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is a return to the self and internalisation of meaning.212 Bakhtin requires expansion, however, in making clear what “enables the reader to understand the text in its alterity in the first place”213 (i.e. the horizon against which alterity is gauged and temporal distance) and what the reader must contribute to the dialogue, beyond empathy, in order to engage his/her understanding in a dialogue “with a text and its earlier interpretations.”214 Jauss formulates the nature of textual dialogue in two directions. First, the nature of one’s engagement with and understanding of a text is dialogical in nature. The reader understands the text as an answer to a question.

Secondly, the reader attempts to reconstruct the original horizon of expectations of the text in order to hear the original questions to which the text was an answer. In so doing they establish a gauge for measuring the aesthetic value of subsequent interpretations. Interpretations that proceed from the foundational text enter into a dialogical relationship with it through the recognition of the inaugural questions to which the text is an answer and by producing their own contemporary questions to which the original text215 still serves as an answer. This latter point demarcates another aesthetic quality of a text: its ability to continue to provide answers in new contexts.216 New works in the process of reception tend not to simply imitate the predecessor without posing any new questions, for the new vantages produced by shifting contexts consistently generate the possibility for new questions.

Jauss, Question and Answer, 214.

Ibid., 216.

Ibid., 216.

This includes questions engendered by other concretisations of the text.

Jauss critically modifies his third thesis in his later work by expanding the aesthetic value of a text from negation/provocation (which does not account well for the normative function of classics) to include its tradition-transmitting quality and its socially-formative function, among other elements. Jauss, Question and Answer, 224–25; Parris, Reception Theory, 137–38.

Any reception that merely copies its predecessor and genre is aesthetically inferior,217 for it does not result in a shift of horizons. Certain receptions may articulate previous receptions more lucidly, but they do not confront, challenge, provoke, etc. the horizons of expectations of the reader. Jauss firmly contends that even when a textual “creation negates or surpasses all expectations, it still presupposes preliminary information and a trajectory of expectations against which to register the originality and novelty.”218 These expectations are governed by preceding texts as well as the rules and structures of the given genre within which the work arises.

Jauss summarises the advantage of dialogue as a model for engaging

with a text and its history as follows:

Conversation allows question and answer to confirm for themselves whether the other has understood in the same way, has understood differently, or has misunderstood altogether. It also makes it possible to test and try out a point of view, including one’s own preconceived views. It is this possibility before all others that makes a conversation dialectic. Question and answer also provide access to the otherness of the past at those moments when the question is rediscovered to which the text, within its historical horizon, was the answer.219 Pannenberg offers two important provisos regarding this dialogical form of understanding. First, even in the case that one agrees with the linguistic nature of understanding proposed by Gadamer and Jauss, the metaphorical language of “dialogue” differs with a text than in a conversation with a person. The dialogue with a text becomes a “language event (Sprachsgeschehen)… only when the interpreter finds the language that unites him with the text.”220 Further, a text is not protected from misunderstanding like a conversation partner. The reader brings the text to speech through a Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic, 89.

Ibid., 79.

Jauss, Question and Answer, 62–63.

Pannenberg, Basic Questions, 1:123.

creative process of drawing on their context (whether explicitly or implicitly) to find “a linguistic expression which combines the essential content of the text with his own contemporary horizon.”221 This leads to his second point: the formulation of the “essential content of a text” is the formulation of an assertion. Communication (i.e. the fusion of horizons) necessitates the predicative function of language, whether in the restoration of the original horizon of a text, or in the contemporary understanding of the same.

Assertions make language possible.222 Therefore, Pannenberg balances this hermeneutic of question and answer that tilts in favour of the question.223 This is an important point for consideration, but it does not negate the validity of Jauss’ dialogue. Jauss readily admits the importance of textual answer, but he sees it belonging to the same horizon as the question, and not preceding it. Nevertheless, he suggests that the answering nature of the text operates as the primary point of its reception, though “it is not an invariable value within the work itself.”224 Christian theology, therefore, can continue to affirm the primacy of God’s assertions through Scripture. The dialogue of question and answer does not deny the place of assertions in texts. Rather, it describes both the process of understanding and the historical existence of a text. God may very well make an assertion through a biblical passage, but the Ibid., 1:123–24.

Ibid., 1:124–28. Thiselton observes the essential nature of dialogue in Pannenberg between one’s “hermeneutical lifeworld” and the metacritical hermeneutical frame that forms the foundation of understanding. Thiselton, New Horizons, 25.

Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 444–45. Jauss’ particular emphasis on dialogue with attention to the receiver is an attempt to give full weight to the communicative nature of art and shift away from the monologue of “effect.” Rush, The Reception of Doctrine, 68–69.

Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic, 69.

reader will only comprehend it in reflecting on how it confronts their horizon of expectation.225

–  –  –

differentiation from Gadamer and identification with Pannenberg over dialogue appears in where Jauss places this in the process of reading.

Therefore, Jauss’ three-levelled description of reading requires attention.

v. Rezeptionsästhetik: Three Readings In order to articulate the triadic nature of interpretation— understanding, interpretation, and application226— Jauss develops a heuristic model that correlates three levels of reading with these steps of interpretation.

