Despite my last claim that reading is a one-way form of communication, many scholars will agree that there is in fact an interaction that can occur between a literary work’s structure and it’s recipient. But because this interaction is not face-to-face, there are some limitations. For instance, a text cannot adapt itself to each reader, nor can a reader learn from a text how accurate or inaccurate his or her views of it are.
According to Wolfgang Iser, for successful communication to occur between a text and its reader, the reader’s activity and thoughts must somewhat be controlled by the text itself. Although not tangibly evident, there are subtexts (or gaps) within the text which stimulate the reader to fill in blanks within the story. When this process is reached, when a reader bridges these gaps, perspective and schemata link together to form interaction.
“…it is the gaps, the fundamental asymmetry between text and reader, that give rise to communication in the reading process; the lack of common situation and a common frame of reference corresponds to the “no-thing”, which brings about the interaction between persons.” -Iser, Wolfgang. “Interaction Between Text and Reader.” In The Book History Reader.
The meaning of text can come alive in the reader’s imagination when he/she can grasp patterns set forth by the writer and fill in the gaps by making connections and relationships throughout the text. This process relies heavily on interpretation; the author’s text is on one pole on the process of interpretation, while the reader’s realization is on the other end.
For our second mini-project this semester, our instructor had us create a sound file/audiotext or podcast of our own making. I decided to create a brief audiobook by recording a section of the book The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho. My professor’s first instruction to the class was to get comfortable with our own recorded voice before we begin. Record, play it back, and listen. Then try recording it again with better body posture, chin up and smiling, gesturing for emphasis, and using smoother tempo, guiding the listener’s attention with the pace of reading and pauses.
Working through this process allowed me to transfer Iser’s concepts of reader-writer interaction into new relationships created with audiotext. Instead of a reader, we have a listener. And although we still have a writer, a spokesperson or narrator now steps forth to try to constitute and exhibit both the actual text and subtexts available to the listener.
In his report on the new way of reading in a digital audio book generation, Matthew Rubery explains how digital audio will turn more of us into listeners and subsequently, this technology can turn more of us into narrators too. While creating an audio file, the person recording becomes hyper-aware of his/her tone of voice and annunciation of words, as well as the grammar and syntax of the written story. Therefore, in order to be most effective at this craft, we must listen carefully and pay closer attention to the differences in style and structure that may occur in literature.
You may consider it nontraditional, or even awkward, to classify podcasts and audio books as texts. Frankly, what the new digital age has created for us, on many different levels, is necessarily nontraditional. But according to Rubery, we have already accepted the audiobook as its own distinct medium, rather than a poor relative of the printed book. As a “listening nation,” digital audio influences the way we think about our own reading practices.
But there may be more to digital audio than just this. The question of whether or not audio books promote literacy has been proposed, and I believe that digital audio does grant us this opportunity, in addition to giving us a better understanding of language as a whole. We must remember that there are two parts to literacy: reading and writing. Audio narration derives from reading, just like oral speech, but adds performing into the mix. This dresses up the act of reading with dramatized factors such as syllabic stressing (which can alter meaning), unique character voices, etc. In actuality, this is the narrator trying to interpret for the listener all that they cannot see; the subtextual gaps, if you will. Overall, there is a process and/or practiced strategy that the narrator must consider before beginning recording, where as an individual reader may not need to consider these things. It may even be said that digital audio recording requires an even deeper understanding and interpretation of the text than may be required by solitary reading.