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In Jauss’ perspective, the formalists developed two concepts of lasting use to literary theory: 1.) the distinction between poetic language and practical language and; 2.) the shaping of literary genres synchronically and diachronically. This latter point may appear to be a concession to general history, but formalism describes it in terms of form-based relationships between literary events.155 At this juncture, however, Jauss argues that denying a text’s historicity overlooks the fact that literature is not only shaped within itself through its “own unique relationship of diachrony and synchrony, but also through its relationship to the general process of history.”156 Added to this difficulty, Jauss recognises a similar malady in formalism to Marxist literary theory, in that the reader does not actively contribute to the production of meaning of a text. Instead, in formalism, the reader has the task of discerning the forms and structures already contained therein, with this process serving as an end in itself.157 Therefore, Jauss proposes that Rezeptionsästhetik includes the benefits of formalism alongside the historical conditioning of literature from Marxism, Nina Kolesnikoff, “Formalism, Russian,” ed. Irene R. Makaryk, Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993), 51–59.

Seeing literature as an evolutionary generic succession through history (without reference to history) fails to account for the important aspects of a work’s “historical horizon of origination, social function, and historical influence.” Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic, 18.

Ibid., 18.

Rush, The Reception of Doctrine, 31.

and the dominating influence of Gadamer,158 but he also pushes beyond them.

He accomplishes this in part by understanding literature as a “triangle” composed of author, work, and the public, the last of which is a historically constructive energy,159 and the one for whom the work is primarily written.

This view recognises readers as co-creators of meaning, or, put differently, meanings do not merely subsist in a text, but are generated in the act of reading.160 The author has created potential161 in a text that is actualised historically in its reading. Texts do not lifelessly yield their singular meaning to communities over the generations, but “texts have a formative influence upon readers and society” and “changing situations also have effects on how texts are read.”162 ii. Rezeptionsästhetik: Seven Theses From this base of influences, Jauss progresses with a proposal for Rezeptionsästhetik, which he establishes in seven decisive theses described as a methodological grounding of literary history.163 Before progressing on to these theses, it is important to clarify Jauss’ use of the term “aesthetic.” Simply put, “aesthetics” is the theory of art. Therefore, Rezeptionsästhetik is a theory of art/literature based on the reception art (i.e. the role of the receiver) through history, with particular emphasis on its evocative, communicative, We see this particularly in the dialogical nature of understanding, the eventful nature of truth, his use of horizons, and his positive evaluation of history and truth. See Parris, Reception Theory, 127.

Jauss, “Literaturgeschichte,” 127.

Wolfgang Iser, Prospecting: From Reader Response to Literary Anthropology (London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 5.

Here, Jauss follows the linguistics of Saussure, who distinguishes between la langue (“language” as a structure and storehouse), which represents the potential of communication, and la parole (“speech”) as the actual act of communication. Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics (London: Duckworth, 1983), 13–14; Thiselton helpfully unpacks the significance of Saussure for semantics and heremeneutics. Thiselton, Thiselton on Hermeneutics, 197–207; Thiselton, New Horizons, 83 and 86.

Anthony C. Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 99. Emphasis original.

Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic, 20. The language of “method” draws the suspicion, but this receives attention below under “Challenges.” and formative aspects.164 Though all of Jauss’ work falls under this vision of aesthetics, it does not exhaust his use of the term “aesthetic,” and specific deployments require further clarification.

When Jauss speaks of “aesthetic pleasure” (a focal point in his work on Medieval literature), he has in mind the immediate accessibility a reader has to otherness of a text via the pleasure of reading that is constitutive of understanding. It is “an interplay of subject and aesthetic object in which there is pleasurable enjoyment of oneself in the encounter, as well as a pleasurable focus on the object that frees the knower from the constraints of everyday existence.”165 In this approach, the reader first commits his/herself to the direction of the text and takes on its perspective. This diverges from the historical positivist approach of constructing a historical context first in order to understand a text. “Aesthetic pleasure does not need the bridge of historical knowledge,”166 because a reader does not need to transport themselves to a different historical context in order to experience the text. Alternatively, the aesthetic pleasure of the “prereflective reader experience… constitutes the necessary first hermeneutic bridge.”167 This response, which is a cognitive act gauged in terms of pleasure, marks the foundation of what Jauss terms the “aesthetic experience.” It is an “aesthetic” experience because it is an orientation to the reader’s experience of the work. This provides a provisional This definition of “aesthetics” Jauss formulates against the conceptions of aesthetics in “the objectivism of historical positivism, the essentialism of all substantialist notions of art, and any notion of art for art’s sake alone.” Rush, The Reception of Doctrine, 65. Significantly, “art” is not the object, but the triadic interrelation of author, work, and receiver as an “ongoing event of communication.” Ibid., 71.

Ibid., 49.

Ibid., 16.

Jauss, “Alterity and Modernity,” 182.

understanding of “aesthetic” in Jauss’ work, with further clarifications offered below, as we turn to his seven theses of Rezeptionsästhetik.

1.) The first thesis demands the removal of prejudices purported by historical objectivism, namely the ability of the historian to stand outside of a historical event and observe it without any external or internal influences affecting their interpretation. In Jauss’ view, this approach fails to consider contextual situatedness and its influence on the proponent as described by Gadamer. Any adherent to objective interepretation “inevitably introduces subjective criteria concerning selection, perspective, and evaluation into his supposedly objective reconstruction of the past.”168 Secondly, historical objectivism prohibits the grounding of the “aesthetics of production and representation in an aesthetics of reception and influence,”169 which compose the history of the text. Historicism requires a dismissal of the effect of reception on the historian’s judgment.170 Jauss’ method attempts to liberate literature from such this closed conception of history to a vision of a work’s history that has to do not just with its origination, but also with its ongoing historical existence through its receivers.

