Against Reception Theory

Copyright © Jim Loter, 1995

The term "reception theory" refers to a attempt among literary and film theorists to account for the fact that a single text can be interpreted in different ways by different readers 1. In so doing, the theorists offer ontological claims about textual meaning in general. Such theories also claim that since the experience of reading a text occurs within a particular, historically specific context, a critic can account for interpretations of a text only by investigating this contingent context and not through recourse to the text itself. The phenomenon of varied readings and the existence of contingent contexts, then, are perceived as ontological and epistemological problems which require a theoretical method in order for one to perform critical functions. In short, the inability of readers to agree on a single, non-contradictory interpretation of any given text suggests to many reception theories that 1) texts have no meanings, and 2) meaning is produced by the reader through the interaction of him or herself and the text.

Through examining Charles Peirce's writings on the concept of self-consciousness, I hope to demonstrate that the logical leap from a subjective account of meaning based on a reader's epistemology to the ontological claim that a text has no objectively knowable meaning is invalid. Peirce's 1868 article "Questions Concerning Certain Faculties Claimed for Man" evaluates the assumptions made by Descartes on the nature of individual self-consciousness. Self-consciousness means, to Descartes and Peirce, "the self-assertion of THE ego; ... the recognition of my private self" (Peirce 18). According to Peirce, Descartes' influential call for a standpoint of systemic doubt and his belief in the supremacy of the neutral, autonomous Self cannot be justified due to the already-situated position of the knowing Self. Peirce therefore demonstrates that even Self-knowledge is predicated on inferences that are based on previous cognitions. His contentious point is that there exists no such intuitive faculty through which one can achieve Descartes' kind of autonomous self-consciousness. He observes:

There is no evidence that we have this faculty [intuitive cognition], except that we seem to feel that we have it. But the weight of that testimony depends entirely on our being supposed to have the power of distinguishing in this feeling whether the feeling be the result of education, old associations, etc., or whether it is an intuitive cognition; or, in other words, it depends on presupposing the very matter testified to.... It is to be concluded, then, that there is no necessity of supposing an intuitive self-consciousness, since self-consciousness may easily be the result of inference. (Peirce 12)

Therefore, Peirce concludes,

If we seek the light of external facts, the only cases of thought which we can find are of thought in signs. Plainly, no other thought can be evidenced by external facts. But we have seen that only by external facts can thought be known at all. The only thought, then, which can possibly be cognized is thought in signs. But thought which cannot be cognized does not exist. All thought, therefore, must necessarily be in signs. (Peirce 24)

In other words, Peirce reasons there is no epistemological difference between consciousness of the self and consciousness of something external to the self -- a sign, or "text."

The connection between Peirce's critique of Descartes and my own of reception theory may seem tenuous at first, but I will demonstrate that reception theory requires the very epistemological distinction Peirce attacks in Descartes' thought. Reception theory, like Cartesian philosophy, prefers a reader's personal interpretation to an interpretation based on other factors. Its main ontological claim is that a text's meaning is equivilent to a reader's subjective (albeit contextualized) impression of it. I shall argue, vis--vis Peirce, that there is no epistemological distinction between a reader's reading a text and a reader's reading his or her own "subjective" thoughts or contexts. Therefore, without that epistemological distinction, reception theory's main ontological claim cannot be true since there is no theoretical difference between a reader's subjective impression of a text and an interpretation based on a reader's "preconceived" knowledge or other factors.2

In "Texts, Readers, Reading Formations," Tony Bennett's stated goal is "to explore ... the determinations that bear on the formation of popular reading" (Bennett 8). He wishes to revise the traditional transmission model of communication which stipulates that authors produce meaningful texts which readers may interpret (4). Bennett claims that the two conventional theoretical frameworks for accounting for reading practices are both flawed in that they either are concerned with analysis of the text and the implied reader inscribed therein or they investigate the problem in terms of a linguistic paradigm which still maintains that a text contains inherent structures which are deciphered by the reader. In short, Bennett argues, such theories are suspect for they contain as a regulative principle the notion of a stable "text" and, therefore, "cannot help but be normative" for their frameworks allow for divergent readings to be hierarchically arranged according to accepted conceptions of the "most correct" interpretation of that text (Bennett 10). Bennett's alternative program is to introduce the concept of a "reading formation" which is "a set of intersecting discourses that productively activate a given body of texts and the relations between them in a specific way" (5). Under this conception of "reading formations," then, "meaning is a transitive phenomenon. It is not a thing that texts can have, but is something that can only be produced, and always differently, within the reading formations that regulate the encounters between texts and readers" (Bennett 8).

