Rhetoric & Composition I: Autumn Quarter 2013 Rotating Header Image

Efferent vs. Aesthetic Reading Practices

This will be helpful as we plan Technology & Literacy Projects, especially for those of you planning to explore the print/digital reading context:

Louise Rosenblatt [110] explains  that readers approach the text — the New York times, let’s say — in ways that can be viewed as aesthetic or efferent. The question is why the reader is reading and what she aims to get out of the reading. Is the text established primarily to help readers gain information with as little reading possible, or is it 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 suggests that, “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 she is living through during her relationship with that particular text.”  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.