My interest in how readers process narrative took root in a thesis on a Latin text: ‘Unstable by Design’: The Programmatic Use of Perspective in Catullus 64. It was a paradigmatic analysis which explored the intertextual and intratextual negotiations between implied author, narrator and mythological characters. This interest developed into a PhD thesis; this time a syntagmatic analysis of a Greek text, my readings of the Lemnos and Cyzicus episodes in Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica Book 1.
My research relied for models on e.g. Irene de Jong’s various narratological analyses of Homer, my supervisor Andrew Morrison’s work on The Narrator in Archaic Greek and Hellenistic Poetry and the intertextual methodology employed by Stephen Hinds (following/adapting Gian Biagio Conte). As the project became more clearly reader-orientated (incorporating two fictional readers of differing experience as heuristic aids in investigating e.g. the generation and misdirection of expectations), Meir Sternberg’s influence became more pronounced. Hence the ‘dynamic’ which qualifies my ‘reader’ and my ongoing interest in the ‘dynamics of the reading process.’
This blog, then, is about readers and about how they read: responses to sample texts mixed with thoughts on narrative theory. A glance at the Living Handbook of Narratology shows just how much has been built upon the Structuralist foundations of Classical Narratology, not least by an increased emphasis on Cognition.
To the contrary, stories are cognitive as well as textual in nature, structures of mind as well as constellations of verbal, cinematic, pictorial, or other signs produced and interpreted within particular communicative settings. In other words, narratives (the Iliad, an episode of the Star Trek television series, the film or graphic novel versions of Ghost World, anecdotes exchanged among friends during a party, the courtroom testimony of a witness to a crime) result from complex transactions that involve producers of texts or other semiotic artifacts, the texts or artifacts themselves, and interpreters of these narrative productions working to make sense of them in accordance with cultural, institutional, genre-based, and text-specific protocols.
(Herman 2009: 8)
Some warnings for my own reader. Expect liberal scatterings of classical texts and expect frequent references to and analyses of passages from Homer and from Apollonius’ Argonautica. Expect plenty of ‘spoilers’. But also, expect some eclecticism; pop culture references, comic books, films, pulp fiction and so on. ‘Text’ in my writing can stand for any narrative media e.g. print, audio-visual, sequential art, so media both mono (e.g. book) and multi-modal (comic book, film, play). Similarly, ‘reader’ often does added duty as ‘viewer’ or ‘auditor’.
Essentially then, the blog is a work-in-progress, a document of a process: a document of my scanning around, picking stuff up and seeing what practical use I can make of it. We all have our project goals and mine is a monograph exploring degrees of experientiality in the reading of richly intertextual narratives. Some things on the voyage I’ll haul aboard but later jettison, and some I expect I’ll keep in the hold. And hopefully the posts made in this process are of interest to other readers, and readings of other texts.
Translations (unless credited in parentheses) are my own.
Herman, D. (2009) Basic Elements of Narrative, Oxford.
Iser, W. (1972) ‘The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach’, New Literary History 3: 279-99.