Bennett's account of textual meaning, therefore, attempts to dissolve the concept of the text itself "into reading relations and, within those, reading formations, that concretely and historically structure the interaction between texts and readers" (Bennett 12). Ultimately, for Bennett, "the text has no meaning effects that can be constituted outside such reading relationships. It has no meaning that can be traduced" (Bennett 15). In other words, until a text is interpreted -- until, that is, its relative encounter with a member of a reading formation -- the text has no meaning and is only ontologically activated through the process of reading. Textual identity is bestowed by a reader. But in many ways, the meaningful "text itself" still exists in Bennett's framework as a regulative ideal object despite his desire to step outside the traditional subjective/objective (or reader/text) framework of modern linguistics and consequent theories of textual interpretation.

To illustrate my point, I will turn to Bennett's analysis of Carlo Ginzburg's The Cheese and the Worms. Ginzburg's book is an account of the unorthodox interpretive habits of a sixteenth-century miller named Menocchio who believed that God and the angels were created from worms that, in turn, emerged from a cosmic block of cheese. According to Bennett, Ginzburg's attempt to reconstruct the historical and cultural influences that led Menocchio to his beliefs is flawed in that Ginzburg labels Menocchio's reading as a misinterpretation of the official version of the Scriptures. Consequently, Ginzburg reaffirms the traditional elitist interpretation of the Bible and relegates Menocchio's fanciful reading to the margins even as he tries to reappropriate it for history. Bennett writes:

The problem Ginzburg confronts here is clearly the problem of difference; of the difference between the "aggressive originality" of Menocchio's readings and more established readings.... This relation of difference is theorized as one of misrepresentation or distortion.... (Bennett 7)Ginzburg's study would have succeeded in theorizing this different reading non-hierarchically, Bennett asserts, had he recognized that the "text itself" -- the Bible, in this case -- does not have a meaning until it is produced by a reader -- Menocchio. In short, Menocchio's reading is, in Bennett's terms, "just as real, just as ontologically secure" as dominant readings (Bennett 8).

This blurring of ontology into epistemology is also apparent in Bennett's treatment of Ginzburg's use of Bakhtin. For Bennett, Rabelais and His World is "the text that productively activates Ginzburg's own reading of the way Menocchio read the texts that he read" (Bennett 6). Ginzburg, thus, reads a text (Bakhtin) then reads not another text (Menocchio's), but rather, in a more direct sense, the way Menocchio reads -- Menocchio's "reading relation." In these terms, Ginzburg is directly interpreting an epistemological phenomenon (the act of Menocchio reading) rather than the "ontologically secure" reading Menocchio produced. But given that any account of a historical agent's reading habits, strategies, or practices confronts the reader (or critic) as a text, these accounts are ostensibly equivalent to a distinction that could be made between reading a text and reading a textual account of reading. Ginzburg's reading of Bakhtin, in Bennett's terms, is a different process from Ginzburg's reading of texts relating to Menocchio. Likewise, Bennett's reading of Ginzburg is on different epistemological grounds from Menocchio's reading of the Bible. Placed in these terms, it seems difficult to justify this distinction as anything other than arbitrary.

Bennett's distinction between reading a text and reading a reading relation replicates the bias of the Self that Peirce describes in his critique of Descartes. Bennett's call, therefore, for a subjective, reader-oriented theory of meaning falls into the same traps Peirce exposed in Descartes. The distinction Bennett implies between reading a text and a reading a reading-relation is an attempt to maintain a split between the alleged "objectivity" of a text and the "subjectivity" of the reading process. Under this split, the impossibility of the objective raises the subjective to a position of authority. If this split is false -- if the subjective is just as inaccessible as the objective, as Peirce has demonstrated -- then Bennett's attempt to formulate a theory of meaning that will value different readings equally is founded on false grounds. For example, Menocchio, in his own words, believes he is interpreting the one true meaning of the text. As cited in Bennett, Ginzburg claims that Menocchio's reading was inspired and influenced by the local Italian popular culture in the late sixteenth century. The "opinions came out of my head" (Menocchio qtd. in Bennett 4). These opinions or beliefs, then, provided the ground for his interpretation of the Bible. But if Menocchio has no more direct access to his own "opinions" -- his own subjectivity -- then these opinions were interpreted just as the Bible was -- as signs. The basis for the meaning produced by Menocchio, then, is of no different ontological status than a meaning intended by an author, for instance. Placing ontological authority in the reader rather than anywhere else can only be an arbitrary move.

