Wolfgang Iser (1926-) - Key Figures in Literary Theory

The Blackwell Guide to Literary Theory - Gregory Castle 2007

Wolfgang Iser (1926-)
Key Figures in Literary Theory

Wolfgang Iser was born in Marienberg, Germany, and educated at the University of Heidelberg, where he received his doctorate. In the 1960s, he was involved in founding the experimental University of Konstanz. Ultimately, Konstanz would become closely associated with the Reader-Response theory of Iser and the reception theory of Hans Robert Jauss. in addition to teaching at Konstanz, iser has held a long-standing appointment at the University California, irvine. His academic career began in earnest with the publication of The Implied Reader (1972), a work of literary criticism, and The Act of Reading (1976), a meditation on the theoretical principles of what came to be known as Reader-Response theory. iser's work explores the problems faced by readers when confronted with literary texts. Following in the footsteps of Roman ingarden, whose phenomenology of reading was well known by the Konstanz theorists, Iser argued that the literary work was the result of the reader's engagement with the text. The very process of taming the semantic and SEMIOTIC possibilities of the text awakens in the reader a profound understanding of what it means to confront an alien consciousness.

Throughout the late 1970s and '80s, Iser wrote on Walter Pater's aesthetics, Shakespeare, and Laurence Stern. At this time, he was also studying certain theoretical and critical implications of Reader-Response theory, specifically the process of self-discovery that it entails. in Prospecting (1989) and The Fictive and the Imaginary (1993), he developed a conception of “literary anthropology,” a mode of fieldwork in which readers use the literary work as a basis for “staging” their own responses to being human. Reading helps to define social life; even more, it helps to define what it is to be human. Literature's role in this process is unique; no other linguistic artifact is capable of seducing the reader into an essentially anthropological experience. iser's work continues to deepen our understanding of the social and historical implications of reading and of being in the world.


Iser, Wolfgang. The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

---- . The Fictive and the Imaginary: Charting Literary Anthropology. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

---- . The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974.

---- . Prospecting: From Reader Response to Literary Anthropology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.

---- . The Range of Interpretation. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.