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Readers Choose Paths In Texts, Author Says

By Judith E. Dutton

The choices that readers make when interpreting texts are like the choices Little Red riding hood made as she wandered through the woods, said Italian author and semiologist Umberto Eco to a standing room only crowd at Sanders Theatre.

In the first of a weekly series of Norton lectures entitled "Six Walks in the Fictional Woods," Eco addressed the role of the reader as an active participant in relation to the text.

"There is an interplay that takes place in the text with the act of reading," he said. "The concept of the implied reader is a textual structure."

"Many stories asks the reader to fill in the gaps," Eco said. "If a text were to say everything, it would go on forever."

These gaps, aside from sparing the reader from a slow and detail-burdened story, also free the reader to make his or her own narrative choices.

"For any narrative text, there is a route, where the readers has to turn left or right," he said. "At the end of every sentence, we make a bet about the narrator's choice,"

Although the reader has freedom to choose whatever route he or she wants, said Eco, the text places limits on these choices by making certain routes more "reasonable,"

But even though narrative has its own logic, the modern readers is at a disadvantage. Eco pointed out that we are not "model" readers who can intuitively detect textual subtleties as intended, but "empirical" readers, who impose our own passions on the text.

"As empirical spectators, we are reading the text in the wrong way," Eco said.

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