The fact that Menocchio's reading of the Bible is "ontologically secure," then, is different from the claim that Menocchio's reading produces the meaning of the Bible. Yet Bennett concludes from this not that meaning and textual identity are equivalent, but that "meaning is a transitive phenomenon. It is not a thing that texts can have, but is something that can only be produced within the reading formations that regulate the encounters between texts and readers" (Bennett 8). In other words, Menocchio is not interpreting at all, but creating the meaning of the Bible for himself. The "reading" to which Bennett refers, however, is based on Ginzburg's interpretation of textual material -- evidence from Menocchio's trials, the books the miller read, etc. The reading exists, therefore, as a text and, as Bennett states, is ontologically secure -- in other words, meaningful. Hence, the only claim that can follow from understanding that Menocchio's interpretation is real is the claim that the meaning of Menocchio's text -- the textual account of his interpretation he delivered to the Inquisition -- is ontologically secure.

Hence, Bennett's collapse of ontology into epistemology allows him to claim not only that texts have no meanings that can be objectively determined but that meaning is produced subjectively by the reader through the act of interpreting. Meaning is, therefore, a subjective phenomenon that occurs within the reader's consciousness and is not a property of the text. As I have demonstrated, this position biases the reader's epistemological access to his or her own subjectivity. Peirce has shown, however, that readers interpret not only external objects but their own thoughts and opinions as signs. In light of this argument, Bennett's distinction between the meaningless "text itself" and an individual "reading" which produces meaning falls apart. If Bennett wants texts to be meaningless, he must concede that individual thoughts and opinions are likewise meaningless. This nihilistically eliminates meaning altogether and removes the possibility of interpretation under Bennett's own formulation of reading. If Bennett wants thoughts and opinions to have meaning, he must admit that texts have meaning as well. Consequently, even his radical move to a subjective account of reception cannot empty a sign or a text of a meaning that must, nevertheless, be interpreted.

Staiger's work, Interpreting Films, is a thorough-going critique of previous methods and theories of interpretation of cinematic texts. After she demonstrates the limitations of what she labels "text-oriented theories" and "reader-oriented theories," and provides concise summaries of how the concepts "ideal readers," "coherent readers," and "competent readers" function primarily in literary theory, Staiger moves to the realm of cinema and television criticism where, with her "context-activated" theory, she explores the applicability of contemporary linguistics (via Metz), cognitive psychology (Bordwell), and British Cultural Studies (a synthesis of Althusser and Gramsci). In essence, Staiger's theoretical framework suffers from the same biases and invalid distinctions as Bennett's. In brief, Staiger's ontological separation of text from context corresponds to Bennett's incoherent distinction between a text and a reading relation. A context is nothing more that a series of texts, just as Bennett's reading relations are comprised of various textual accounts of interpretations. Since contexts produce meaning for Staiger, and contexts are nothing more that texts, her theory must also concur that meaning and textual identity are equivalent.

Staiger's goal is also to break out of the objective/subjective paradigm. She criticizes "text-activated" theories (proposed by Barthes, Jonathan Culler, and Eco among others) for being objective, formalist and for assuming a homogeneity of the interpretative process. This approach is dangerous, according to Staiger, for it assumes that a reader is interpellated and manipulated by the meaningful text and lacks adequate power to resist the text's meanings. "Readers in these theories operate as they do either solely because of the text's materials or also because of social and literary conventions that produce ideal or competent responses" (40). On the other hand, "reader-oriented theories" (such as those pursued by Norman Holland and David Bleich) find textual meaning in a reader's subjective interpretation which is governed by social and literary conventions. These theories ignore the text, Staiger claims, tend to be ahistorical in regard to the goal of coherency in readership, and are often elitist in that subjects are lumped into the category of "mass readers" as opposed to trained academics. "What are the literary conventions of the 'mass reader'?" Staiger asks. "... Beside psychological and academic features of readers, what else accounts for variety (and similarity) among interpreters of texts?" (45).

