On the Rights of the Writer and Reader

Christina Harview's picture

Honestly, I was having trouble coming up with a straight answer for this whole “rights” of the reader verses the writer mess so I have decided to start over and go through my thoughts as systematically as I have time for. So, I will try to write down my thoughts as they develop temporally.


With regard to the rights of the writer:

In private, the writer has rights of creativity and opinion and freedom of speech. She/he has the right to write whatsoever she/he pleases. The writer has the right to keep what is written private and the right to make it public.

Words that are never read do not have the capacity to offend. It is once these words are made public that the rights of the writer may be altered based on the way the righting affects other’s rights. I do not believe that this is a good way to filter information and opinions. Writing, if the writer wants, should be allowed to be made public.

The writer has the right to defend her/his intensions and challenge other people’s interpretations of the writing but does not have the right to be deemed correct.


With regard to the rights of the reader:

The reader has the right to read anything that the writer permits the reader to read. The reader does not have the right to read that which the writer did not intend to be public. The reader has the right to an opinion about that which is read. The reader is allowed to be offended by something that is read but does not have the right to not be offended by something that is read. The reader does not have the right to enjoy or agree with what is written.

The reader has the right to interpret. No matter what the author says, the reader can never be wrong about an interpretation because personal interpretation is independent of the writer’s intent.


With regard to A Million Little Pieces:

The reader, in this case, had legal rights violated; the book was sold under the false pretense that it was a non-fiction autobiography. Legal rights say that I cannot tell you that you are buying a cat and then give you a dog instead…that’s a violation of a legal right not a reader’s right.


On the types of rights:

Legal rights are set up and determined by the government. They are subject to change and are seen as arguable (i.e. laws can be changed and negated). Human rights are rights that are seen by society as fixed but are in fact dictated by the society itself (i.e. we may see the right to good health care as a human right, but health care was virtually non-existent thousands of years ago). Reader’s rights are ambiguous and unclear. Opinions seem to vary widely among people (i.e. our class, even could not come to a consensus about reader’s rights). Interesting question: if legal and human rights change so extremely over the centuries, do a reader’s rights change as well? Maybe the change is present but not evident because the topic is so uncommon. Or, maybe a change in reader’s rights over time would require a higher social effect. I bet it’s the latter because the rights are not changing themselves; the people are changing the rights.


On the Relationship between a Writer and a Reader:

Yet, reading is a brave act that cannot be reversed; one cannot “un-read” something. The reader must actively choose to participate in reading and in doing so is under the general understanding that something read may not be desirable …

Part of the undefined contract between a reader and a writer is that the writer has the freedom of speech and the reader has the freedom of interpretation.

It is interesting to think about the relationship of communication between writer and reader. The writer takes his thoughts, and translates them to words. The reader then reads the words and translates them into thought. How does this relate to our moving between the general and specific and back? In the case of words and thoughts, I would set the thoughts as the specific because they are defined. Words, however, are ambiguous representations of thoughts. Not all thoughts can be put into words but all real words can be translated into thought. Thus, it makes sense to think of thoughts as the specific and words as the general.


On the Relationship between the Spoken and Written Word

Rousseau would separate the spoken word from the written word here. Yet, is the written word really such a shadow of the spoken word? Is it really the words that are inferior? Or is it the speaker? I don’t think that too many people would chose to talk to a five year old over reading some of Steven Hawking’s work when it comes to doing research for a science paper just because Rousseau says that the written word is inferior. I think that that is thinking on an elementary level about a topic that is incredibly complicated.

Derrida, on the other hand, would probably argue that speech was far more ambiguous than writing because it is coupled with tones and posture and other external stimuli which can be misleading with regard to the intended meaning of the communicated words. These physical communications got in the way to Derrida to a point that he thinks writing is the superior form of communication.

It is interesting to compare a readers/writers rights to a more hot-topic: a listeners/speakers rights. How do the legal rights of freedom of speech compare to our thoughts on the writer’s rights. Are there legally set “listener’s rights?” The difference here is that speech is an active participation whereas listening is a passive participation. Is it the same with reading? Reading is not passive; as stated previously, it is an active choice. You can choose to ignore a person holding a sign more readily than you can choose to ignore a person with a megaphone.

Concluding Thoughts

I would like to say that readers and writers do have rights. Some of the rights are built upon the legal concepts of freedom of speech and free will. Some of the rights are more similar to human rights such as freedom of creativity or interpretation. These human rights are socially constructed, but how have they changed over time? Into what will they evolve in the future?



Dan Atkins's picture

Writers and readers rights

After reading the article, it never occurred to me about the rights
of the reader and the rights of the writer.I write a considerable amount
of articles for my blog, goo things to know. Thanks for the brain food!
Have a great day!

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