E is for The Emancipated Spectator, the Socially Engaged Art, the Poem

| May 1, 2014

Next up in my chain of play-on-words posts comes this spin on Louise Rosenblatt’s work of reader-response theory, The Reader, the Text, the Poem. Here, I’ve connected Rosenblatt (“the Poem”) to both Rancière (“The Emancipated Spectator”) and Bishop (“the Socially Engaged Art”).

Reader-response theory, for anyone who might be unfamiliar with it—obviously this doesn’t apply to you other English M.A. peoples, because reader-response theory is John Browne’s baby—basically argues that the reading/interpretive process is a transaction between a reader and a text. The reader brings with him his background knowledge, cultural stock, and personal experiences; the text brings, well, itself—the words on the page, etc. When the two, reader and text, come together, they create the poem; that is, the meaningful work of literature that would not exist with the reader alone or, more importantly, the text alone.

To me, the connection of Rosenblatt to Rancière is pretty intuitive. Rancière talks about how a spectator, emancipated and participating in the artistic experience, contributes to the creation of the art. This mirrors almost perfectly Rosenblatt’s idea of transaction and the reader helping to create the poem. (There is a particular line in The Emancipated Spectator that is eerily similar to this section of Rosenblatt, but I forget exactly where it is.)

The idea of the emancipated spectator and its implications also tie into socially engaged art, and this connection to Bishop completes the triangle of The Emancipated Spectator, Artificial Hells, and The Reader, the Text, the Poem.

Triangles are awesome.

Rancière argues, in part, if I am reading somewhat accurately, that all art is in its ideal form participatory—the viewer/spectator, emancipated, is always participating through his reaction to (which is interaction with) the art. Now, one might argue that this would mean that all art is socially engaged art—because there will always be social engagement on the part of the consumer of the art. And if this is true, then “socially engaged art” is, well, just “art.”