What Happened to the Reader?


Pedagogy & Professional

John Casey (University of Illinois at Chicago)

In his famous essay “The Death of the Author” (1967), French Post-Structuralist critic Roland Barthes described a movement then underway that emphasized the role of the critic as interpreter over the perceived tyranny of biographical criticism and authorial intention. The critic’s function as an expert reader was to map out the multiple meanings of the text without relying on the foundations of authorial biography and intention, both of which concepts then came into question. Although the rise of the critic made possible a new series of ways to read a literary text, it substituted a new authority for the old one. From the author’s death arose the expert reader. But what about the other readers of a literary text: undergraduate students, non-academic readers of fiction, readers who speak and read in multiple languages? This roundtable will consider the reading experience of these non-specialist readers and the heterodox meanings they take away from literary texts. What can we learn from these often idiosyncratic readings of works of literature? How do they relate to the work scholars perform as expert readers of fiction? These are a few of the questions this roundtable session will examine.

Roundtables are meant to serve as venues for discussion between panelists as well as with the audience. Bearing this in mind, please craft an abstract for a presentation of around 5-10 minutes that addresses the experience of non-specialist readers reading a work of literature from any period or linguistic tradition. Presentations that discuss teaching literature in a non-traditional context such as a not for credit adult learning class or in a prison setting are especially welcome.