This essay constructs a dialogue between Catherine Gallagher’s influential historical and theoretical account of the nexus among fictionality, readerly disposition, and character in the new genre of the novel and rhetorical theory’s alternative account of that nexus. In reading the novel, Gallagher contends, readers willingly suspend disbelief as they follow the adventures of characters who are nobodies. Furthermore, whereas fictionality outside the novel yielded practical payoffs as its inventions led to indirect engagements with the world, fictionality in the novel, although it allowed for such payoffs, ultimately makes novel reading an inner-directed activity. Readers derive pleasure from the various ways the novel makes them aware of their ontological differences from characters. Rhetorical theory, by contrast, sees the nexus of fictionality, audience, and character in the novel as making the new genre more continuous with fictionality outside the novel, even as it acknowledges the distinctiveness of readers and characters within the genre. Rhetorical theory sees the novel as activating a double consciousness in its readers, and this view goes hand in hand with its conception of character. The first consciousness, that of the narrative audience, involves the reader projecting herself or himself into an observer position within the story world—as if under an invisibility cloak—and thus taking the characters and events as real. The second consciousness, that of the authorial audience, involves the awareness not only that the characters and events are invented but also that they have been invented for some reason. The narrative audience’s affective and ethical investments in characters combine with the authorial audience’s awareness of them as inventions with a purpose to harness the indirections of fictionality in the service of both the intrinsic pleasures of reading somebody’s story about the experiences of somebody else and the practical payoffs of relating those experiences to the actual world.
Research Article|February 01 2018
James Phelan; Fictionality, Audiences, and Character: A Rhetorical Alternative to Catherine Gallagher’s “Rise of Fictionality”. Poetics Today 1 February 2018; 39 (1): 113–129. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-4265095
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