A reader-response approach to Susan Sontag's Death Kit

Stead, Arnold
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I did not come to reader-response criticism because I understood it to be of importance to my critical methodology; it was, instead, suggested to me, and as I seemed to be in need of a label to lend legitimacy and focus to my reading of Death Kit, I latched on to it. As an approach to reading, it offers enough open-endedness to allow me to roam its continuum picking and choosing as I please. I have used Jane Tompkins~ Reader-Response Criticism From Formalism to Post-Structuralism, a collection of essays by reader-based critics, as a catalyst for a self-examination of my reading of Death Kit. After reading these essays and writing about Sontag~s novels, I see my reading of those books as heavily influenced by New Criticism. This is not surprising, for it had a firm hold in the academy when I was first introduced to literary study on a university level in the 1960s. Prior to my reading of the Tompkins~ anthology, I~d had a graduate seminar in the work of Stanley Cavell whose critical approach is certainly reader-based. I had also been impressed, and I think influenced, by Jean-Paul Sartre~s essay "Why Write?", which is concerned with the writer~s relationship to the reader, from the writer~s point of view more than the critic-reader~s. In the pages which follow, I attempt to set forth my version of the reader/writer relationship as instanced chiefly in my own reading of Susan Sontag~s Death Kit.