James Phelan

Authors, Resources, Audiences: A Rhetoric and Ethics of Narrative Communication  


Authors, Resources, and Audiences seeks to replace the traditional understanding of narrative communication (accepted by most classical and post-classical narrative theorists) as a linear transmission from author to narrator to audience with a more flexible and capacious view. This view accounts for additional tracks of communication (author-character-audience; author-structural arrangement-audience) and synergies among those tracks. More generally, the book argues that we should consider all the elements of narrative (from paratexts to focalization; from unreliable narration to narratees) not as determiners of narrative communication but rather as resources that authors may (or may not) draw upon as they shape their narrative communications in light of their purposes with respect to audiences. Within this view, the elements of narrative remain as a crucial means by which authors and audiences connect, but many assumptions about the bedrock of narrative theory get overturned. For example, the story/discourse distinction becomes far less important since elements that it assigns to “story” (character!) can simultaneously contribute to the discourse.  

Authors, Resources, Audiences explores the consequences of this revisionary view for a wide range of issues and across a wide range of narrative texts. Some highlights: a new approach to character-character dialogue, illustrated with analyses of George V. Higgins’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle and Frank O’Hara’s “Appearances”; new work on character narration (beyond Living to Tell about It), including a proposal about off-kilter narration that includes both unreliable and deficient narration, illustrated by an analysis of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking; a new look at reliable character narration, illustrated with reference to Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Third and Final Continent”; new attention to the significance of the occasion of narration and to structures of juxtaposition, with reference to Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love.

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