The Reader's Construction of Narrative
Notes taken c. 1985 from Horst Ruthrof's book The Reader's Construction of Narrative (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981).
Phenomenology and structuralism converge in the study of "the activity of reading", with some exceptions.
viii- "... narrative surface texts are sets of signs coding at the same time two ontologically different sets of signifieds: presentational process and presented world"; "... unlike pragmatic discourse where modality is either available as a set of non-linguistic signs or is defined as stable by a pragmatic horizon of expectations (as in the case of technical instructions, sceintific reports, legal documents, etc.) fictive narrative modality is a set of signifieds which must be constructed by the reader through, prior to, or apart from the presented world. As a complex semantic unit it interacts dynamically with the presented world in the reading consciousness at each point of the forward reading process. This semantic interaction replaces both the relation between propositional content and illocutionary force (Austin, Searle) and the conception of style and tone as an adjunct to action sequence" (i.e. Todorov).
xi- Style vs. tone: "Tone (...) must be constructed by the reader (a) as a speaker's attitude pertaining to presentational speech acts and (be) as attitudes pertaining to presented speech acts" (It is not a surface structure); "... the only kind of identification possible between actual reader and work is his construction of the implied reader, adequate and inadequate, and not between reader and fictive personae."
Chapter 1: What happens when we read a narrative text?
Texts are ontologically non-homogeneous—they exist at the same time at different levels of ideality. The interpretation of the world through stock-of-knowledge-at-hand is duplicated when we read a text.
4- "This means that we must be able to grasp the aspects of space, time, acts, personae, etc., and the ideological position of both the presented items and the presentational speech act." The typological approach is insufficient. There is not always a clear "point of view" (space and time). (A table comparing features of time, space, personae, acts, events, tonal aspects, atmosphereic aspects, ideological patterns, applied to both presentational process (+ reader) and presented world).
presentational process: "author's arrangements beyond the narrator's control"
presnted world: "non-human events"
Ideological patterns: only those of narrator, not of author.
Double vision in narrative:
6- "On the one hand, the vision of what could be seen, heard, imagined, or, in terms of the filmic medium, what could be projected and enacted on the screen; and, on the other, that vision which allows the former to come into existence, the quasi-reality of the presentational process." In poetry they are often mixed.
6- "Narrative, no matter which side is emphasized, lives from the distinction and interplay between presentational process and presented world." The stream of consciousness of the characters is not a presentational process, but presented world.
Four types of narrative statements:
"a) Process statements with reference to presented world
b) 'World' statements with reference to process
c) Process statements without reference to presented world (pure process markers)
d) 'World' statements without specific reference to process but always allowing its construction." (Note the difference between c & d - JAGL)
Verbal narrative constructs images just as non-verbal (iconcic) narrative constructs a text.
The right division is transmission & world, not teller & tale. (A partial coincidence).
Against van Dijk: narrative is not always linked (cf. Beckett - JAGL).
11- "Fowler's scheme
|SENTENCE ||PROSE FICTION|
|surface structure ||text|
should be replaced by the following arrangement (...)
| ||Text (as physical phenomenon) |
|Surface ||Text (as linguistic code) |
| ||Transformation I |
|Deep structure 1 ||Presentational process (discourse) ||Presented world (content)|
| ||Transformation II |
|Deep structure 2 ||Ideology of process ||Ideology of world|
| ||Transformation III |
|Deep structure 3 ||Overall aesthetic-ideological meaning" |
'Content' is an ambiguous term: it may refer to the presented world, or to an ideological abstraction. It is best dropped.
Two kinds of transformation (when reading):
- Propositional meaning (reductive transformation)
- Concretizing (expansive transformation) interpretation in terms of social codes. (No speech act theory in Ruthrof- JAGL).
Genesis and The Magic Poker: Examples of construction through reading of presentational process and presented world. Jakobson's metaphoric and metonymic poles of language:
21- "When we introduce the disctinction to the discussion of narrative structure, we not that both presentative process and presented world can be treated in a predominantly metonymic or predominantly metaphoric manner."
20- In Coover's metafiction, a "polyphonic treatment of presentational process and presented world." In metafiction both are metaphoric at the expense of their metonymic potential. On the other pole we find texts which foreground the presented world (metonymical texts).
