Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Hunsberger, M.R. (1983). The Encounter of Reader and Text. Unpublished Dissertation Edmonton: University of Alberta.


< Abstract >

What is the experience of reading? What is it like to be a reader? This concern with the essential nature of the experience of reading is the focus of the study.


Understanding the lived experience is a phenomenological question, and the study attempts to describe as deeply and insightfully as possible what an able reader experiences in the encounter with text. Sources of data include the observation and personal anecdotes shared by enthusiastic adult readers, novels or poems which refer to reading, as well as professional literature (in the areas of reading theory, hermeneutics, literary criticism and phenomenology).


This is a curriculum study, even a practical curriculum study, in the sense that teachers of reading, if they are to guide children toward a rich and satisfying experience with text, must first themselves be readers and understand what it is like to read, what happens in the encounter between reader and text, and therefore what they wish children to come to experience.


The first chapter describes the method used. Reading always involves intentionality; it necessitates both a reader and a text. Chapter II discusses reading as a dialogue between reader and text, a dialogue in which vulnerability and response are needed if disclosure and understanding are to occur. When the text leaves space for the reader to enter, or when readers talk over a text, a circle of understanding can form, a circle which can lead to the richest interpretation within an interpretive community. This further exploration of intentionality comprises Chapter III. Chapter IV considers re-reading. How is the dialogue with a text different the second time it occurs? Why do we return to a familiar text?


A major factor in reading is time and the way in which we experience its flow, especially the familiar experience of contrast between clock time and the inner sense of how much, or how little, time has passed during absorption in a text. Temporality is a fundamental phenomenological theme and time in reading is the concern of Chapter V. Every text has a body, a structure, of its own, with stories being a very favourite form. The corporeality of stories and other structures is the theme of Chapter VI. Chapters VII and VIII explore the new world created by the encounter with text; not only the sense of reality evoked during reading, but the incorporation of stories, language and ideas into our lives. In the imagination and spirit, the inner being where we are most truly at home, the effect of the encounter with text can be profound, influencing how we think, feel, and act. This experience of reading can be significant and lasting.