This first thesis underscores “the role of the reader as the thread connecting a literary history of works. Because a work comes to effect in the response of the reader, the history of the work is to be conceived like a dialogue arising out of the horizon of expectation of the producer, work and readers in different historical periods of the work’s reception.”171 Jauss, Question and Answer, 198.

Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic, 20–22. Emphasis mine.

Ibid., 56.

Rush, The Reception of Doctrine, 40.

2.) This model of reception history prioritises the reconstruction of the “horizon of expectations” as an “objectifiable system of expectations that arises for each work in the historical moment of its appearance.”172 This horizon is composed of three elements: familiarity/expectations with regard to the genre of a work, intertextual relationships, and the relationship of the world created by the text and the reader’s world. These three dimensions of the horizon of expectations help account for the work’s influence at the moment of its appearance, but also protect Rezeptionsästhetik from descending into psychologism or relativism. These “horizons are operative in both producer and receiver” and help account for certain receptions.173 Reconstructing the “original” horizon does not solely connote the historical appearance of the original work (e.g. 2 Thessalonians) but also the “original” horizon of historical concretisations of the meaning of that work (e.g. the horizon of expectations when Calvin published his commentary on 2 Thessalonians). This is an important balance in the aesthetic experience that both traverses the full distance of a text’s alterity174 and prevents the naïve consumption of a text in the form of an uncritical equation of the modern reader’s horizon with that of the text. Thiselton clarifies that part of the thrust of this thesis lies in the fact that readers often tend to avoid elements of a text that are personally threatening. Therefore, they may misrepresent a text in Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic, 22.

Rush, The Reception of Doctrine, 40.

“Alterity,” then, is both the text’s existence outside of the reader and its origination in another place and time. Jauss, “Alterity and Modernity,” 182–83.

order to suit their agenda.175 An objectifiable system of expectations renders this less possible.

3.) Readers approach any text with a certain horizon of expectation as described above. The way in which a work “satisfies, surpasses, disappoints, or refutes” the horizon of expectations of the first readers “provides a criterion for the determination of its aesthetic value.”176 An aesthetically distant177 text can radically transform a reader’s horizons. This “aesthetic distance,” however, may disappear over the generations, and therefore requires later readers to reconstruct the original horizon (thesis two) and read “against the grain.” This thesis is a crucial warning to “Christianised” circles in which the readers of Scripture have become so familiar with the text that it has lost important dimensions of its otherness.178 An example of the “high” aesthetic value in the historic appearance of 2 Thessalonians might be the specific elevation of Jesus as Lord to the role of executing judgment in the “Day of the Lord” (2 Thess 1:7-2:2), a responsibility that had been reserved for YHWH in Jewish literature.179 The horizon of the text provokes the horizon of expectations of the original readers with this particular Pauline reformulation of Jewish apocalyptic eschatology, resulting in a change in the horizon of expectations of readers. Two thousand years of “tradition [i.e. interpretation] has a levelling, or homogenizing power Thiselton, Hermeneutics, 317–18. This is a critical distinction of Rezeptionsästhetik from the radical reader-response theory of Fish and Rorty. Anthony C. Thiselton, “Reception Theory, H. R. Jauss and the Formative Power of Scripture,” SJT 65, no. 3 (2012): 291.

Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic, 25.

“Distance” is gauged according to a work’s deviation from the horizon of expectations of the original audience.

Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic, 25.

E.g. Psalm 1:5, 75:7; Isa 13, 66:15-16; Ezek 7:19, 13:5, 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1-11, 2:31, 3:14; Amos 5:18; Obad 15; Zeph 1:7-2:15; Zech 14; Mal 3:1-5, 4; 1 Enoch 1, 61; 2 Esdras 7:33-44 on even the most innovative and provocative works,”180 so that the aesthetic distance of this text is minimised. Reading against the grain of history and tradition recaptures the aesthetic value of a text and helps prevent the nonreflective consumption of texts.

4.) The reconstruction of the original horizon of expectations for a literary work reveals the questions to which the text was an answer. This

–  –  –

Rezeptionsästhetik.181 The reconstruction of the historical horizons of expectation aims, in part, to restore the otherness of the text.182 At the same time the current reader poses questions to the text and receives answers from it. The horizons of the past do not replace the present reader’s horizon of expectation, but rather, when past horizons of expectation come into contact with the horizon of the present reader, it reveals their differences and creates a potential for the “change” of the present horizon, marked by an expansion in depth of the reader’s understanding. As Jauss observes, the aim of the project is not simply to contrast the horizons of expectation, but to seek possible meanings for the present through the mediation of horizons.183 In this thesis, Jauss introduces the concept of a “classic” work that has served to continually generate answers to questions. Gadamer advocated the concept of “classic” works that reveal timeless truths across horizons. He developed this concept from David Tracy, who described the “classic” as the hermeneutical “exemplar”184 and the manner in which it “reaches out through Parris, Reception Theory, 134.

Rush, The Reception of Doctrine, 41.

Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, trans. Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer, vol. 3 (London: The University of Chicago Press, 1990), 174.

Jauss, “Alterity and Modernity,” 182.

David Tracy, Ambiguity and Plurality (London: SCM Press, 1987), 14.

its history of effects to be received by another interpreter in another time.”185 Against his predecessor, Jauss contends that even “classics” are historically conditioned works. Their meaning is “actualized in the stages of its historical reception as it discloses itself to understanding judgment”186 through the dialogue of question and answer. Therefore, a “classic” cannot be extracted from the temporal process.187 Instead, it requires the consistent interaction of readers in order to condition its “classical” status.

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