2. Presentational Process and 'Narrative Transgression'
Is the novel dead? No: Simply the causal plot is dead. Formalists and Aristotle: the plot is not causality, but artistic arrangement. Barthes: notion of narrative vs. narrative transgression. But NO: The presence of the communicative act is essential, and so are its interactions with the message.
Van Dijk: "Artificial narrative dose not respect the pragmatic conditions of natural narrative" ("Action, Action Description, and Narrative" New Literary History 6 (1975): 291); "One of the charcacteristic pragmatic (or perhaps pragmatic-semantic) properties of artificial narration is that the narrator is not obliged to tell the truth" ("Philosophy of Action and Theory of Narratives", Poetics 5 (1976): 323 ff.).
This is fruitful for linguisics, but trivial for poetics. In literary narrative, the apparatus of telling becomes aesthetically relevant and interactive:
24- "Pragmatic constraints are largely replaced by aesthetic-artistic ones."
Discourse is not analogous to a sentence (vs. Barthes). The "teller" and the "tale" of Scholes and Kellogg refer to a vague level: author? narrator? Ruthrof's theory of phenomenological levels in literary narrative (similar to Ingarden):
1. Print / Sound
2. Linguistic formation.
3.1. Presented world
3.2. Presentational process (3.1 and 3.2 are separate ontological realms)
3.3. Implied reader
3. Work ideology
26- "Each realm (or system) displays the general aspects of space, time, personae, acts, events, tonal & atmospheric qualities, and ideology, in a distinct manner" (shown in a table. There follow examples of foregrounding of one or the other level).
Erich Kahler's "inward turn of narrative", from cosmogony, to action, to psychology. The evolution of the ontological realm could also be traced.
3. Narrative language
The Concrete Datum
Narrative (as form) vs. narrative mode (the professional mode of presentation in narratives). We can speak of a mode in narrative "if the processes of telling and that which is told are predominant interacting features." "In this sense the 'novel merely heightens, isolates, and analyses the narrative motions of human consciousness'" (B. Hardy). But so do also all other narrative forms.
Relationship linguists / literary scholars: largely fruitless. But linguistics is necessary.
A useful distinction in Jakobson between the sender's and the receiver's construction of meaning (they follow inverted, opposed ways). Separate stages can be studied: creative process (a psychological study), text, and imagined world, "a synthesis of the schematically signified world and the reader's creative contribution" (37). Linguistics, we understand, is dealing with the string of words as an "exchange of utterances", while literary studies are concerned mainly with language as it gives rise to the reader's construction of imaginary worlds and their moral-philosophical stance. Psychology also studies the reader's response. In criticism "it is not the schematically signified but the concretized worlds which are in conflict" (38), in Ingarden's terms. Poetics is not a part of linguistics: "works of literature reveal themselves to be stratified constructs with language as their indispensable skeleton" (39). Concretization, Ruthrof argues, ought to be banned from literary studies. [In arguing that works are not linear, Ruthrof seems to be implying that texts are linear]. Poetics and linguistics are overlapping but exclusive areas. Lodge's contention that "the fictional world of a novel is a verbal world" is mistaken, it "rests on the assumption that consciousness is essentially conceptual, i.e. verbal", but it isn't; our consciousness of everything in the novel is verbal, but its nature is not verbal." [I disagree here- language and consciousness are more closely involved—JAGL] And although we may verbalize our findings we are rarely able to discover specific concrete evidence in the text for such large-scale inferences" Lodge disregards reading. Textural (surface structure) vs. structural approach (which includes surface and deep structure, narrator, time structure, etc.). Narrative language is not distinctive from everyday language in a novel.
Narrative language as a structure of signs
42- "Being dynamic, the process of reading cannot really be represented as the object of an investigation." The reader uses all his total stock of knowledge in reading.
43- "It is this synthesis which places narrative in a metaphoric relationship with everyday life." Studying language as a structure of signs, we neglect unconscious response; the cumulative process in which signs are modified by the text previously read and by attitudes. An example with four levels: surface text, presentational process ("presentational process as suggestive of concretized process"), presented world ("presented world as suggestive of concretized world"), and inferences (high level inferences: interepretative abstractions and work ideology—(separation between both is not too clear, JAGL).
