R is for reader. For someone working with literature I have been remarkably indifferent toward readers until recently. For a structuralist, as I believed I was, readers are of no interest. Also, because children's literature research is obsessed with readers, I very deliberately avoided them. Until I discovered that readers can be implied which immediately made them more tolerable.
An implied reader is a set of qualifications that a text presupposes. It means that the text requires certain knowledge, experience, competence, context and other qualities that make it accessible. Implied readers have also been called inscribed readers, model readers, ideal readers, hypothetical readers and virtual readers. There may be some subtle difference between these terms, but I haven't discovered them yet or found the distinction necessary. Very few real readers, if any, coincide with the implied reader, but this agency is helpful to consider what the text asks real readers to do and what it believes real readers are or should be capable of doing.
I got seriously interested in readers when I moved to Education and decided that, while I am here, I can just as well learn something about readers. Not real readers – still cannot endure them – but just as I had previously studied the (implied) author/narrator side of the communication chain within the text, I now moved to the other pole. And it turned out quite interesting as well, especially after I discovered cognitive criticism that explores what texts afford in terms of reader engagement. Maybe one day I will feel grown-up enough to venture out among real readers and do some experimental work, but on the other hand, that's what you have research assistants for.
Ill. Eva Billow