jueves, 26 de noviembre de 2015

Towards a hermeneutic reading

The text, whatever it may be, presents itself before us as an enigma to decipher: as a dynamic, unfinished process in which the participation of the decoder is essential. The texts is fulfilled in the amorous act with its receiver, however, in order for this to occur, the receiver has to work towards comprehending the text. (Prado 26)

On Memorias de Idhún by Laura Gallego:

Researcher: When you were reading, where did you feel you were?

Xóchitl (13 years old): With the characters; I felt I was Victoria, something like that. And then, well, I did feel I was inside the story, I did, watching all that happened.

When we started our research work we asked ourselves what kind of reading we would like to foster throughout the workshops with the two secondary schools. Clearly, the idea was to detect and study the changes in the practices and reader responses of young people in Mexico during the last 25 years, but it was also evident that we did not want to promote the memorization of content nor repeat the canon or schooled teaching which has its own place and is obligatory. We wanted to offer a space of freedom, a site for “jouissance”, a pleasurable, co-creative reading and to encourage a group of commentators who, within a climate of respect and interest, sought to look at the texts critically and in depth, something that meant reading beyond the explicit and also to share possible interpretations which were supported by the text itself. This is an activity that implies an act of appropriation that includes the resonance of readings in their personal world as well as the linking of what is found within fiction with the world that surrounds them. It is because of this that we approached hermeneutics as an interpretative art and exercise that in its process enriches the interpreter.

With the aim of favouring the process of analysis, comprehension, interpretation, auto-reflection and the linking of the text with the world (Prado 34), we worked with questions that were generative, following the idea that “each question we raise in respect to the text that we are going to interpret is a question about its meaning. The meaning of a text will derive from an enquiry about its composition, that is, the form, the history, the experience of reading and the auto-reflection of the interpreter.” (Valdés 64)[i] We therefore selected those questions which would help in looking towards a hermeneutical reading and reflection, questions that, in the case of the selected graphic novel and the picturebook, included pictographic or iconotextual reading. These generating questions were graduated in order to go step by step.

It is important to remember that it all begins with that “jouissance”: the first contact with the text that engages or enamours into an experience full of surprising events and affectivity. The text takes on a new life in the exercise of reconfiguration, as Ricouer signals, “the text is a set of instructions that the individual reader or the public fulfills in a passive or creative manner. The text only becomes a literary work through the interaction between the text and the receiver” (148). Accordingly, it is valid to start with what is called an impressionistic criticism, with the reader’s likes and dislikes, and then move on to the analytical level, following the methodology proposed by Gloria Prado, renowned Mexican specialist in literary hermeneutics. At this stage, questions about the construction of the text are pertinent, what is said and how it is said, the indissoluble binary that is distinguished only with the aim of going further into the artistic weave. These are followed by the questions about the comprehension and interpretation of what was read, what underlies the explicit, what is implicitly alluded to, the meanings that are not evident. The literary work is polysemic and open to a variety of possible approaches, none exhausts the text, none has the last word or the definitive interpretation; in a community of interpreters one listens and shares for mutual enrichment. At one level, the approach involves entering the text, as the example from Xóchitl above shows, later, distancing allows a more critical view. Others emerge from this process: self-monitoring (‘Did I do it correctly or did I make a mistake?’); anchoring in the text (‘Where does the text say what I interpret?’) and self-reflection (‘Why did I interpret in this way?’) in order to enter the world we live in (‘How can I link this to my world?). This last question is very important because it allows us to convey to life that which art has shown us in its metaphoric play.

Of course it is difficult to follow all these steps in order, one could say it is almost impossible, because the members of a community of interpreters have the freedom to express their ideas and these questions are only a motor or starting point, but if we keep in mind what we are looking for, new enquiries will lead to the path of deepening comprehension. It is an exercise that renews and reinvents itself every day.

