Literary communication -- the transmission of a written or spoken text between a sender and a receiver -- is important because it recognizes the interaction of the reader with the author as a creative act that transmits a message according to the unique circumstances of the reader. The circumstances can be social, cultural and emotional -- even age and experience contribute to the meaning a reader gives to the author’s message.
Origins of Literary Communication
From the late 1930s through the 1950s, students of literature were expected to read a text and discover the one true meaning-- a message or theme that could be found through analysis of a literary text. In 1938 Louise Rosenblatt, education specialist, argued that subjective reader response can create new, valid meanings -- a theory that became dominant in the 1960s. Rosenblatt’s discovery led to the development of literary communication theories that allowed readers freedom of discovery -- a personal way to interact with the author and the message transmitted in a work of literature.
Expanding the Literary Canon
Until the 1960s only certain types of texts were taught in universities and classified in the approved literary canon -- ancient classics and works that predominantly represented a white, mainstream culture. Authors from other cultural groups were not included. Literary communication studies brought in new types of authors: women, authors from other countries and continents and authors from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Multicultural texts offered students the possibility to connect emotionally to the characters, situations and writing techniques of ethnic literature. Novels such as “The Color Purple” by Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker became part of an ever expanding literary canon.
Literary communication offers insight for other disciplines such as anthropology, history and psychology. For example, the cultural studies program at North Carolina University uses literary insights to investigate “the ways in which ‘culture’ creates and transforms individual experiences, everyday life, social relations and power.” A translated text or an original text read by someone from a different culture or time period can result in a lost message. For this reason, interdisciplinary scholars often apply literary communication theory within a specific culture and time period.
Evolutionary Importance: Literary Technologies
Digital media changes the dynamics of publication and distribution and offers new circumstances for readers to receive literary messages. Publications once available only for students in a university setting can reach readers with diverse experiences and of all ages. The scope of literary communications continues to expand and identify the evolution of new cultural forms. For example, readers of “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, produced a new way of using his concept of meme -- a behavior or idea that spreads within a culture -- to fashion graphic memes such as Grumpy Cat.