord Jim is presented by Eloise K. Hay, in her essay “Lord Jim: From Sketch to Novel.” Hay reveals several interesting parallel between Conrad’s own experience and Lord Jim especially in discussing the Patna incident.2

Comparative studies have been written on Lord Jim. Osborn Andreas in the chapter twelve of his book Joseph Conrad: A Study in Non-conformity presents an analogy between Lord Jim and Almayer’s Folly. Both novels, Andreas maintains, possess identical thematic substance. Jim and Almayer are anxiety-ridden to a fearful degree by what they feel to be an unfair and horrific accusation targeted at them by society. The lives of both men are subjugated by the deep resentment they feel against the social group of which they are more or less recluse members, and as a result the sturdiest effect determining their behavior is their awareness of society’s denunciation, overt in Lord Jim’s case and covert in Almayer’s.3 I disagree with Andreas on the idea that Jim’s behavior is determined by society. It is reading literature determines his behavior. Jim is engrossed with his own mental and emotional reactions of literature’s ideals not society’s opinion of him. The most pertinent comparative study to my argument is Robert B. Heilman in Introduction to Lord Jim fascinating analogy between Oedipus and Jim. Heilman claims that Oedipus like Jim, too, has “Ability in the abstract”; he has the ideal for saving a troubled community, as Jim has. Jim’s counterfeit “success” comes after he has wanted to evade the truth by moving from port to port, just as Oedipus has wanted to evade destiny by a change of scene—both versions of the common myth of “leaving town.” When at last there is nowhere else to retreat to, they discover their deepest talents; for both the ultimate deed is a paradox, success-in-failure.4

Frederick Karl’s key findings in A Reader’s Guide to Joseph Conrad overlap with my argument that Jim tries to forge fiction and change it to reality. Karl concludes that Jim is a young boy of self-conceived romance and misdirected imagination which these misplaced ideals triggers his fiasco. As Karl puts it, “misery befell on him from immoderate imagination.” Jim’s understanding of reality never catches up with the roles he has romanticized for himself.5

An interesting psychological approach to Lord Jim is investigated by S. R. Moosaviniaand Hekmatshoar Tabari. Their assumptions are closely related to my thesis. In the article “Conrad’s Lord Jim: A Modern Romance on the Tragedy of “How to Be” they discuss the fiasco of Jim whose romantic views in classical heroism and codes of behavior triggers his bewilderment. This is similar to my findings that Jim’s creeds he acquired from reading literature have caused his death. This article contributes to our understanding on the fact that one’s lack of understanding of “how to be in life”, or his incapability to comprehend the world pragmatically from an accurate perspective hinders him from being conscious enough about his real existence, resulting in a catastrophe: demise accompanied with obscurity, absent-mindedness and rage.6

To sum up, from the argument of Jocelyn Baines and Eloise K. Hay that there is on liaison of Conrad life and his art to Osborn Andreas analogy of Lord Jim and Almayer’s Folly and Heilman analogy of Jim and Oedipus the King and other criticism reviewed so far, to my knowledge no critic of Lord Jim has pointed out an obvious reality of negative effect of reading literature in this novel. My theoretical framework is to prove through Reader-Response approach the disastrous outcome of reading literary text and how literature possesses a formative influence on Jim’s identity.

Chapter Two: Reader-Response Theory

Historical Development

Reader-Response theory, as its name implies, is an approach which emphasizes the response of the reader to a particular text. Reader-Response criticism emerged in the United States in 1970. But such exact date assigning is incorrect, because readers have undoubtedly responded to what they have read since the beginning of literature itself. Plato and Aristotle were cognizant about the readers’ or the viewers’ reactions to literature. Plato, for instance, claims that watching a play would ignite the passion of the beholders and the spectators making them forget themselves and permit passions, not reason, to rule their actions. Similarly, in the Poetics, Aristotle was concerned about the effects a play will have on the audience’s emotions. Aristotle asks such question as “Will play arouse the spectators’ piety or fear? Will these passions purge the viewers? Will they cleanse a spectator of all emotions by the play’s end?”1 “Many Classical and Medieval writers considered literature as a branch of rhetoric, the art of persuasive speaking or writing.”2