We remind our readers that after the reading of The Girl in Red by Aaron Frisch and Roberto Innocenti we gave the students a camera so that each of them could imagine the history of “The Girl in Red” or Little Red Riding Hood in their city or neighbourhood and show us through photographs what she would see along her way (see blog entry for 12th April 2015).

                    Mural painting photographed by Yasmín for her photo-narrative

In this exercise that invited participants to take the act of reading one step further into the act of creating, Yasmín (13) shows us the route through her town and the way in which she links the text and the image not only to her world but with other possible worlds. Most importantly, through the reading and re-creation, through the vicarious experience, Yasmín realizes that she can participate in an active and positive manner in her own story:

Well I did my story in my own way, I changed it, I modified it in several accounts, I did not make a protagonist as it were, the protagonist is me and I am the narrator of the story, the story starts then, the same as in the story, she leaves her house and well, it’s normal, isn’t it, she goes through the streets, then she finds a [mural] painting that really catches her attention, then it’s like she imagines different worlds and she realizes that it is not only being in her house and with her mother that makes her feel confident, she starts to discover her own self-confidence. (Yasmín, 14 years)


PRADO, Gloria, Creación, recepción y efecto. Una aproximación hermenéutica a la Obra Literaria. México: Diana, 1992.

RICOEUR, Paul. Tiempo y narración I. Configuración del tiempo en el relato histórico.México: S XXI, 1995.

Valdés, Mario J. La interpretación abierta: Introducción a la hermenéutica literaria contemporánea. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1995.

[i] Valdés notes that this term, “appropriation” was used for the first time by Ricouer in 1972 and “means to make that which was, at first, strange and foreign, one’s own […] it is the process of actualization of meaning in a text that is directed at a reader.” 66

sábado, 7 de noviembre de 2015

Canadian Young Adult Readers’ responses to place, identity, and texts

Erin Spring’s guest entry for this blog emerged from her research on reading and young people in Canada. The influence of space and place has increasing been revealed as a significant factor in the way readers respond to texts but also in how reading fits into their lives and experiences. We believe Erin’s work will be of interest the readers of this blog given it has implications for understanding the relationship between identity and literacy practices of not only of adolescents and young adults who grow up in, and stay attached to, their community but also for those who have moved within their countries or migrated from one country to another.

Erin Spring is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Institute for Child and Youth Studies at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta. She is currently working with First Nations readers who live on a reserve in southern Alberta. This blog post draws on her doctoral work, which she completed in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge. Her most recent article can be found in the journal Children's Geographies (see References). 

As a Master’s student, studying Children’s Literature, I was asked to write a critical reading autobiography that considered the texts that had shaped my early reading identity. Through this process I realized that, as a young reader, the most influential texts in my experience were ones where the pages of the book could be made meaningful on a personal level, usually through identification with a character’s sense of place, or by perceiving the place as somewhere I had been, or as a reflection of the rural world that I lived and breathed in.

 As an interdisciplinary researcher, interested in the intersections between children’s geographies, children’s literature, and reader response, I wanted to understand the ways in which other young adult readers navigated transitions between places, and how (if at all) they perceived the role of place(s) — social and physical — within their lives.

For my doctoral project, I decided to work with sixteen— and seventeen-year old adolescent readers living in two geographically diverse regions of Canada: a rural town (renamed Lakeside) in Northern Ontario, and in a neighbourhood of Toronto (renamed Kirkville). I worked with the two cases separately; due to the geographical distance between the sites, the two groups never met. Prior to meeting as a group, I gave each participant two texts: Tim Wynne-Jones’ Blink and Caution (2011) and Clare Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest (2010).


I chose these texts because they are intrinsically place-based. Blink and Caution gives an almost-accurate depiction of the streetscape of Toronto. I wondered what it would be like for my urban participants, living in Toronto, to read about a place that exists within their everyday world. Although Moon Over Manifest is set in rural Kansas, it is less specific in terms of detail; it could easily be read as small-town Ontario.  