Staiger's answer is a modified form of Bennett's method (with a side-long glance to Hans Robert Jauss) which she includes under the rubric "context-activated theories." This theory claims meaning is produced in the contextual act of interpreting -- the intersection of text and reader -- not somehow located in the materiality of the text ("text-activated") nor solely in the reader's interpretation ("reader-activated"). A material text exists and provides "sense-data" to which a reader is exposed. For Staiger to avoid infinite relativity in interpretation and still maintain her egalitarian, non-normative position on the status of varied and different interpretations, she must admit this certain materiality to the text that may contribute to or construct "protocols of interpretation that might determine readings of the textual materials" (48) and hence limit the number of interpretations possible for a given text.

Staiger insists, however, that meaning is neither in the "sense-data" of the text nor in the interpretation. But if the "sense-data" of a text are devoid of meaning, then interpreters must provide the meaning when they encounter it (contextually, of course) and hence, produce meaning in their interpretation -- a "reader-activated" position. On the other hand, if readers (in whatever context) encounter these "sense-data," and the text's material features (among other things) contribute to the context and "might be used by a reader to hypothesize the appropriate communicative process into which a specific instance fits" (46) then it becomes hard to see how a meaningful context, in Staiger's terms, is anything other than an historically unique combination of different and varied meaningful texts -- a "text-activated" position. Regardless of any particular context, then, Staiger seems only able to accept either of the previous two theories: "text-activated" or "reader-activated" -- theories she herself suitably dismisses in the same chapter.

This point is clearer in the epilogue where Staiger offers the following summary of the reception theory she has tried to formulate:

Objects are not containers with immanent meaning but are constituted in historical context and sometimes conflict; signs are not fixed but may be contested; variations among interpretations are not random but have connections -- usually uneven -- to available discourses and interpretive strategies and to the real conditions of existence in a specific social formation; and interpretations are not predestined by social scientific categories of people but are related to individuals' constructed self-identities and the relation of those identities to apparent textual address determined by available interpretive strategies and discourses about the Self. (Staiger 211)

In other words, meaning -- which "is 'in' the contextual event of reading" (47) -- is produced by interpretation; interpretations always occur within a context. Like Bennett, Staiger attempts to blur the distinction between ontology and epistemology by thus claiming that meaning is created by reading. Interpretations, under this view, are conducted through the intersection of individuals with "self-identities" and the text which addresses them. Whereas Bennett merely shifted theoretical ground from an objective to a subjective account of meaning, Staiger attempts to blur the dichotomy by locating meaning in the contextual act of interpretation.

Ultimately, however, the objective and subjective extremes still exist as regulative ideals conceived in the "textual address" and the interpreter's "self-identity" respectively. As I noted earlier, Peirce's conception of the self as a sign to be interpreted removes the epistemological differences between the "interpretive strategies" employed to read the "textual address" and those employed to read the "discourses about the Self." Meaning, therefore, if located in the Self, resides in a sign (or text). In light of Peirce's dissolution of the subjective/objective dichotomy, Staiger's reception theory, which locates the activation of meaning in a semiotic or textual form within the consciousness of the individual, must thereby place meaning back into a text. Hence, her account locates meaning in certain texts -- those that make up the "context" -- and not others -- the film in question, for instance. Like Bennett's distinction between reading texts and reading texts about reading texts, Staiger's distinction between meaningless texts and meaningful contexts is equally arbitrary.

Staiger's contextual theory is unable to account for a theory of interpretation because it rests on the same fundamental error as Bennett's subjective "reading formation" theory : namely, that there is an epistemological difference between how we can know the self and how we can know things outside the self. For Bennett, I demonstrated that this mistake explains how he was able to distinguish texts from reading relations and that such a distinction was false. For Staiger, this epistemological difference is related to her conception of the text as something ontologically separate from a context. Under such a formulation, the reader exists in a material context which exerts immediate influence upon his or her beliefs and opinions and subsequently contributes to her particular interpretive strategies. When a reader encounters a text, these beliefs and opinions are called into play. The combination of the two -- context and text -- produces meaning. I have argued, using Peirce's conception of the Self, that a context, whether it be a material condition of existence or a belief held in one's consciousness, is accessible only through textual form. Therefore, the separation of text from context -- of meaningless "sense-data" from meaning-producing conditions -- breaks down. Despite her claim that her approach "is not textual interpretation but a historical explanation of the activities of interpretation" (212), Staiger's work is nothing more nor less than the interpretation of meaningful texts. All it can justifiably claim for practice is that more texts than simply the film itself should be interpreted in order to get a well-rounded picture of cultural life and activity. Staiger's argument cannot demonstrate that singular meaning and textual identity are not the same.