Theorists also who highlight the audience response normally involve themselves in “rhetorical criticism, focusing on the strategies, devices, and techniques author use to elicit a particular reaction or interpretation of the text.”3 In addition, many Romantic theories highlighted the powerful emotional effect of poetry on the reader, and some nineteenth-century theories such as “symbolism and impressionism emphasized the reader’s subjective response to literature an art.”4 Paying a close attention to the audience response to literary work dominates much present-day criticism. Various theories, namely Feminism and Marxism, have long accredited that literature, necessarily “operating within certain social structures of class and gender, is always oriented toward certain kinds of audiences, in both aesthetic and economic terms.”5

Friedrich Schleiermacher,Martin Heidegger, and Hans Georg Gadamer developed the hermeneutic theories. Edmund Husserl and Roman Ingarden initiated the phenomenological theories. Both Hermeneutic and Phenomenological theories examined the ways in which readers engaged cognitively with literature.

Some literary theories try to relegate the reader’s role in relation with literary texts. Formalists, for example, wanted to illustrate that “Literature is a scientific, autonomous realm, where the emphasis lay not on mere subjective reactions of the reader nor on the connections of the text to its broader social circumstances but on the literary work itself: they saw the study of literature as an objective activity, and they saw the literary object itself as the repository of meaning. What needed to be studied, they argued, was the “objective” verbal structure of the literary artifact, and what needed to be identified were its specifically literary qualities, as opposed to any moral, religious, or other significance it might contain.6

Reader-Response theory was an objection against such Formalism and Objectivism. It was also a reawaking of a vast and variegated tradition that had accredited the essential role of the reader or viewer in the overall structure of any given literary or rhetorical situation. Louise Rosenblatt and Wayne Booth are pioneering in Reader-Response criticism. Both figures acknowledged that literature uses specific strategies to elicit effects in its readers or to guide their responses. Several poststructuralist approaches such as Deconstructionism had repudiated the Formalist and New Critical declaration that literary text is “autotelic” artifact. In Formalist theories, including the New Criticism, the text and its formal cues is the matter of concern. The role of the reader is neglected. Nevertheless, there were critics in that movement, namely I. A. Richard’s, who helped the emergence of Reader- Response. I. A. Richard in his Practical Criticism analyzed an “affective” method that showed the emotional responses and the effects of literary text upon the readers. According to Richard, Literature produces pseudo-statementsabout the nature of reality. But such pseudo-statements are essential to the overall psychological health of each individual. In fact, human beings are basically bundles of desires called appetencies. In order to achieve psychic health, one must balance these desires by creating a personally acceptable vision of the world. Literature can harmonize and satisfy humankind’s appetencies and thereby create a fulfilling and intellectually acceptable worldview.7

Such attention to reader response causes Wolfgang Iser and Hans Robert Jauss to start a systematic study of Reader-Response criticism. The aesthetics of Reader-Response theory had its roots not only in the hermeneutic and phenomenological traditions but also in the earlier thought of Alexander Baumgarten, Immanuel Kant, and Friedrich von Schiller.

Today, however, Reader Response theory is an augmentation of the hermeneutics and phenomenology of the 1950s. Phenomenologists emphasized “the horizon of the reader’s consciousness in relation to a text considered as a type of consciousness.”8 George Poulet, the Phenomenological literary critic, dedicated his criticism to the study of various forms of human consciousness manifested in literature. For Poulet “any given work of literature is not primarily a verbal medium, as it is for formalist critics like Cleanth Brooks, but an expression of a distinct form of human consciousness.”9 Poulet labels this form the “cogito,” which he characterizes as “the transcendent living source of literature and the spiritual center of an author’s entire body of writings.”10 As a result, reading for Poulet becomes an intimate, meditative communion with the cogito. He maintained that the process of reading is to mediate to an “alien” consciousness. In the reading process, Poulet argues, “I am aware of a rational being, of a consciousness; the consciousness of another, no different from the one I automatically assume in every human being I encounter, except in this case the consciousness is open to me, welcomes me, lets me look deep inside itself .”11 We can conclude from Poulet argument that reading shatters the boundary between subject and object mainly by reshaping the text as object into another subject, one that subjugates the reader’s consciousness, be at the same time in it. “You are inside the text; it is inside you; there is no longer either outside or inside.”12 In Poulet’s phenomenology of reading, it is the biographical evidence that is undoubtedly crucial to the reader. What exactly passes into the reader’s consciousness and sticks inside it as an “alien subject,” what efficiently “loans” the reader’s subjectivity to the text is the consciousness of the text itself: “the subject which directs the text can exist only in the text.”13 In this regard, The “I” uttered in the consciousness of the reader is the “I” of the text.