While participants read the texts individually, in their spare time, they engaged in participant-led group discussions revolving around the chosen texts. Alongside these discussions, participants created a place-journal, containing visual and written responses, both to the text, and also to the ways in which they consider place to be influential within their own lives. Lastly, participants engaged in semi-structured interviews with myself where their place-journals prompted a discussion of their conceptualizations and experiences of place, inside and outside of the texts. Most importantly, I wanted to understand how and if the act of reading these place-based texts incited these participants to deliberate on the role of place within their own lives.

 My first significant finding was that my participants construed place in very different ways. Their reflections were ultimately shaped by previous life experiences. Liam, from Lakeside, was my only male participant. When asked, ‘where are you from?’, he explained, straight-faced, that he is ‘from his mother’s uterus’. Rather than focusing on a precise physical location, Liam continually reflected on the social ties that he has with his mother. People were more important than physical places. Sophie, also from Lakeside, had never moved in her life; she had only visited ‘the city’ once. Sophie construed home as the precise physical geography of her community: the streets, the main dock, the beach. When I met Sophie, she was seventeen, and was preparing to leave home to go to university. Sophie explained that leaving home would feel like she was being ‘ripped away’ from everything that she knew (Spring, 2015). Liam, on the other hand, had no desire to plant roots in geographical places, as long as he could maintain relationships with his family.

In Kirkville, two of my participants were migrants. Irina moved from Russia to Kirkville at age ten; she was still trying to navigate what being ‘Canadian’ meant. In our discussions, Irina aligned Russia with her idyllic childhood, where she played in the woods and explored with her grandfather. Her journal included a reflective piece about her life in the woods, and a map of her house in Russia in intricate detail.


Chloe had been living in Toronto for three years, having previously lived in Seoul. Toronto came to represent the freedom of adolescence, as she distanced herself from the Korean community, including her mother. Chloe considered herself to be a ‘Canadian’ and interestingly reflected on the ways in which she would be an outsider if she returned to Seoul, even though she spent the first thirteen years of her life there. Although Irina and Chloe shared the migrant experience, the process of moving from one place to another was drastically different for these individuals. In different ways, the act of reading these texts encouraged Irina and Chloe to reflect on their journeys between places. Talking about their experiences as migrants was facilitated by their readings of these texts.

These multiple constructions of place, outside of the texts, undoubtedly informed my participants’ readings of the research texts. Liam, for example, perceived Caution (Wynne-Jones’ protagonist) to be ‘from her mother’ rather than from a geographical place. He focused on the relationship between Blink and Caution, and their trajectories as friends, rather than on the physical journey these characters took across and between spaces. Irina, who resisted being an insider to Canada, reflected on Abilene’s arrival in Manifest, and her experience of being the ‘new girl’ at school. Calla, from Kirkville, had a very superficial understanding of the streetscape of the city, as a result of having been driven between places (school, ballet, etc.) by her parents. Her lack of independence in the city came up against Blink and Caution’s freedom in space. She found it difficult to follow their movements between and within places, as they had ‘more information’ than she did as a reader.

My research opened up multiple place distinctions that were not rooted in these geographies. In each case setting, my participants attended the same school, and lived in the same community, but they all saw these places differently. Their constructions depended on, for example, where they had previously lived or travelled; who they lived with; and where (and what) they imagined themselves leaving or staying for. My young adult participants were capable of extremely sophisticated, complex judgments on their own and fictional characters’ experiences of place. They articulated recognition of these connections within their own lives, and were open to and interested in the place experiences of others.

My research contributes to our knowledge of young adult readers and their constructions of place and identity, within and beyond the text.

Mackey, M., Nahachewsky, J., & Banser, J. (2008). Home page: translating scholarly discourses for young people. In M. Reimer (Ed.), Home words: discourses on children’s literature in Canada (pp. 195-225). Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

 Spring, E. (2015). “Where are you from?: locating the young adult self within and beyond the text”. Journal of Children’s Geographies, 1-16.

 Wynne-Jones, T. (2011). Blink and caution. Boston, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

 Vanderpool, C. (2010). Moon over manifest. New York City, New York: Random House.