Affective stylistics: A phrase coined by American reader-response critic Stanley Fish in an essay entitled “Literature in the Reader: Affective Stylistics” (1970) to refer to the impact that the structure of a given text has on the minds of individual readers as they read and, more generally, to a personal and private process of reading that Fish once believed everyone employs. In setting forth his theory of affective stylistics, Fish significantly developed the ideas of reader-response critic Louise M. Rosenblatt and hermeneutical theorist E. D. Hirsch. He suggested that meaning is an “event” that takes place in the mind of an individual reader during the act of reading; that reading is a temporal process in which each succeeding word, sentence, paragraph, stanza, and so forth provides additional information that readers must incorporate into their understanding; and therefore that meaning changes as the reader progresses through the work. At each step, readers reevaluate their interpretations, forming new expectations and perhaps rejecting old ones, recognizing past mistakes and making new ones.
Subsequently, beginning with an essay entitled “Interpreting the Variorum” (1976), Fish shifted his focus away from the individual reader to interpretive communities, arguing that members of a given interpretive community tend to share the same reading strategies and that the meaning of a given text may differ significantly from group to group. In making this shift, Fish substantially modified his reader-response theory, coming to view affective stylistics as one of several possible reading strategies.