Refiguring reader-response: theorising experience in postmodern fiction

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Kavanagh, Ciarán
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University College Cork
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This thesis aims towards a revitalisation and reformulation of reader-response theory, focusing on the means by which readers navigate interpretive ambiguities, what certain interpretive strategies reveal through their deployment, and how these interpretive strategies might be changed by this process. This thesis therefore regards reading and interpretation as experiences, focusing on the reader as the active agent in whom these experiences take place. Its analysis is conducted across three primary interpretive frameworks: genre, the author, and embodied experience. The thrust of this thesis is both general and specific, in that the theories explored aim towards a certain universality, while the texts explored through them are generally British and American novels in the overlapping spheres of postmodernism and science fiction: Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962), William Gibson’s “Fragments of a Hologram Rose” (1977), Joanna Russ’s We Who Are About To (1977), Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) and J.G. Ballard’s Crash (1973). Science fiction is chosen as a complementary focus due to both its special relationship to postmodernism and its particularly active and distinctive generic markers. Postmodern texts have been chosen as the primary focus due to the fact that they habitually disrupt interpretive frameworks, which tends to highlight the frameworks in question. Moreover, a focus on postmodernism not only illustrates the means by which interpretive frameworks are disrupted, but how readers manage, assimilate and, eventually, domesticate these disruptions. This thesis thereby focuses not only on the synchronic in-the-text interpretation, but also on a wider cultural, diachronic interpretation.
Postmodernism , Theory , Science fiction , Reader-response , English literature
Kavanagh, C. 2019. Refiguring reader-response: theorising experience in postmodern fiction. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.