Corresponding to each of these respective levels, Jauss suggests that reading occurs on 1.) an aesthetically perceptual level; 2.) a retrospectively interpretive level, and; 3.) a historical level,227 which includes the reconstruction of the original horizon of expectations, but also considers particular concretisations of meaning throughout the text’s history (i.e. the aesthetic character of the text). The division is somewhat fabricated. Indeed, there is much overlap between them, but all three must take place in order to fully appreciate the historical nature of a text and its meaning potential. Significantly, each level of reading forms the horizon for the next reading, and the cycle repeats through the rereading of the text. The order of the readings is not critical, but it prioritises the horizon of the aesthetically perceptual reading. Whatever aspects may inform that horizon contribute to the concretisation of meaning.

This is a critical reversal of Gadamer’s direction of questioning proceeding from the classic text to the recipient. Hans Robert Jauss, Ästhetische Erfahrung und literarische Hermeneutik (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1984), 740.

This triad is taken over from Gadamer. Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic, 139; Gadamer, Truth and Method, 306 ff.

Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic, 139. Though the steps pass through varying emphases on the reader, author, and text, above all this method draws out the importance of the reader in Jauss’ method. Rush, The Reception of Doctrine, 115.

Aesthetically perceptual reading is simply a reading of comprehension.

In this step, the reader absorbs the quality, style, and direction of the text.

Parris uses the metaphor of dancing to describe these levels of reading, with the reader following in this first type. The aim of this reading is simply to submit to the leading of the text and take in its aesthetic quality. “In the first reading a ‘fusion’ of horizons takes place through the reader’s aesthetic experience of the text.”228 This is the initiation, but not the completion of aesthetic experience. Aesthetically perceptual reading opens up the potential for questions and “delimits the space for possible concretizations,”229 but does not actually pose questions to the text. This marks Jauss’ distinction from Gadamer: dialogue is not the initial step in understanding. Rather, aesthetic perception is the “performance” of the work akin to “play” that precedes reflective understanding. In this first level, readers are drawn to particular aspects of texts, often through their contextual impulses, such as Calvin’s eye for texts that emphasise the sovereignty of God.

Aesthetically perceptual reading is not reading as a tabula rasa, nor does it exclude the aspects that genre or traditions of reception may predetermine of this understanding. It is a willing submission to the direction of the text, which is subconsciously guided only in part by these traditions.

Readers may even actively bracket influential traditions of which they are aware in order to hear the text more openly. It is precisely in this manner of reading that new concretisations of meaning become possible. Beyond this, the second and third levels of reading scrutinise preconceptions further. Jauss David Paul Parris, “Reception Theory: Philosophical Hermeneutics, Literary Theory, and Biblical Interpretation” (University of Nottingham, Theology and Religious Studies, 1999), 168. To differentiate from his published work, this title will not be shortened.

Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic, 145. Emphasis added.

would readily follow Eco on the application of this description of reading to “open,” as opposed “closed,” texts.230 In the second reading, the possible concretisations have been opened and the reader proceeds to decipher the meaning of the text. Gadamer describes one’s comprehension of textual meaning as understanding it as an answer to a question. Therefore, recognising the meaning of a text indicates having understood the question, and thus to already have asked it.231 Here, the influences of tradition and context shape the questions asked as well as the meaning derived. Rather than simply following wherever the text leads, the reader functions as a co-creator with the text, for they bring their traditions with them in the interpretive process. “In the second reading, a ‘mediation’ of the horizons of the text and the interpreter occurs through the logic of question and answer.”232 Lastly, Jauss describes the historical reading of a text, which includes the reconstruction of the original horizon of expectation and the historical interpretations of the text. This significantly expands the aesthetic experience of a text, by drawing the reader from their initial aesthetic response through the historical otherness of the text and mediating the original aesthetic experience of the text. This passage through the fullness of a text’s alterity leads to a reader’s deeper self-understanding through the appropriation of historically-distant questions, which can have a formative effect on the reader, and it concludes the aesthetic experience. The question as to whether this concern for present meaning is an imposition of modernity on the past fails to An open text “embodies generative processes within its own structure.” Thiselton, New Horizons, 527; Umberto Eco, The Role of the Reader (London: Hutchinson, 1979), 3–10 and 47–66.

Gadamer, Truth and Method, 368.

Parris, Reception Theory, 161.

realise that the process foregrounds the limitations of modern horizons, which can only be broadened by a text’s historical alterity.233 We also see that aesthetic experience is both pre-reflective, in that it is initially composed of a reader’s pleasurable reading of a text, and reflective, because of the critical work of reconstructing historical horizons and the formulation of meaning as a response to reading.234 Therefore, aesthetic experience is the understanding of a text in the fullness of its historical character, not as an autonomous work, that is construed in terms of cognitive pleasure and passes through understanding, interpretation, and application.235 In biblical studies, particularly historical-philological hermeneutics, the reading process is frequently reversed or shuffled, so that one must first examine the historical background in order to understand the text.236 Furthermore, the operative methodology assumes that the discovery of meaning begins and ends with this level of reading. This method, however, already limits the possibility of asking contemporary questions by engaging with historical materials and situating it historically first. It is also often an attempt (in biblical studies) to leap over nearly 2,000 years of insights, thus failing to recognise the aesthetic quality and historicity of the text.

Furthermore, it implicitly views the modern reader’s place in history as an obstruction to understanding that one must overcome, rather than a new, historical vantage from which to appropriate texts and in which God may speak.

Rush, The Reception of Doctrine, 17–21.

Parris, Reception Theory, 168–89.

See note 270 below.

Parris, Reception Theory, 162; Hans Robert Jauss, “Limits and Tasks of Literary Hermeneutics,” Diogenes 26, no. 109 (1980): 116.

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