Some structuralist critics also highlight the reader’s involvement in reading literary texts. Vladimir Propp in the theory of the folktale asserts that the “folktale is constructed to stimulate specific reactions in the reader according to the disposition of the structural elements of the tale.”14 In semiotics, this association is posited in regard to the reader’s or addressee’s function concerning ‘certain codes.’ Roland Barthes’ challenging and leading article, “The Death of the Author,” arrives to the inexorable conclusion from textualist theories of reading: “The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination. . . . The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.”15

Concretization and Affective Stylistic: Iser and Fish Two Critical Notions

The most important and authoritative progresses in Reader-Response theory can be traced in the criticism of Wolfgang Iser and Stanley Fish. For these literary theorists, reading is basically a process in which the reader activates or completes a text. Iser’s phenomenological analysis of the text follows the criticism of Roman Ingarden, particularly his theory of “concretization” or “realization,” the lively process by which the reader involves in the creation of a text’s potential meanings: “The joining of the text and the reader effectuates the literary work into existence.”16 When “concretization” means in Reader-response criticism is that in the reading process “ the text registers in reader’s consciousness.” Iser claims that “The need to decipher gives us the chance to formulate our own deciphering capacity – i.e., we bring to the fore an element of our being of which we are not directly conscious.”17 So, the “ ‘reality’ of the reading process elucidates basic forms of real experience”; it bestows upon the text what Iser describes a “dynamic lifelikeness” that “allows us to take in an unknown experience into our private world.”18 For Iser, “the reader is a concrete historical subject who discovers as much about herself as about the text she reads.”19

Stanley Fish shared a similar view with Iser and he asserted that the reader is instrumental in the establishing of meaningful texts. Stanley Fish in his provocative work Surprised by Sin (1967) proclaims that John Milton, in Paradise Lost, establishes a kind of empathy between the reader and Satan that drives the reader to experience the fall of Adam and Eve. The reader is thus in a position to take in the influential ethical and spiritual instructions that their “fortunate fall” has to offer. In later essays, collected in Is There a Text in This Class, Stanley Fish investigates the risks of yielding to the “affective fallacy” and creating meaning mainly base upon subjective response. Drawing little importance on the author, the social context, or a text’s historical situation as sources for discovering a poem’s meaning, the New Critics assert that “a reader’s emotional response to the text is neither important nor equivalent to its interpretation. Such an error in judgment, called the affective fallacy, confuses what a poem is with what it does. If we derive our standard of criticism, say the New Critics, from the psychological effects of the literary text, we are then left with impressionism or, or worse yet, relativism.” Stanly Fish, however, tried to accentuate the importance of “affective stylistic”–the way that text shapes reader’s responses. Fish argues that “a stylistic fact is a fact of response.”20 In addition, poetic and non-poetic would not be separated. In his theory of “affective stylistics,” Fish emphasizes the anti-formalist direction of Reader-Response theory and claims, against critics like I. A. Richards and Michael Riffaterre, that the difference between poetic and non-poetic language, and the resulting superiority of the former, bounds the interpretive potential of language and texts. Like Iser, Fish claims that the meaning obtained from literary works is the product of a “joint responsibility.” Meaning is thus “delineated as an event rather than an entity”: “The reader’s response is not to the meaning; it is the meaning.”21

