Advocates of ‘reader response’ approaches to literary criticism defend the idea that an individual reader's understanding of a text can be a factor in determining the meaning of what is written in that text, and hence must play a part in determining the very identity conditions of works of literary art. We examine some accounts that have been given of the type of readerly ‘competence’ that a reader must have in order for her responses to a text to play this sort of constitutive role. We argue that the analogy drawn by Stanley Fish and Jonathan Culler between literary and linguistic competence is philosophically flawed and explanatorily unfruitful, and that a better way of understanding the notion of literary competence can be constructed by appeal to some limitation results in formal logic and computability theory.

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