Tyson suggests that literary theory provides us with ways of approaching texts from divergent perspectives, highlighting the way in which we can use different modes of inquiry to see the multiple meanings in literary works. Unfortunately, as Appleman points out, many teachers do not have a proficient grasp of theoretical questions. I would begin by arguing that we need to do a better job at the undergraduate and graduate levels to expand exposure to the major thinkers who inform literary theory. One of the reason’s why Appleman identifies reader-response theory as problematic in the secondary school is because teachers lack any kind of understanding of what reader-response is. Hence, people have the impression that the reader is the ultimate arbiter of meaning, as if the text does not contribute to meanings. Reader-response requires the reader to be conscious and critical of their meaning-making process. Students make the assumption that this approach empowers them to such an extent that their reading cannot be questioned. But all texts need to be interrogated. While all reader-responses are authentic, some readings are more authoritative than others. It’s not an authoritarian claim; it is important for students to understand that they make meaning through interaction with texts, not by projecting themselves through texts. This might seem like a fine distinction, but it is really significant; it’s the difference between simplistic reaction to, and sophisticated negotiation with, texts. Students are empowered to make their own understandings of texts, but they are not just coming up with an initial reaction.
What kind of questions should we be asking of students? How do the questions that critical theory asks inform those questions? I am personally interested in the questions that New Historicist (which Appleman and Tyson inexplicably and erroneously call New Historical) and post-colonial methods ask. What theories ask questions you are interested in? Are we comfortable with theoretical texts? What exposure have we had to these theoretical texts?
I really hope we discuss these issues in class.