47- "When we are talking about stated ideas, we are dealing with the one area of a literary work in which the text functions as a verbal construct in its own right. By stated ideas I mean directly presented statements (made by the narrator or presented as a persona's mental or speech act) apparently serving as interpretive guides." Interpretative abstractions are provided by the reader; ideology is not wholly objective and not wholly subjective.
4. Narrative stratification and the dialectic of reading
Cf. Roman Ingarden's The Literary Work of Art. His stratification of the narrative work (sounds, linguistic meaning, schematic aspects through which the objects appear, objects). The last two must be modified: differentiation of traits between presentational process and presented world, with a foregrounding of either.
52- "In other words, the narrative text determines the sequence of concretization; the reader cannot concretize process and world simultaneously." A further stratum, philosophical-ideological, must be stipulated—not only abstracted, transformed by summary, but also directly provided by the surface text.
The text is perceived in a reading process, but is experienced retrospectively as a whole at the end.
53- According to Ingarden, "the statements in literary works are quasi-propositions". The pragmatic response to artistic objects is undermined by the integration of presentational process and presented world in narrative texts, in a polyphony. The work is not to be confused with its concretizations (Ingarden)—this is acceptable if concretization is understood as a transformation of the surface text. There are lacunae of indeterminacy in the work, as opposed to concretization. Concretizations may, then, differ.
57- "As we read the text, the schematic guiding system comes into existence, allowing and urging our concretizations to take shape." "According to Husserl such codified schemata permit the reconstruction of meaning intention "but only approximately in literature", actually "not unlike the social interaction." Examples, etc.
58- "One aspect, vital to our grasp of the kind of presentational process employed, concerns the speaker's very activity of speaking: whether he is mainly discussing, debating, confessing, adoring, imploring, praying, attacking or narrating. Any of these activities may of course be modified by any one or more of the others; which of these is predominant and structure-carrying, though, can be secured only in retrospect, i.e., with the whole text at our disposal" [Cf. van Dijk's 'macro-speech acts' - JAGL].
Two manners of reading are required for the presentational process and for the presented world—sometimes in a single word. There are two fundamentally different modalities, that of the presentational process and that of the author as sender of the total message. The latter is inferred from the interaction of presentational process and presented world. Sometimes either presentational process or presented world seem to be absent, for instance in the figural narrative situation, or in dialogue. (The speech act is then perceived as part of the presented world). Narrative elements are howerver framing these fragments, and guide the reader. Also in first person narrative, when the narrating and experiencing selves coalesce:
63- "In such coalescence, first-person narration approaches lyrical modes of presentation: we are dealing with a fusion of presented world and presentational process" (nevertheless, there is a general narrative sense). If the presented world is suppressed (e.g. in advice to the reader), there is a linear connection between narrator and reader.
- Interior monologue: 2 cases. It can be embedded in other narrative situations or structures, or it may be a structure-carrying feature (Bloom's vs. Molly's monologues). The latter gives a strong sense of the character as a narrator.
- In narrative, two strata, each of which demands priority alternatively while reading.
65- "The essence of the lyrical mode could be defined analogously by the flowing into one stratum of the presentational process and the presented world, while in the language of the stage drama the stratum of presentational process is altogether buried."
Strata: sounds (print) — surface linguistic text; presentational process and presented world (normally in this order); interpretive abstractions.
The schematic givenness of the text and its concretization are two different strata in each, both presentational process and in presented world.
7 levels, then, as against Ingarden's four levels.
A dynamic aspect of concretization, of activation of buried acts (in the signs of the text ) of telling and point of view.
Bierwisch: microstructure of short-term memory vs. "macrostructure" of total effect. Cf. temporal vs. "spatial" form. The latter is constructed through the former.
Iser: the process of reading as an oscillation between the alien and the familiar in the text. Primary vs. secondary concretizations. The first is more essential.
The text is confronted with typified knowledge: inter-textuality, etc., different with each text and reader.
