There are a number of ways of accounting for a writer’s reception, for the way their work has been received, and one can begin by asking received by who? The word reception has several senses, which suggest the range of our potential concerns here: a theatrical ovation, acceptance or admittance (‘into a place, company, state’), a radio signal getting through without interference. Indeed, one can construct a revealing history of literary studies according to the relative importance given to the way writing is received: for instance, Aristotle’s theory of tragedy (fourth century BC) is very much concerned with the effects of performance on the audience, but by the time literary study had been established within Anglo-American universities in the mid-twentieth century, such talk had been outlawed as the ‘affective fallacy’, the error of confusing the verbal and formal properties of the literary work with its psychological effect on a reader. Indeed, the successful reception or admittance of English in the contest for authority among the modern university faculties can be identified with the dissemination of the formalist procedures of close reading or practical criticism. It can also be linked with broadly shared assumptions about which works were worth expending critical scrutiny upon.
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