Claim Nealon & Giroux

Everything is in need of interpretation,” claim Nealon & Giroux; “nothing is merely self-evident” (22). How we practice that interpretation, the authors suggest, is shaped by social factors as we examine and question meaning, negotiate contexts, and produce relationships (23-25). Invoking concepts such as Stanley Fish’s interpretive communities, Robert Jauss’s horizon of expectation, and Wolfgang Iser’s implied reader, explain how our reading becomes shaped by personal experiences and outside influences over the years. How is our reading shaped by the texts we read? How are we continuously building our reading context? How do those around us shape our experience? Why is interpretation a learned skill, but one that’s often unconscious? Offer specific details and thorough explanations.

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Jacques Derrida is a name you’ll hear frequently over the course of this semester. One of his most vital theories is that of signification, or the sign system; while we like to believe that a word has a given meaning, Derrida demonstrated that language is actually slippery, and requires even more language to define and demonstrate meaning (what he referred to as différance). “There is no meaning outside of context,” Nealon & Giroux suggest for Derrida, “but there is no final context, not meta-context that could guarantee the meaning of all others.” In essence, there is “not some natural connection between a thing, its name, and its meaning” (26). I’ve added a handout at the top of the “Documents” page to help you better understand this system: sign (referent) = signifier (word/utterance) + signified (concept). Put this system (I swear it’s the closet to math I’ll come all semester, though many of you are actually math-lovers!) into practice:


  • demonstrate how a single signifier can have multiple signifieds, dependent upon context, leading to dissemination;
  • demonstrate how a signified might have multiple signifiers, depending upon context, leading to deferral;
  • demonstrate how the transcendental signified develops, and how this concept indicates the inability of us to communicate perfectly.

As always: Specific illustrations and examples, explaining in detail!

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I like to equate our reading with the story of Goldilocks: Sometimes the text we encounter is too easy; sometimes the text we encounter is too hard; we’re happiest when the text’s difficulty is “just right” for our reading pleasure. These extremes are spelled out in Roland Barthes’ lisible (‘readerly’ text) and scriptible (‘writerly’ text), but also in Wolfgang Iser’s concept of indeterminacies in our reading. Explain these concepts in your own words, and then demonstrate how they function through specific, well-explained examples and illustrations. Why are we sometimes okay with a challenging text, and other times don’t want to contend with it? How are texts ‘readerly’ or ‘writerly’ depending upon the context and the nature of the reader? Why is it we sometimes welcome indeterminacy, but at other times grow frustrated with it? You education-emphasis students should consider applying these concepts, in particular, to the growth of reading comprehension in your future students, I’d suggest: Why do children need to grapple with indeterminacy and be challenged by writerly texts?

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A. S. Byatt’s “The Eldest Princess” offers us a little bit both of ‘authoring’ our own lives and recognizing how we are affected by our reading practice. The princess realizes she’s in a fairy tale and understands the expectations of her role, for her ideology (belief system) has led her to understand her subject position within her own life narrative (her context for meaning-making). How, ultimately, does she deconstruct our understanding of the fairy tale, of the quest motif (think: fabula, syuhzet,narateme), and of the moral we’ve come to expect at the end of fairy and folk tales? How has her life to the point of embarking on the quest been shaped by her own reading practice? How do concepts such as interpretive communities, indeterminacies, horizon of expectation, and implied reader fit into a critical analysis of this story? How does the princess subvert her role of subject, and what are the implications? Go a bit deeper: How might you apply Derrida’s concept of signification (sign = signifier + signified) to this story?

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