In the 3rd chapter, on fiction, Storey describes the four main methods for studying popular fiction. These four main approaches are: symptomatic reading, reception theory, reading formations, and feminism and romance reading.
Ideology and Symptomatic Reading- The real basic overview of this section is all meaning is found in the text, if you look hard enough everything that can be found will be found there.
Storey begins with the ideas of Louis Althusser. He believes that “ideological discourse is a closed system” (37). What we are to understand from the text comes from both what the text says and what the text does not say. To gain all the information possible from a given text we must deconstruct it. We deconstruct in two main ways. First we read the text for what is obvious, then we do a second reading, recording all that was not said, for what is left unsaid is also very much a part of the text according to Althusser.
Pierre Macherey, a user of this method, is much more clear when describing what he means by deconstruction of the text. Macherey believes that “the view that a text has a single meaning which it is the task of criticism to uncover” (38) is false. He believes that a given text will have multiple meanings, depending on what is deconstructed and how far you go. He also puts forth the theory that a fictional text is “decentered”. Storey explains “his point is that all fictional texts are ‘decentered’ (not centered on an authorial intention) in the specific sense that they consist of a confrontation between several discourses: explicit, implicit, silent and absent” (38). Basically, Macherey says, “in order for something to be said, other things must be left unsaid” (39).
Reception Theory- The real basic overview of this section is that all meaning that is taken from a given text depends entirely on who is reading the text.
Storey gives it right to us when he starts with Hans-Georg Gadamer. It is very clear when Storey states Gadamer’s argument as, “an understanding of a cultural text is always from the perspective of the person who understands” (41).
This theory states that every time someone picks up a novel they are not starting that novel blank. The reader brings to the text all of their experiences and these individual experiences shape the meaning that is derived from the text. Storey explains, “a text is always read with preconceptions or prejudices; it is never encountered in a state of virginal purity, untouched by the knowledge with which, or the context in which, it is read” (42).
Another literary theorist Wolfgang Iser feels that not only does the reader make his own meaning of the text but that this process is an ‘act of production’. This in effect gives the reader all control over meaning because Iser states “as a literary text can only produce a response when it is read, it is virtually impossible to describe this response without also analyzing the reading process…the text represents a potential effect that is realized in the reading process…the meaning of the text is something that [the reader] has to assemble” (43).
Reading Formations- This section in a nutshell has to do with what happens when readers of a text are predisposed to read it in a specific way, it shows that specific historical and situational points affect the reading of a text.
Storey explains this theory with the help of John Bennett and Janet Woollacott’s study of the ever-shifting meaning of the character James Bond. They do not agree that all meaning in a text is already there. Their main point is that “popular fiction is a specific space, with its own ideological economy, making available a historically variable, complex and contradictory range of ideological discourses and counter discourses to be activated in particular conditions of reading” (50).
To further their point they look at the ever-changing view of James Bond. They contest that given the particular era, what Bond films have been out, and the appearance of the Bond girls, all have an effect on how one will read the books. For example, if you watch a Bond movie in the 50’s you will read more into the text about a Cold-war hero, and if you watch the movie in the 70’s you might read more into the text about sexual liberation.
Feminism and Romance Reading
In this section Storey quotes Tania Modleski, who says there are three ways women critics write about romance stories, with “dismissiveness; hostility – tending unfortunately to be aimed at the consumers of the narrative; or, most frequently, a flippant kind of mockery” (60).
Janice Radway conducted a famous study to try and figure out romance reading. She did research on forty-two women in the town of ‘Smithton’. Her first conclusion was “that romantic fantasy is a form of regression in which the reader is imaginatively and emotionally transported to a time ‘when she was the center of the profoundly nurturing individual’s attention’” (62). Having come to this conclusion, Radway feels that “romance reading can be viewed as a means by which women can vicariously, though the hero-heroine relationship, experience the emotional succor which they themselves are expected to provide to others without adequate reciprocation for themselves in their normal day-to-day existence” (62).
However, Storey points out that some do not fully agree with Radway’s findings. Critic Ien Ang feels that Radway is perhaps being a little one-sided. She feels that Radway, being a feminist, isn’t seeing beyond her political agenda. Ang feels that feminists can read Romance as pleasure for pleasures sake. Ang, along with Alison Light, feel that Radway made a lot of interesting discoveries with her work but that it is important not to go too overboard into a ‘book-burning legislature’ (68).