Wai Chee Dimock’s essay, “A Theory of Resonance,” which appeared in the October 1997 issue of PMLA, offers the concept of “noise” as a provocative analogy for interpretive contexts. Unlike many other writers on the same topic, Dimock makes the claim that noise is positive, “a necessary feature of a reader’s meaning-making process. And even as it impinges on texts, even as it reverberates through them, it thickens their tonality, multiples their hearable echoes, makes them significant in unexpected ways” (1063). Understanding a reception theory such as Professor Dimock’s is prerequisite to understanding of a theory of “phenomenal patterns,” the topic suggested for the Dactyl competition. Dimock’s theory of literary resonance is enhanced by her example of experiments with the phenomenon of stochastic resonance, “in which a weak signal is boosted by background noise and becomes newly and complexly audible” (1063).
It becomes clear in her essay that interpretation is actually an effort to deny the existence of noise. Certainly if the attitude toward noise is one of wonder, as Dimock suggests it can be, then the listener is not perceiving simply noise, but, in his/her mind, a signal. The noisier the pattern of that signal, the more wonderful the decoding will be.
Yale Bulletin, Campus Notes 1998
Wai Chee Dimock, professor of American studies and English, has received the first annual Dactyl Foundation award for literary theory/criticism for her essay “A Theory of Resonance.” In the essay, which appeared in the October 1997 issue of PMLA, Dimock looks at the concept of “noise” as an analogy for interpretive contexts. She contends that noise should be viewed positively, as “a necessary feature of a reader’s meaning-making process.” Victoria N. Alexander, Dactyl Foundation president, commented that understanding a reception theory such as Dimock’s is a prerequisite for understanding a theory of “phenomenal patterns,” the topic suggested for the Dactyl Competition. Dimock donated her $3,000 prize to Oxfam America, a privately funded organization that works to “alleviate global poverty, hunger and social injustice.”