Husserl: "Noetic" (referring to the act of experiencing) vs. "Noematic" (referring to that which has been experienced). Notions such as "the erotics of the text", etc., refer to noesis, whereas structuralists focus on the "noema" (only a partial and unstable noema is constructed). Ruthrof describes the phases of the process: interaction of reading with the partial noema, the effect on the reader...
5. Ladders of Fictionality
The author projects. The text presents. The reader concretizes. Narrative is "a literary form in which a narrative attitude is structure-carrying, the other two major attitudes being an existential attitude, or the expression of our immediate state of being, and a gestural attitude, which constitutes itself by staged or stageable language" [i.e. lyric and drama] (78). In the lyric presentational process and presented world are mixed, and cannot be separated. In drama the presentational process is lacking. "Fiction" means a particular kind of projection of the author's world into his work: we also call "fiction" the "given" language and the "reconstructed" world of the reader. There are ladders relating the world-out-there to author, text, and reader—phases of interpretation. "Authorial reduction" vs. "aesthetic reconstruction."
81- "Only in non-fictional projection (...) does the author attend consistently to individual objects in the word-out-there", or, from the reader's point of view, "can each spatial and temporal detail, or aspects of events and human acts be argued to have a traceable source in the actual world"—etc. Ontologically, it would not be a verbal reflection, only an encoding of apperceived and apprehended fact, at least ideally. In practice, resources are borrowed from fiction. A mode of projection is to be adequately responded to by the reader with a reciprocal mode of appresentation.
Realism & detail do not equal specific, while allegory does not equal general. Cf. Husserl's distinction between formalization and generalization. 83- "Applied to reading this means that deformalization refers to acts which give mental-material content to linguistic formulae or to moving from the status of linguistic meaning units to that of the schematic world, appresentation to the filling of the undetermined areas within this skeletal construct" (cf. Husserl's 'pairing').
Possibility of inappropriate readings: even if we are free to make them disregarding textual evidence. E.g. In Cold Blood discourages private appresentation.
Other modes: "realistic"(fiction) vs. "mythical"—the pith is the discovery of a pattern of meaning beyond verisimilitude. The mythic is largely present in the realistic novel. E.g. in Nostromo: a spatial centre as thematic centre: moral attitudes, etc.
As documentary reading, allegory curtails appresentation: Abstraction but with rigid rules (vs. the mythic). Reading Kafka, "we respond to a forceful impulse to search for an ideational superstructure comparable to those metaphysical schemata which we continuously superimpose on our apperception of the world-out-there" (91).
Creation of a horizon which defines the world created. (Again, in Nostromo). Fantasy narrative is striking in that it hedges a world of its own.
The presentational process has a bearing on the fictional world: it is visible when a narrator hands over the narrative to another one; the reader then enters a different sphere. Sometimes the presentational process devours the presented world. E.g. in As I Lay Dying. It is only to the reflection of the different consciousnesses that we can attach any meaning, and not to the "objective" world.
According to Auerbach, narration inside fiction achieves an objective description of the speaker through a subjective procedure (the creation of an even more fictive world).
95- "Strictly speaking we step inside such narrower horizons whenever a persona other than the primary narrator speaks or thinks, in direct speech, in letters (...) in free indirect speech, (...) in interior monologue (...) or in diary entries" [Cf. Mieke Bal's conception of narrative levels- JAGL].
96- To summarize, "there are not simply literary objects identifiable as documentary, realistic, mythic, allegorical, and fantasy stories, but rather attitudes of consciousness on the part of the authors which have entered, more or less successfully, the stories' material foundations, their texts, and corresponding attitudes of consciousness on the part of the reader if adequate reading is to be accomplished."
Criteria for modes of narrative between fiction and non-fiction, etc. (related to horizon, apperception, the real world, etc.).
6. Bracketed World and Reader Construction in the Modern Short Story
"Centrifugal [linguistic] macrostructural concerns contrast with the centripetal structures which the reader must activate in short fiction". Both are describable.
Centripetal semantic structures do not imply compression of signified world or linguistic structures.
Several explanations have been given of brevity: "modern haste", "minor form" or "static structure" (long fiction would be "dynamic").
