Roman Ingarden's Theory of Reader Experience a Critical Assessment

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  See discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at: Roman Ingarden's theory of reader experience: A critical assessment  Article   in  Semiotica · January 2013 DOI: 10.1515/sem-2013-0027 CITATIONS 6 READS 321 1 author: Peer F. BundgaardAarhus University 28   PUBLICATIONS   126   CITATIONS   SEE PROFILE All content following this page was uploaded by Peer F. Bundgaard on 15 February 2015. The user has requested enhancement of the downloaded file.  DOI 󰀱󰀰.󰀱󰀵󰀱󰀵/sem-󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀳-󰀰󰀰󰀲󰀷 Semiotica 󰀲󰀰󰀱󰀳; 󰀱󰀹󰀴: 󰀱󰀷󰀱 – 󰀱󰀸󰀸 Peer F. Bundgaard Roman Ingarden’s theory of reader experience: A critical assessment  Abstract: Roman Ingarden (1973a, 1973b) developed an ontology of the literary artwork with implications for a theory of reader experience. An upshot of the fact that narratives represent only incompletely determined states of affairs, endowed with “spots of indeterminacy,” is that readers fill out the blanks le by the author. Filling-out is therefore considered a quasi perceptual act leading to the constitu-tion of a full object in the reader’s experience. In this paper, I challenge the de-gree to which readers’ concretization of texts depends on such completing acts. I point to the fact that perception itself is schematic, and that the analogy to per-ception would rather imply that concretization does not imply full filling-out. On the contrary, there seems to be a correspondence between the standard level of descriptive granularity in literature and the schematic coarse-grainedness of per-ception. To corroborate this claim, I show how deviations from that descriptive baseline produce a variety of meaning effects. Keywords: Ingarden; filling-out; concretization; schematic perception; narratol-ogy; significant deviations Peer F. Bundgaard:  Aarhus University. E-mail: 󰀱 Preamble In The Literary Work of Art (1973a) and the Cognition of the Literary Work of Art (1973b), Roman Ingarden lays down the tenets of what could be considered a phe-nomenology of reading experience, that is, a description of the fundamental con-straints to which reading of fictional works is submitted. Famously, he leads the specificity of the reading experience back to an ontological distinction between real objects and fictional objects represented in literary artworks. Whereas ob-jects in the real world possess an infinite number of properties, qualities, and perceptual attributes, which are a priori accessible for experience and inquiry, fictional (or purely intentional) objects possess only those properties that are explicitly mentioned in the artwork. It follows, then, that since a fictional text consists of a finite number of sentences (expressing such properties), the number of their properties is also finite. This further implies that objects represented in Brought to you by | Aarhus University Library StatsbiblioteketAuthenticatedDownload Date | 2 15 15 12:46 PM  󰀱󰀷󰀲   Peer F. Bundgaard literary artworks are necessarily incomplete; they possess blanks or ontologically irremovable “places of indeterminacy,” as Ingarden put it. Now, this ontological distinction has immediate phenomenological (“experiential”) consequences: whatever is not mentioned in a text must be completed or “filled out” by the reader (so, for example, if it is never said that the protagonist has hair on his head, we still make the default assumption that he is endowed with hair).This paper is devoted to a critical examination and assessment of this rela-tion between the ontological indeterminacy or incompleteness of the fictional object world and the reader’s phenomenological filling-out. More specifically, it will call into question the correspondence between imaginative filling-out and perception championed by Ingarden; it will not consider the schematic character of objects represented in literary artworks as deriving simply from the ontological constraints and limitations literary artworks are submitted to; rather it will con-sider the schematicity of represented fictional objects in positive terms as reflect-ing the default level of granularity and specificity in human perceptual experi-ence. The schematic nature of represented objects in literary artworks is a natural counterpart to the schematic nature of perception, which – as Merleau-Ponty quoted Malraux for saying – “already stylizes” (Merleau-Ponty 1960: 67). A cru-cial semiotic upshot of this is that deviations from the default level of descriptive accuracy are significant and can thus, and indeed have been, used as a device for meaning construction in literary art. 󰀲 Concretization and filling-out: The ontology of the text and the phenomenology of reading  󰀲.󰀱 Spots of indeterminacy As just mentioned, Ingarden derives fundamental properties of reading experi-ence from an essential ontological distinction between the degree and manner of determination of real objects and the degree and manner of determination of represented objects in literary artworks. The former, Ingarden remarks, are “unequivocally, universally . . . determined” (Ingarden 1973a: 246); which means that there is no part of them, in whatever dimension, which is le undetermined (as regards, say, physical properties and perceptual, qualitative attributes). More-over, the properties or determinations of a real object form an open , infinite set: however many properties of an object we have determined, there are always more to be found. Now, even though we can never have access to the whole open-ended range of determinations, even though our apprehension of objects is inadequate   Brought to you by | Aarhus University Library StatsbiblioteketAuthenticatedDownload Date | 2 15 15 12:46 PM  Roman Ingarden’s theory of reader experience   󰀱󰀷󰀳 – in the phenomenological sense of the word: i.e., limited by our attentional fini-tude, restricted to a point of view, partial, and so forth – this does, of course, not affect the ontology of the object that remains determined in all respects (Ingarden 1973a: 247).Since, all other things being equal, objects represented in literary works are intended as real objects, behaving like real objects, displaying the usual proper-ties of real objects, and so on, one could expect them to be part of the same ontol-ogy as the latter. This is not the case, however: fictional objects are intentionally represented objects, and as such the only determinable properties they possess are those explicitly mentioned in or directly derivable from the text. Since a text is per definition finite, it consists of a limited number of sentences, only a limited number of properties can be explicitly mentioned. Furthermore, since the repre-sented object is intentional, there is no other possible access to it than through the state of affairs laid down in the text: whatever property of the object is not mentioned remains undetermined and undeterminable: intentional objects rep-resented in literary artworks contain, for essential reasons, “spots of indetermi-nacy.” Here is how Ingarden famously puts it: It is impossible to establish clearly and exhaustively the infinite multiplicity of deter-minacies of the individual objects portrayed in the work with a finite number of words or sentences . . . We find such a [spot] of indeterminacy wherever it is impossible, on the basis of the sentences in the work, to say whether a certain object or objective situation has a certain attribute. (Ingarden 1973b: 50)If, e.g., a story begins with the sentence: “An old man was sitting at a table,” etc., it is clear that the represented “table” is indeed a “table” and not, for example, a “chair”; but whether it is made of wood or iron, is four-legged or three-legged, etc., is le quite unsaid and therefore – this being a purely intentional object – not determined . The material of its composition is altogether unqualified, although it must be some material. Thus, in the given object, its qualification is totally absent  : there is an “empty” spot here, a “spot of indetermi-nacy.” (Ingarden 1973a: 249) This ontological distinction has obvious consequences for the phenomenology of reading experience (and also for meaning making in literary artworks, as we shall see later). Consider this passage from about the second page of Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River I” (all we know is that a person, named Nick, has arrived by train to a burnt down countryside in the hills where there used to be a town): Nick walked back up the ties to where his pack lay in the cinders beside the railway track. He was happy. He adjusted the pack harness around the bundle, pulling straps tight, slung the pack on his back, got his arms through the shoulder straps and took some of the pull off his shoulders by leaning his forehead against the wide band of the tump-line. Still, it was too heavy. It was much too heavy. He had his leather rod-case in his hand and leaning Brought to you by | Aarhus University Library StatsbiblioteketAuthenticatedDownload Date | 2 15 15 12:46 PM
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