Barbara Klinger's Melodrama and Meaning is a historiographical approach to understanding the films of Douglas Sirk and the various social contexts in which they have been viewed since the 1950's. She investigates Sirkian criticism in the academy, how his films were marketed in the 1950's, how ideas about the genre of melodrama were used to create expectations, and the star image of Rock Hudson before and after his death from AIDS in 1985. Klinger discovers that "each step in the history of Sirk criticism signified the increasing hold of his [Sirk's] canonical political status over interpretive possibilities" (32). She explains the institutional processes that contributed to this canonization and points out that alternative readings of his films were often occluded and silenced by prevailing power structures. From this observation that different fans read Sirk's film in different ways, Klinger directs her focus away from the films themselves and toward popular film reviews of the 1950's, conventional accounts of melodramas, fan magazines, and other intertextual discourses she claims formed the beliefs and opinions spectators brought with them to Sirk's films.

Klinger concludes that reading films is never acontextual but that "determining their meaning is radically dependent on their social location and the predispositions of their receivers, and thus subject to negotiation through time and circumstance" (34). In opposition, then, to objective textual analysis which "substantially relied on established interpretive principles" designed to "freeze the terms of meaning" (26-27), Klinger echoes Staiger's claim that "this kind of analysis, then, `does not interpret texts but ... attempts a historical explanation of the event of interpreting a text'" (xvii). She offers up a theory of meaning that stipulates both that "meaning itself becomes something we cannot determine" (159) and that "different historical, cultural, and institutional contexts produced meaning ... for Douglas Sirk's films" (157). In other words, the fact that a text's meaning can never be objectively known (or, traduced) necessitates a theory which claims other factors outside the text give it its identity. I will demonstrate in this section that this theory is founded on the same errors as Bennett's and Staiger's -- namely: there is no "outside of the text" and that the distinction between texts and contexts is, therefore, arbitrary.

Klinger writes in her conclusion that "institutional and historical forces frequently activate modes of reception that operate simultaneously with the spectator's usual work of decipherment and comprehension" (160). The "usual work" of interpretation is hindered by "forces" which produce a "sensibility" that is contingent upon a "larger discursive and cultural framework" (Klinger 160). This sensibility is comprised of certain beliefs and opinions readers take with them to view a film. These beliefs and opinions are certainly formed and modeled as a result of a reader's encounter with various other texts which are either related or not to the film in question. Klinger has valuably demonstrated that promotional posters, ad campaigns, star images, interviews with Sirk, and other discourses have contributed to a larger system of beliefs and assumptions about the canon of Sirk films. To conclude, however, as she does, that these "institutional and historical forces" occupy different ontological ground from "the spectator's usual work of decipherment and comprehension" is to make the mistake that this decipherment and comprehension can ever occur outside of prior beliefs and opinions. Furthermore this conclusion requires that the interpretation of these beliefs and opinions be epistemologically distinct from the interpretation of texts. Hence, Klinger's theoretical conclusions about meaning rest on the same fundamental errors as Bennett's and Staiger's. There is no epistemological difference between how we interpret beliefs and how we interpret texts. Neither beliefs nor texts are directly accessible to a reader's consciousness -- both are equally dependent upon interpretation.

Klinger's maintenance of a category of "intrinsic analysis" keeps open the objective/subjective paradigm she attempts to overturn. She states that since "the text itself has no intrinsic meaning," then "intrinsic analysis is insufficient for understanding certain dimensions of meaning-production central to a medium's existence" (xvi). If a text has no intrinsic meaning, it seems that intrinsic analysis would not simply be insufficient but impossible. Klinger's target of criticism throughout her book are textual critics who limit their analyses to the "text itself." By claiming that such a practice is simply "insufficient," Klinger allows that pure, unbiased hermetic exegesis is, at least, possible. In other words, it is possible for a critic to free herself of cultural context and interpret a text, but such a practice is not desirable. A text may not have an objective meaning "that can be captured once and for all by the proper critical method" (Klinger xvi), but a critic can be objective -- the critic is simply missing the point.

