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Efferent vs. Aesthetic Reading

Louise Rosenblatt [110] explains  that readers approach the work in ways that can be viewed as aesthetic or efferent. The question is why the reader is reading and what the reader aims to get out of the reading. Is the text established primarily to help readers gain information with as little reading possible, or is the site established in order to create an aesthetic experience? 

  • Efferent reading: reading to “take away” particular bits of information.  Here, the reader is not interested in the rhythms of the language or the prose style but is focused on obtaining a piece of information.  Rosenblatt states, “the reader’s attention is primarily focused on what will remain as a residue after the reading — the information to be acquired, the logical solution to a problem, the actions to be carried out.” An example would be a deep sea fishing guide to decide where to go fishing, or a textbook to learn about the economic causes of the Great Depression. 
  • Aesthetic reading: reading to explore the work and oneself. Here, readers are engaged in the experience of reading, itself.  Rosenblatt states, “In aesthetic reading, the reader’s attention is centered directly on what he is living through during his relationship with that particular text.” [110, p. 25 ] An example would be reading Hemingway’s Old Man and The Sea to live through a deep sea fishing adventure, or the Grapes of Wrath to plumb the emotional depths of living through the Great Depression. One would not read the Old Man and The Sea to learn how to deep sea fish, nor the Grapes of Wrath to examine the economic factors that caused the Great Depression.

Thus, according to Rosenblatt, reading — and meaning-making? — happens only in the reader’s mind; it does not take place on the page, on the screen, or in the text, but in the act of reading. 

Smith, David Woodruff, “Phenomenology”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/phenomenology/>.

Phenomenology is commonly understood in either of two ways: as a disciplinary field in philosophy, or as a movement in the history of philosophy.

The discipline of phenomenology may be defined initially as the study of structures of experience, or consciousness. Literally, phenomenology is the study of “phenomena”: appearances of things, or things as they appear in our experience, or the ways we experience things, thus the meanings things have in our experience. Phenomenology studies conscious experience as experienced from the subjective or first person point of view.