Guide to Week 10: Thursday
Read Mailloux' application of Reader-Response theory to the Hawthorne story and pay careful attention to what he does, and to his explanation of why he is doing it. Note that he initially defends the need for his approach because previous critics cannot agree about something crucial to the story's meaning, namely the correct answer to Professor Baglioni's question at the end of the story. Those previous critics are Mailloux' sample readers, direct evidence of what will happen if readers fail to pay attention to the diachronic, Reader-Response challenges of the story, which Mailloux presumes Hawthorne could have predicted and manipulated.
When you are sure you have understood what Mailloux was telling his readers about how to interpret Hawthorne, read this dialogue with a previous English 215 student about the "Working With" assignment. You probably will find her questions are your questions, as well, and I hope my answers will fill in any gaps in Mailloux' reasoning, especially his use of terms from Roland Barthes' S/Z, which he expects his scholarly readers to have read long ago. (It was a fairly famous and daring piece of critical experimentation, and clearly part of the Reader-Response tradition, though Tyson does not mention Barthes at all, a striking omission in an otherwise comprehensive survey of theory.) If we have time in class after working out what Mailloux is doing with Reader-Response criticism, we can turn to the issues below.
Mailloux' introduction balances delicately between the opposing extremes of ignoring his critical predecessors and calling them blockheads for not seeing what he has discovered. This tactic should become familiar to you as you read more secondary scholarship and develop greater authority as a member of the scholarly community, yourself. How does this differ from the ways you were taught to use secondary scholarship in previous courses? If you were not taught to use previous scholars' work in your introduction, why do you suppose your instructors did not teach you how to do this? Might it have something to do with the need for the kind of critical theory and method instruction English 215 teaches? Think about the routine description of scholarly publication as a "conversation" that has been going on for years before you discovered its existence. Then imagine you have walked into the imaginary "room" where that conversation has been going on, and all those scholars, the living and the dead, look up and notice you starting to speak. What, ordinarily, do newly arrived people say to induce a group of people to listen to their contribution to an ongoing discussion?
Reader-Response criticism also can be applied to the structure of academic papers, but their "dramas" of detection and revelation are more subdued than those of most literary works. How might you apply Mailloux'/Barthes' vocabulary of analytical terms of art to the structure of a successful paper you have written? Without irritating readers, how can academic authors set "snares" for their readers, or practice "partial revelation"?