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Literary Discourse

  1. An overview of socio-cultural theory in discourse
  2. DEFINITION OF DISCOURSE. The difference between text and discourse
  3. Discourse Interpreting
  4. Discourse markers
  5. Give a good literary translation close to the text. THE JOURNEY OF A NIGHT TIME
  6. Interpretation of 'Discourse' from Systemic Functional Linguistic Perspective

Literary reading has been a topic of inquiry among scholars of literature and educationalists for nearly three quarters of a century (Richards, 1929; Rosenblatt, 1937). Among empirical researchers, in contrast, attention to literature is quite recent, with most studies having been carried out only over the last 20 years. The literary field is fraught with controversy, however. Basic differences over the object of study militate against the emergence of a single paradigm for empirical research. Disagreement over the nature of literature centers on whether literature is a fundamental category of discourse with distinctive properties or a cultural formation produced during the last 200 or 300 years (e.g., Terry, 1997) and sustained by specific conventions (possibly facing extinction in the face of new electronic media). In this chapter, therefore, although it is possible to elaborate a number of specific components of literary reading that have been studied empirically, at the present stage of research a coherent account of literary discourse remains out of reach.

One notable feature of the research to be discussed is its limited attention to questions of interpretation or literary meaning. In contrast, mainstream literary criticism has traditionally been dominated by a focus on interpretation carried out within one of two main traditions: either a hermeneutic approach centered on the text or a contextual approach that appeals to major cultural formations thought to impose certain requirements on literary production and reception (e.g., gen der issues or the economic and social concerns of the new historicism). When considering reading outside the academy, however, an emphasis on interpretation may be misleading, as Sontag (1964/1983) argued forcefully some years ago. Although readers are at times undoubtedly concerned with understanding what they read, this should not overshadow another and perhaps more primary mode of engagement, which is to experience literature-whether to appreciate its formal qualities, be aroused by a suspense filled plot, or suffer empathically the vicissitudes of its fictional characters. To be asked to generate an explanation of a literary work, as commonly occurs in the literature classroom or in many empirical studies, is perhaps atypical of most reading situations. Yet it is clear that the demand for techniques of explanation has tended to drive research on reading, which has been dominated by the prevailing cognitivist emphasis on the processes of comprehension (Kintsch, 1998). This is considered further in the studies described later, but the limitations of this approach to literary discourse are also suggested preparatory to outlining a range of other approaches to literary reading.

The predominant questions of this chapter are: What is literary discourse? Does it result in a type of reading different from that studied in mainstream discourse processing research? Among a number of possible markers of the distinction between literary and nonliterary processing to be discussed later, empirical research suggests that literary readers form specific anticipations while reading, that the interpretive frame may modify or transform while reading a literary text, and that markedly more personal memories are evoked during reading. There is evidence for a constructive role for feeling in the reading process-a process that may be driven in part by

response to stylistic and other formal qualities. First, however, the relationship between empirical research and mainstream literary scholarship should be sketched because this continues to provide an important, if problematic, context for considering literary issues and framing empirical studies. Although the gulf between literary scholarship and empirical research remains wide, three issues in particular serve to illustrate the difficulties and prospects of this relatively new discipline: history of reader response theory, role of genre, and question of whether literature has distinctive qualities.


Although reader response study had its inception with the work of I. A. Richards (1929) in his book Practical Criticism, Richards's one foray into empirical study unfortunately suggested to the community of liter ary scholars that readers, as represented by the undergraduate students he studied at Cambridge University, were poor at discriminating between poems and badly in need of the guidance of the experienced literary critic (cf. Martindale & Dailey, 1995). The experience of the ordinary reader, in contrast to the professional reader, thus fell under a cloud-a fate confirmed 20 years later by the influential essay "The Affective Fallacy" of Wimsatt and Beardsley (1954/1946). This effectively placed an interdiction on attention to actual readers, whose responses were deemed impressionistic and relative. For example, the critic E. D. Hirsch (1967) referred to the ordinary reader's "whimsical lawlessness of guessing" (p. 204) at literary meaning-an initial first step subject to correction in the light of what could be determined about the author's intention.

When reader response criticism eventually emerged, with publications by Holland (1968), Fish (1970/1980), Iser (1978), and Jauss (1982), Holland's work was confined to developing his own psychoanalytic approach, which concentrated almost exclusively on the stories of individual readers. In contrast, Fish, Iser, Jauss, and their followers remained at the level of theory. Fish proposed an affective stylistics of readers' hesitations and errors that he considered an integral part of literary meaning. Iser, drawing on the phenomenology of Ingarden, placed reading within the reader's "horizon of expectations, " in which the text's gaps and indeterminacies called for constructive interpretive work. Jauss, who worked alongside Iser at the University of Constanz, developed a reception theory attentive to historical changes in literary reading. Although this work, offering new and suggestive theories of reading, has been influential in redirecting attention to questions about the reader, this generally consisted in postulated reader-based modes for interpreting literary texts. The study of actual readers was either neglected or actively discouraged. For example, Culler (1981) suggested that a study of actual readers would be fruitless because the critic's focus of research should be on the conventions that he considered paramount in determining all reading, whether literary or nonliterary. These conventions could be examined in the numerous interpretations already available in the professional literature on a given text. On the one hand, then, critics such as Fish or Iser hypothesized specific reading processes based on demonstrable features of literary texts and their purported effects. On the other hand, it turned out that attention to such features was constituted from the start by conventions of reading. Because readers were thought to acquire such conventions through a process of training, usually in the classroom, professional attention shifted away from considering what individual readers might actually be doing. Among the most influential formulations of this view, Fish's (1980) forceful and widely accepted assertion that the interpretive community to which a reader belonged determined any possible reading appeared to make reading a purely relativistic process. The comprehensiveness of this approach, which redirected attention away from the reader toward questions of culture and history, foreclosed attention to reading almost as soon as it had begun: The reader response project was described by one of its reviewers as "self-transcending"

and "self-deconstructing, " suggesting "that it has a past rather than a future" (Freund, 1987, p. 10).


Although theories of discourse processing in general are not discussed here, several specific studies are mentioned in which literary processing is at issue. Its emphasis on comprehension rather than affect gives discourse processes both theoretical power and methodological precision, but also limits its scope in capturing literary processes (Miall & Kuiken, 1994a), as Van Dijk's discussion (cited earlier) suggests. In brief, discourse processing, with its emphasis on comprehension, forestalls attention to those features of literary response that might signal the presence of a different class of response processes. As Spiro (1982) pointed out, referring to a story by James Joyce and the comments made in it by an enigmatic priest, what is central to our experience of the story is that we cannot know what its situation is about. It could be argued that it is just those aspects that resist ordinary comprehension that trigger the response modes specific to literature, such as the emotive, evaluative, and attitudinal. Even this way of putting the issue is, perhaps, misleading if it implies that the alternative modes of response only come into play when the normal cognitive processes have broken down. It may be more plausible to postulate several systems able to operate in parallel as a review of two typical discourse studies suggest.

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Lecture 1 | DEFINITION OF DISCOURSE. The difference between text and discourse | An overview of socio-cultural theory in discourse | Discourse Interpreting |

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