Making Meaning

“Effective communication must be rooted in, must grow out of, the ability of individual writers and readers to generate meaning.” (Rosenblatt, 13)

Perhaps what I found most enlightening and enjoyable about Louise M. Rosenblatt’s “Writing and Reading: The Transactional Theory” was their inclusion of reader concerns in regards to the writing process. More, the inclusion of concerns about how one’s writing will be received (i.e read). Until now, I believe most of the research we’ve focused on has been more concerned with other aspects of the composing process as well as teacher-specific issues–not that those aren’t valuable subjects to research. I just find the recognition of the reception of one’s writing to be an interesting lens to view composing and revision through.

Enough about me, though. Let’s get to the theory!

According to Rosenblatt, every experience one has with the world is a kind of transaction. Language itself is merely a way to represent and remember a transaction! Of this, Rosenblatt says, “language is always internalized by an individual-human being in transaction with a particular environment.” (3) In this way, language has no static meanings–it’s all representative of different interactions with social and public significations and personal interpretations. This, of course, means how something is read relies heavily on a reader’s own interpretations–their relationship not only to the text but to their world and the meaning that generates. 

So, how are writers to account for that in their writing? And, should they?

For Rosenblatt, writers inherently face similar struggles and decisions readers do. Rosenblatt says, “For the writer, too, the residue of past experiences of language, spoken and written, in life situations provides the material from which the text will be constructed.” (7) Just as readers cannot separate their experiences–their transactions with the world–from themselves, writers cannot keep the experiences that have shaped them from the page. A writer’s perceptions and purposes are shaped by their own selves and their world. 

Still, that doesn’t address how much a writer should consider their readers’ experiences when writing. Really, I don’t believe Rosenblatt addresses the degree to which reader considerations should be made but they do try to explain how to manage both reader and writer interpretations–being mindful of one’s efferent and aesthetic stances/ choices. An efferent stance focuses on what is to be “carried away from” or retained from the text–there is a literary centering here. As for an aesthetic stance, that focuses on what will be the experience of the text itself–non-literary aspects can come into play. Because these stances also can be representative of how reader will interact with your work, being aware of them can assist a writer in considering how their writing may be received.

Basically, if you’re looking for your readers to have a more efferent transaction with your work, there are certain choices you may make in the writing process–sometimes these choices are made unconsciously. If an educator wants a student to read a work more efferently, they may also give certain directions that would indicate the student focus on literary interpretations. Similarly, if a writer is looking to evoke an aesthetic transaction with the text or if a writing instructor is looking for their students to experience a work more aesthetically, certain choices will be made/directions given to indicate that. By taking a stance, a writer inevitably limits some options but also narrows their focus to something they can perhaps more fully communicate to more people.

Of course, there is no way to account for everyone’s experiences when writing a single work. But, choosing a stance can help a writer make certain choices that will allow them to connect with those they want to.

Something else about Rosenblatt’s article that really stood out to me was what they had to say about “live ideas” and the importance of allowing students to connect their writing to experience. “In short, the writer is always transacting with a personal. social and cultural environment…Thus the writing process must be seen as always embodying both personal and social, or individual and environmental factors.” (7) Disconnecting writing and the writing process from one’s transactions with their world–teaching students to do that–then, is a disservice. It stultifies not only the process but the prospect itself. Rosenblatt says, “Here, we are spelling out an important operational source of much of the current criticism of the writing produced in traditional composition courses and in courses across the entire curriculum. Lacking is some purpose growing out of a need to test the ideas, to apply them to specific situations or problems, or some urge to communicate ideas to specific readers.” (8) Traditional composition courses do not inspire students to come up with ideas they can connect to their specific experiences which creates uninspired and, ultimately, ineffectual writing. More, it isn’t authentic. There is no authentic investment in the work nor incentive given for there to be.

By disallowing students the opportunity to explore their ideas and experiences in their writing, educators are not allowing writing to be a learning process, let alone an exploration of identity or a means of developing one’s voice. And, I would argue, that not providing writers with opportunities to explore their own experiences in their writing disadvantages them when it comes to writing for other readers–how can a writer possibly consider their readers’ experiences in their writing when they aren’t even able to consider their own? To be able to write for many readers, a writer must have a kind of self-awareness as well as a kind of developed awareness of others and their needs; this can be either intuitive or learned. Ruling out the latter leaves only the former and I wouldn’t consider intuition reliable.

Overall, I found Rosenblatt’s “Writing and Reading: The Transactional Theory” to be particularly enlightening. I think it brings into focus some concerns about not only the writing process but about writers themselves that don’t always get much attention in the community. Providing students with more opportunities to explore themselves and their experiences in their writing allows them opportunities to also consider their readers’ experiences and, ultimately, write more authentically. More, it provides writers with opportunities to explore different stances in their writing, allowing them to further explore different reader effects and experiences. And, shouldn’t writing instruction be concerned with not only the education of students, but the betterment of their writing? Making it more comprehensive and complex? Because writers themselves are both complex and comprehensive?

I’m curious to hear what Rosenblatt’s other readers thought.


~Till next time~


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