One of the most provocative advances within Reader-Response theory is the rise of “ethics of reading.” This view proposes that reading develops out of communities and, simultaneously, shapes the ethical codes of those communities. It also proposes that process of reading is a moral engagement with the other embodied in the literary text, a view that develops to a great extent in response to Emmanuel Lévinas’s criticism on ethics. J. Hillis Miller’s notion of the ethics of reading, however, diverges in a quite different orientation. For Miller, ethics is not a query of action in the communal or political scopes but rather a query of the crucial essence of language. And since the process reading literature is made by language and because human beings are presented regularly with the act of reading, it follows that our ethical sense is a function of language and reading. “Each reading is, strictly speaking, ethical, in the sense that it has to take place, by an implacable necessity, as the response to a categorical demand, and in the sense that the reader must take responsibility for it and for its consequences in the personal, social, and political worlds.”22 Vincent Leitch has argued that this approach has a specific problem. Leitch asserts that “this approach disregards exactly the social, political, and cultural contexts that shape our ways of reading.”23

Reader-Response Philosophical Debates: Reader and the Text

Western philosophy traditionally rejects contextualized approach to knowledge seeking; rather the individual is considered as an entirely autonomous entity without requirement for recourse from any outside influence namely, reading literary books because identity is discerned as situated within a center of power, not shared with other individuals. Thus, reading some literary books and embodying the events of the narrative in real life can be dangerous for the readers. The question that may be raised is: Why is autonomous so lionized? Is it a panic of the mysterious that the individual cannot control? Lorraine Code raises an argument which challenges the idea of autonomy with the notion of dialogue. Although Code works mainly with women’s ways of understanding, she broadens the question and makes it more general. She maintains that “Western philosophical traditions are male centered autonomous positions that keep women at a distance by repudiating their knowledge as experience and thus not true knowledge because of its experiential nature.”24 For Code, “True knowledge is an autonomous, objective fact rooted epistemology without emotional influences, a feature that has been traditionally given to male of the human species. Knowledge that is derived from a dialogically interactive concept, putting priority upon knowing the individual person, is often considered as being subjective and therefore rejected on the spot because philosophy, like the science, aims to disregard the value of individual response. Traditional Western philosophy demotes the woman to a lesser place of prominence due to the contextual nature of her comprehension of knowledge.25

The argument of knowing and perception extends into the literary philosophical debates as well, especially when noting the role of the reader in relation to construction of knowing. Code’s theory of the multiplicity of knowing coalesces with Mikhail Bakhtin’s theoretical position considering the conceptualization of identity. Both Bakhtin and Code use the jargon “dialogue” to allude to frank and open interaction between individuals. One of the methods in which Bakhtin formulates of dialogue is with regard to constructing an identity, which is essentially connected to the way knowledge is understood. The notion of an autonomous identity is utterly rejected within the Bakhtinian theoretical construction because of the social feature inherent in the identity construct.

Michael Holquist asserts that the idea of dialogue is the focal point to all Bakhtinian thought. Dialogue lends itself not only to literary and linguistic matters, but to philosophical debates of knowing and understanding. “Bakhtin relegates a Cartesian notion of consciousness by considering consciousness as a dialogue of identities in place of a single conceptualization of self.”26 According to Bakhtinian dialogics, each person possesses an “excess of seeing” which he can see and understand what another individual cannot see about himself. We are only able to comprehend our identities through the interpretation of another person. It is this excess of seeing that helps to a negotiated sense of self:

It is impossible for me to experience convincingly all of myself as enclosed within an externally delimited, totally visible and tangible object, that is, to experience myself as coinciding with it in every respect. Yet that is the only way in which I can represent the other to myself. Everything inward that I know and in part coexperience in him I put into the outward image of the other as into a vessel which contains his I, his will, his cognition. For me, the other is gathered and fitted as a whole into his outward image.27

The Bakhtinian dialogical notion of identity can be expanded by considering the primacy of response in the reader. Bakhtin elucidates the responses of individual in relation to spoken interaction, yet the notion still applies to the response to written communication as well. According to Bakhtin, knowledge only comes to culmination through a response to what is said or read as it is implied from following quotation:

The fact is that when the listener perceives and understands the meaning (the language meaning) of speech, he simultaneously takes an active, responsive attitude toward it. He either agrees or disagrees with it (completely or partially), augments it, applies it, prepares for its execution, and so on. And the listener adopts this responsive attitude for the entire duration of the process of listening and understanding, from the very beginning_ sometimes literally from the speaker’s first word. Any understanding of live speech, a live utterance, is inherently responsive, although the degree of this activity varies extremely. Any understanding is imbued with response and necessarily elicits it in one form or the other: the listener becomes the speaker.28

Bakhtinian aesthetics can be delineated in terms of the activity of perception in relation to the structure of authoring. Holquist asserts that Mikhail Bakhtin establishes a natural correlation between two relationships; self and other and the author and hero, “I give shape both to others and to myself as an author gives shape to his heroes.”29 The connection between author and hero can also be extended to a reader as he re-authors or co-authors the literary text that he is reading. The architectonics or the relation between two things is synonymous with the dialogic relationship that exist between reader (author) and text, as Holquist explains, “… for I give life to a text by seeking to find the appropriate balance of relations (architectonics as aesthetic) between author and hero in the lived experience of my reading…. It is the reader’s reaction to reactions in the work of art that transforms a text into an event by giving it meaning.”30

Therefore, as it can be inferred from the views of these critics the reader plays a main role in meaning making because he is responsible for creating the possibility of action for the text. Holquist utilizes quite a pertinent term in delineating what the reader does with the text; he gives life to the text by putting humanity back into the reading process. Reading thus can be considered as a continuous dialogic process in which reader uses the text as the place where his interpretations can coalesce and interact within himself.

The dialogics that Bakhtin presents meets philosophically with a contextualist theory of knowledge in which we as human being have a constant frame of reference with which to allude to our surrounding. The individual in context is not simply acted upon by the world that surrounds him, but he is always in continuous dialogic interaction with literary books thus becoming a capricious identity with the capacity to adjust and change.

A leading figure of Reader- Response is Louise Rosenblatt. This critic dealt with the subject of actual readers much before it was theoretically fashionable. Her first book Literature as Exploration was published in 1938. The main concern of this book is the connection that the individual reader establishes with not only the text- but himself. According to Rosenblatt, literary text is inkspots on paper until a reader transforms them into a set of meaningful symbols” .31


1 Vincent B. Leitch, Norton Anthology of Literary Criticism and Theory(United States of America: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2001)4.

2 Charles E. Bressler, Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice (New Jersey: Pearson education, 2007)12.

3 Charles E. Bressler, Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice (New Jersey: Pearson education, 2007)12.

4 Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction (United States of America:Blackwell, 1996) 1.

5 Vincent B. Leitch, 4.

6 Vincent B. Leitch, 4.

7 Jonathan Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford UP, 2000)40.

8 Charles Dickens,A Tale of Two Cities (London: Oxford UP, 1998) 1.

9 James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (New York:Oxford UP, 2000)18.

10 Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction (USA:Blackwell, 1996) 67.

11 Eagleton,67.

12 Bressler,22.

13 Bressler, 22.

14 Leitch, 34.

15 Leitch, 88.

16 Leitch, 135.

17 Leitch, 155.

18 Leitch, 240.

19 Leitch, 242.

20 Leitch, 240.

21 Leitch, 242.

22 Leitch, 242.

23 Leitch, 254.

24 Stephen Gosson, The Schoole Of Abuse(London: Oregon UP, 2000) 4.

25 Stephen Gosson, 5.

26 Stephen Gosson, 5.

27 Stephen Gosson, 5.

28 Stephen Gosson, 5.

29 Bressler, 30.

30 Bressler, 31.

31 Bressler, 40.

32 Bressler, 40.

33 Linda Dryden, Joseph Conrad and the Imperial Romance (London: Antony Rowe Ltd., 2000) 16.

34 StevenHutchinson,CervatineJourneys( Madison: Wisconsin UP, 1991)92.

35.RichardGerrig, Experiencing Narrative Worlds: On the Psychological Activities of Reading (New Haven: Yale UP, 1993) 9.