From the study of popular short fiction to the evolution of the acts of writing and reading. Chekhov, Poe, James, emphasize the way the reader "fills up" short fiction, or the importance of uninterrupted reading performance.
Many nouvelles at this moment focus on a character's discovering in a flash meaningful vs. meaningless existence. Both amplification and brevity are used—a double movement in the process of reading: (102) "subordinated accumulated information and foregrounded reduced world are thus constructed and abstracted to shape a complex aesthetic-ideological experience". Cf. the existential boundary-situations (103) "in which we wrest from life an authentic existence or stare absurdity in the face"; boundary-situation story is a story of the bracketed world. Spatial and temporal reduction; the presentational process is reduced: scene in authorial narrative, and narrator with limited understanding in first-person narrative. Identification with the implied reader demands an adjustment on the part of the reader. The boundary situation may be at the end after exposition; exposition is included in the present as remembrance; or the story may be limited to the boundary situation. A tight structure guides the reader. Now this type of short story is exhausted: replaced by metafiction, more ludic and less ideological. (Rupture).
7. Narrative Strands: Presented and Presentational
110- "an important part of inter-textuality is the reader's expectation of noetic as noematic strands"; (111) "in both presented and presentational strands it is above all structural leaps as to personae and spatial aspects which indicate a change from one strand to the other, while the temporal aspects may or may not differ from those of other strands." There are large-scale patterns of syntagmatic and paradigmatic relationships:
Syntagmatic coding in presented world: contiguity of personae, spatial and temporal aspects, ideology...
Syntagmatic coding in presentational process: continnum of narrating voice (identity of the narrator)
112- "By contrast, multi-strand arrangement in both process and world may be understood as macrostructural paradigmatic structures" (alternation of narrated worlds or narrators).
1. Multi-strand or heterogeneous process
• Presentational strands and homogeneous world: Rashomon, As I Lay Dying (In these the core does not exist; the object is in the subject)
• Presentational strands and heterogenous worlds: Wuthering Heights, Lord Jim.
• Heterogeneous process and world, changing to homogeneous process and world: The Sound and the Fury.
2. Single-strand or homogeneous processes
• Single-strand process and homogeneous world: First peson, The Catcher in the Rye.
• Single-strand process and heterogeneous world: The Magic Poker.
• Single-strand process and heterogeneous world becoming homogeneous world.
118- "We experience strands as interlinked because the link means something. Or, in Saussure's terminology, any structural relationship is itself a sign."
Splicing and synthetising matrices of higher order (presentational and presented strands) gives rise to a potential polyphony of narrative art.
8. Acts of Narrating: Transforming of Presentational Control
122- "Narrative structure has room for a large variety of acts of narrating apart from reporting, describing or rememberting. We find acts of teaching, reprimanding, exhorting, ridiculing, explaining, projecting, comparing, prophesying or abstracting." Intertextuality is present in narrator, reader & implied reader; it is crucial to interpretation. Studies on point-of-view only have sense when joined to the question of signification.
Relationship between presentational process - presented world - implied reader:
124- Triangle with three vertices: narrator - world - reader. Narrative is a structure in Piaget's sense.
|Narrator ||Authority ||Partner ||Minor|
|World ||Defined by narrator, defining reader ||Negotiable ||Defining narrator, judged by reader|
|Reader ||Minor ||Partner ||Authority|
129- "In the actual reading experience of omniscient novels this sense of dependence is usually concealed. Instead, we are led to develop a sense more of being the narrator's partner, if not his chum."
(Application to a wide variety of genres, etc.).
In objective narration, (129) "the very restriction of the implied reader to a mere witness of schematically sketched physical details tends to grant the actual reader a new freedom" (...); (130) "his stock of inter-textual and everyday typifications will grant his a more complex vision than is coded in the text."
In satire (analogous to jokes, etc.): "the actual reader is again given the chance of identifying with the implied reader and becoming a co-satirist; or he may fail to bisociate and so declare himself part of the ridiculed world."
136- "Through the realization of the implied reader and its functions vis-à-vis presented world and presentational process, work ideology reveals itself in its quasi-personal aspects: as implied authorial stance."
