2
Audience

Audience and the Ur-Conventions of Narrative

Every narrative implies a rhetorical situation that is fundamental to all analysis: an audience listening to someone telling a story. From the people to whom the Beowulf poet addressed his “Hwaet!” (which roughly translates as “Listen! I have a story to tell you”) to the strange “you” present in the opening of Alain Robbe-Grillet's In the Labyrinth, audience is essential. Without an audience there could be no narrative, and both authors and readers know this, the former often emphasizing that necessity by incorporating one or several auditors into a story (RobbeGrillet's “you”). As Pratt has demonstrated, a reader begins a novel by assuming that its speech situation is like that of “real-world display texts”: there is a speaker who is observing the cooperative principle (CP). In a situational context in which narrative is taken to be the purpose of the transaction between text and audience, this is the assumption that follows from the cognitive and communicative principles of relevance. Roland Barthes asserts that recent literary theory has removed “the Author” from the text “by showing that the whole of the enunciation is an empty process, functioning perfectly without there being any need for it to be filled with the person of the interlocutors” (“Death” 145). In fact, he refers, albeit obliquely, to speech-act theory by terming writing a performative, “in which the enunciation has no other content… than the act by which it is uttered—something like the I declare of kings or the I sing of very ancient poets” (145-46). Petrey responds that this assertion is too limited: “[t]he multiplicity of conventions in Austin's concept of speech acts is thus reduced to the single convention allowing words to name themselves as words” (148). I side with Petrey; as I explain in chapter 3, several voice or “interlocutor” positions are available in any narrative text, although none can be simplistically equated with the actual author.

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