36 Gerrig, 10-11.

37 Gerrig, 90.

38 Terry Collits, Postcolonial Conrad: Paradoxes of Empire (London: Routledge, 2005)124.

39 Zdzislaw Najder, ed. Conrad Under Familial Eyes, trans. HalinaCaroll (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983) 143.

1 (Baines, Jocelyn.“Guilt and Atonement in Lord Jim and the Loss of Eden.”TwentiethCenturyInterpretations of Lord Jim, Collection of Essays. Ed. Robert E. Kuehn.1st ed. (New Jersey: PrenticeHall, 1969). 35

2 Eloise K. Hay, “Lord Jim: From Sketch to Novel,” Twentieth Century Interpretations of Lord Jim, Collection of Essays. Ed. Robert E. Kuehn.1st ed. (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1969) 14.

3 Osborn Andreas,Joseph Conrad: A Study in Non-conformity(USA: Archon Book, 1969), 55

4 Robert B. Heilman ,Introduction to Lord Jim (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston,1957) 2.

5 Frederick Karl, A Reader’s Guide to Joseph Conrad(New York: Noonday Press, 1960) 130-31

6 Moosavinia. S.R. HekmatshoarTabari. Studies in Literature and Language Vol.2 No.2, 2011, pp. 50-53.

1 Charles E. Bressler, Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice (New Jersey: Pearson education, 2007) 76.

2 Rafey Habib,A History of Literary Criticism: From Plato to the Present(UK:Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2005) 708.

3 Bressler, 76.

4 Habib, 708.

5 Habib, 708.

6 Habib, 708.

7 Bressler, 77.

8 Georges Poulet, “Phenomenology of Reading.”New Literary History 1.1 (1969):54.

9 Poulet, 54.

10 Vincent B. Leitch, Norton Anthology of Literary Criticism and Theory (USA: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001)131.

11 Poulet54.

12 Poulet 54.

13 Poulet 54-58.

14 Gregory Castle, The Blackwell Guide to Literary Theory (UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2007) 174.

15 Roland Barthes,“The Death of the Author,” Image-Music-Text. Trans. Stephen Heath.(New York: Hill and Wang, 1977) 148.

16 Wolfgang Iser,The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1974) 275.

17 Iser, The Implied Reader, 294.

18 Iser, The Implied Reader, 281, 288.

19 Castle,177.

20 Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities(Cambridge: MA: Harvard UP, 1980) 65.

21 Fish,65.

22 Hillis J. Miller, The Ethics of Reading: Kant, de Man, Eliot, Trollope, James and Benjamin (New York: Columbia UP., 1987) 59.

23 Vincent B. Leitch, “Taboo and Critique: Literary Criticism and Ethics.” ADEBulletin90 (Fall 1988) 46–52.

24 LorraineCode,What Can She Know? Feminist Theory and the Construction of Knowledge(Ithaca: Cornell UP., 1991) 20.

25 Code, 22

26 Michael Holquist, Dialogism: Bakhtin and His World (New York: Routledge, 1990) 20.

27 Mikhail M. Bakhtin, Art and Answerability.Eds.Michael Holquist and VadimLiapunov.Trans.VadimLiapunov (Austin: Texas UP.,1990) 39.

28 Mikhail M.Bakhtin, Speech Genres and Other Essays. Trans, Vern W. Mc Gee. Eds, Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: Texas UP., 1986) 68.

29 Bakhtin, Art, Intro, xxx.

30 Bakhtin, Art, Intro, xxxi.

31 Louise Rosenblatt, Literature as Exploration (New York: MLA, 1983) 25.

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The Enmity of Joseph Conrad to Literature
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Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad, didactic interaction, Reader Response Theory, Literature
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Kheirallah Helichi (Author), 2016, The Enmity of Joseph Conrad to Literature, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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