Wolfgang Iser (22 July 1926 – 24 January 2007) was a German literary scholar.
He was born in Marienberg, Germany. His parents were Paul and Else (Steinbach) Iser. He studied literature in the universities of Leipzig and Tübingen before receiving his PhD in English at Heidelberg with a dissertation on the world view of Henry Fielding (1950). A year later he was appointed an instructor at Heidelberg and in 1952 an assistant lecturer at the University of Glasgow, where he started to explore contemporary philosophy and literature, which deepened his interest in inter-cultural exchange. He subsequently lectured in many other parts of the world, including Asia and Israel. He was married to Lore Iser.
He is known for his reader-response theory in literary theory. This theory began to evolve in 1967, while he was working in the University of Konstanz, which he helped to found in the 1960s. Together with Hans Robert Jauss, he is considered to be the founder of the Constance School of reception aesthetics. Reader-response theory shares many goals and insights with hermeneutics; both aim to describe the reader's contact with text and the author. Iser describes the process of first reading, the subsequent development of the text into a 'whole', and how the dialogue between the reader and text takes place. In his study of Shakespeare's histories, in particular Richard II, Iser interprets Richard's continually changing legal policy as expression of the desire for self-assertion. Here he follows Hans Blumenberg, and attempts to apply his theory of modernity to Shakespeare. In this theory of modernity is self-assertion, which responds to the destruction of scholastic rationalism in the nominalist revolution (with William of Ockham).
- Die Weltanschauung Henry Fieldings (1952)
- Walter Pater. Die Autonomie des Ästhetischen (1960)
- Der implizite Leser. Kommunikationsformen des Romans von Bunyan bis Beckett (1972)
- Der Akt des Lesens. Theorie ästhetischer Wirkung (1976)
- Laurence Sternes "Tristram Shandy". Inszenierte Subjektivität (1987)
- Shakespeares Historien. Genesis und Geltung (1988)
- Prospecting: From Reader Response to Literary Anthropology (1989)
- Das Fiktive und das Imaginäre. Perspektiven literarischer Anthropologie (1991)
- Staging Politics: The Lasting Impact of Shakespeare's Histories
- The Range of Interpretation (2000)
- How to Do Theory (2006)
- Ben De Bruyn: Wolfgang Iser: A Companion, Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2012. ISBN 978-3-11-024551-6.
- St Clair, William (7 February 2007). "Professor Wolfgang Iser". The Independent. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
- Presidential Lectures
- On Wolfgang Iser
- Lecture 4 in the Yale Introduction to the Theory of Literature Video covers Iser in detail
- Wolfgang Iser. A Companion (2012) Book discusses Iser's work in detail