The existence of objectivity as a regulative concept allows Klinger to make the distinction between the inaccessible text and the accessible intertext. The same faculty that allows a reader to suspend her cultural prejudices is the faculty Peirce demonstrated is non-existent. Peirce's criticism of Descartes argued that the Cartesian concept of absolute doubt described a situation in which a subject was outside belief. For Descartes, this state was desirable in that it promised unbiased analysis; for Klinger, this state is undesirable for it ignores the pressures of cultural context. But Peirce's point was that this state never existed and cannot exist. The "intrinsic analysis" Klinger criticizes is illusory -- the critics who claim they are objective really aren't. Since this category of objectivity still exists in Klinger's framework for critics, however, she must explain why texts cannot be known objectively. The concept of intertext (or context) problematizes the text by demonstrating how "industry and social factors activated meaning" (57) in Sirk's films. These factors certainly ensure that the meaning of texts is never transparent, but these "factors" also ensure that the reader or critic is never objective. Hence, the problem of critical objectivity Klinger observes is a false problem. Thus, though it may be true that evaluations of the meaning of individual texts may change, and indeed opinions or beliefs about the very meaning of a text itself may change, these phenomena cannot lead to any coherent theory which collapses ontology into epistemology.

Reception theory, like any theory of meaning, is an attempt to replace the avowed neutrality of an objective interpretive method with a more problematized, socially contingent framework that more accurately describes the reading process. In light of the fact that different readers interpret the same texts in different ways, reception theories from Bennett to Staiger to Klinger all state that a text must not, therefore, have a single meaning. Each individual reader, in encountering a text, produces meaning based on his or her previously held opinions and beliefs about texts and the world. This declaration allows a more egalitarian form of criticism for it eliminates the ability to bestow normative judgments on a reader's interpretation of a text. As I have demonstrated, however, the alleged neutrality of so-called "objective" critics has always been a fiction and, therefore, any attempt to formulate an entirely new method for interpretation amounts to nothing more than a (certainly justified) call for doing a more-inclusive criticism. Furthermore, I have tried to argue that the claim that a reader produces the meaning of a text through the process of interpretation is unfounded and based on an invalid collapse of ontology into epistemology. Since the Self, like a text, is only known through interpretation, there is no subjective grounding on which such a collapse can take place. Understanding that the reader is fundamentally the same as text renders the claim that the reader makes textual meaning through interpretation incoherent. Reception theories that are built on this flawed ground cannot provide a more or less coherent framework for doing criticism than the older, supposedly objective form; and they cannot provide a rational and coherent argument that disputes the notion that a text has a meaning.


Works Cited

Bennett, Tony. "Texts, Readers, Reading Formations." Midwest Modern Language Association. 16:1, Spring 1983. Pg. 3-17.

Klinger, Barbara. Melodrama and Meaning: History, Culture, and the Films of Douglas Sirk. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1994.

Peirce, Charles Sanders. "Questions Concerning Certain Faculties for Man." The Essential Peirce. Vol 1. Eds. Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1992.

Staiger, Janet. Interpreting Films: Studies in the Historical Reception of American Cinema. New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1992.


Footnotes

1 First, however, I wish to state that the focus of the present work is not concerned with the practice of reception studies. Reception studies are historically or sociologically based interpretive efforts to reconstruct through available empirical evidence rough accounts or estimates of the conditions under which a given audience lived and the extent to which those conditions influenced its attitudes about and responses to a text or set of texts. Reception studies make no claims about ontology or epistemology but remain empirical (and, of course, confront all the usual difficulties concerning the reliability and availability of evidence, etc.). By contrast, reception theory is an attempt to provide a method by which reception studies can be practiced. I hope to demonstrate that this attempt to provide theoretical grounding is not necessary for the practice of reception studies. This theorizing, and not the empirical study of historical reception, is the focus of the present critique.

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2 Another way of saying this is that there is no such thing as a reader's subjective impression of a text so, therefore, all we have are interpreations based on "preconceived" knowledges. Only the preconceptions change from reader to reader and, therefore, the interpretations vary. Whether a reader's preconceptions lead him or her to a traditional interpretation or a "resistant" one does not reflect any epistemological change, merely a practical one.

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