Journal - Vol 1 (Fall, 2008)
Reception: texts, readers, audiences, history
Vol. 1 (Fall, 2008)
Philip Goldstein, Editor
We are fortunate that the first issue of Reception includes essays by three distinguished scholars. John Frow, Patsy Schweikart, and Janet Staiger were keynote speakers at the 2007 RSS conference at University of Mousouri at Kansas City and have contributed their presentations to this issue, which, as a result, covers a broad range of important issues. In “Afterlife: Texts as Usage,” Frow examines Victorian and modern readings and reworkings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poem “Jenny.” What this history of the poem’s reception shows is, he argues, that neither the reader nor the text exist independently of each other; rather, they construct each other in keeping with what he terms the “regime of reading” regulating them. Patsy Schweikart, who favors an ethical notion of reading, rather than an historical account of reception, accepts Jürgen Habermas’ theory of rational communication but argues that he misunderstands the nature of listening, which is an active practice governed by what she, following Carol Gilligan and other feminists, terms an ethics of care. Janet Staiger, who adopts a sociological view of reception, examines on-line discussions of the David Lynch cult movie Eraserhead. She argues that the debates of the movie’s fans show that they interpret films as academics do and that the roots of this interpretive practice are in the American film education movement that began in the 1920s.
The essays of Catherine Gomes and Ildiko Olasz also raise important issues. Gomes examines the ways in which critics in the English-speaking West glamorized the Chinese actresses playing strong swordswomen in the popular films Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Lee 2000), Hero (Zhang 2002) and House of Flying Daggers (Zhang 2004). Since China has become the Asian juggernaut of economic domination, Chinese ethnicity on screen is threatening, so glamorizing the actresses enables this film criticism to domesticate the actresses’ “foreign” ethnic femininity. Olasz argues that the illustrations of Henry James’ novel Washington Square focused on secondary aspects of the novel and, as a result, adversely affected its reception. She attributes this adverse outcome to James’ misconstruction of his audience’s expectations and, more generally, to the historical shift to a modernist art indifferent to its audience.
Ranging from lyric poetry to martial arts films, from Habermas to James, the first issue of Reception covers a broad range of issues, methods, and media and in that way effectively inaugurates the journal, whose purpose is to establish a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary forum for reception study.