The Illusive Reader

Six months ago, if you would have asked me about the topic of my dissertation, I would have told you that it was a study of the Protevangelium of James. My answer today would be largely the same. If you would have asked me (six months ago) to describe for you the identity of the reader in my study of Prot. Jas., however, I would have looked at you like you were insane: I am the reader, right? Wrong.

To be sure, the question of the reader has always been in the back of my mind: interpretation of ancient texts demands an ancient perspective, after all. If one approaches Prot. Jas. (or the Bible) in terms of one’s modern sensibilities, the result is likely anachronism, at least from a historical-critical point of view. This is of course not to say that modern readers cannot rightly interpret ancient texts. Rather, it is to say that modern readers must make judgments about what an ancient text can and cannot say on its own terms. Recently, however, the issue has become fuzzier (at least in the context of my project).

Without going into too much detail, my project involves the ways in which Prot. Jas. affects the imaginations and hermeneutical sensibilities of its readers. This involves discernment of various echoes in the text, as well as the new meaning engendered by those echoes. In short, my project focuses on what is going on between Prot. Jas. and, say, the Gospel of Luke.

The specific identity of the reader in the context of this project has proven to be quite important, and increasingly more complicated. Namely, to claim that there is an echo in this or that text implies the presence of a reader who is able to hear said echo without recourse to a lexicon or electronic database of ancient texts…clearly, I am not that reader.

I have several options with respect to how I’m going to frame what I mean by reader:

  1. Implied Reader (Wolfgang Iser)
  2. Informed Reader (Stanley Fish)
  3. Intended Reader (Erwin Wolff)
  4. Model Reader (Umberto Eco)
  5. Super Reader (Michael Riffaterre)
  6. Authorial Audience (Wayne Booth)

My task is to figure out what the differences are between these different readers, many of whom do not exist and never have existed in any objective sense, as well as why those differences actually matter to my project. As this project continues to unfold, I’m hoping to dedicate some posts in the near future to each of these readers. We shall see.

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