9. Parodic narrative
For the Russian Formalists, all literature is parodic in the broadest sense of that term. Parody is a general attribute of consciousness. Parody is part of ideological mutation. The opposition "Parody of form vs. Parody of content" is grounded on a binary conception of the work, not a polyphonic one.
142- "all literary parody points to the literariness, the interpretative rather than the representational quallities of works of literature" (they are often mixed, though). Parody is a tertiary construct (literature in general is secondary; documentation, e.g. In Cold Blood, is primary). Parody may be aimed at any of the strata of print or sound, linguistic formations, presentational process or presented world, or interpretative abstractions. (Examples).
Parody modifies the source object but it always potentially transcends it. It may create its own patterns, etc. We concretize the presentational process and the presented world of both the parody and the parodied structure.
10. Narrative and the form-content metaphor
The reader's imaginative construction of modality in literature. Definition of literature as messages oriented upon themselves? It is not self-sufficient in nay case; the reader draws on intertextuality, external ideology, reality...
The reader helps to construct form. Form is not merely a matter of the printed text. We impose structures on whatever we confront. The form-content trope causes misconceptions when it is given ontological validity. Ruthrof follows the pair form/content through history and shows its polysemy, mainly with three meanings: 1) As separable components; 2) As fused into one inseparable unity; 3) As elements in a dialectic relationship. The first conception is found in Plotinus, Flaubert, the Marxists, the New Critics. The second, in Schlegel, Coleridge, Hegel, Flaubert, Pater, Croce, the Russian Formalists. The third is found in the Marxists: Social evolution in dialectical relationship with the history of forms. For Ruthrof, these terms are best rejected.
11. Translating narrative
Theories of translation often have inadequate linguistic and semiologic bases (old triadic theories, etc.). Jakobson's triad is more useful (intralingual, interlingual ("common") or intersemiotic translation). But: in reading, we do not use language in a purely analytic way; we activate our experiential knowledge (with paradigmatic associations, etc.). Concretization is based on a word's denotation and connotation. The translator must recreate the basic structure, in all levels.
At the linguistic level, both texts must have the same deep structure and the same lacunae of indeterminacy. At least, surface syntax is ultimately dependable. The presentational process and the presented world must be similar.
Translation of the work's ideology: Notes are indispensable, or introductions.
192- "Translations play a vital role in the cultural life of any nation; they are a measure of how far it is in touch with the rest of the world, how far it dares or seeks to encourage foreign codes and visions to modify its own. In this sense translations are an instance of 'parole', placed in a dialectical relationship with langue. Sometimes a translation becomes fully integrated, so that it is understood as a part of langue.
12. Fictional Modality: A Challenge to Linguistics
Modality in fiction involves more than narrational speech acts: the presentational process is subsumed under the reader's construction;
194- "a novel is a statement made in a certain manner".
Language (even artistic language) is a structure for persuasion, not only for referential orientation.
194- "literary art can be seen as the discourse which, certainly potentially, is more fully determined by modal operations than other forms of utterance." But there is a vast gap between the demands of literature and the tools of modal logic and linguistics. (Modal analysis may be both accurate and trivial for literature). Russell, Quine, vs. modal logic.
Linguistics provides a restricted treatment of modality: of modal auxiliaries, etc. Covert modality is ignored.
Halliday's approach is better: the interpersonal function is realized through modality.
196- Eco: "The aesthetic text becomes a multiple source of unpredictable 'speech acts' whose real author remains undetermined, sometimes being the sender of the message, at others the addressee who collaborates in its development".
A tripartite hierarchy of speech acts:
- Presented discourse
- Presentational discourse
- Authorial stance
197- "The construction of narrative meaning relies on a vast matrix of possible modal transformations" with "a relatively high degree of modal instability" (there is the possibility of ironic reversal).
Literary theory has disregarded modal phenomena (unlike specific critical readings). Modality is all-pervading; in Halliday, it is the speaker's "assessment of the validity of what he is saying".
199- "The total sphere of unformulated text alternatives (...) functions as a potential set of modal qualifiers of a text." How much of it is activated depends on the reader's competence, ideological position, etc.
The reading of explicit authorial textual alternatives, as well as that of the repressed ones uncovered by psychonalysis, is legitimate.