The Implied Author: A Secular Excommunication

By Herman, Luc; Vervaeck, Bart | Style, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

The Implied Author: A Secular Excommunication


Herman, Luc, Vervaeck, Bart, Style


As Susan Lanser rightly points out, the implied author (Booth, Rhetoric) exists only "as inferred and imagined"; it "is essentially a matter of belief, existing only when and where readers construct it" (Lanser 154). Though believers say they construct the implied author on the basis &textual features, the thousands of pages on the subject have not yielded a single discovery procedure. Indeed, as far as we know, there are no procedures one can follow to go from text to implied author (Kindt and Muller 60-61). Nor do critics ever offer an unambiguous characterization of the implied author in a specific text (Kindt and Muller 93-96). What does the implied author of Ulysses really look like? What are his or her salient characteristics? And so how can we discover these traits?

As in most religious debates, there seem to be no final answers. As every believer develops his or her own God, every critic seems to have his or her own particular brand of implied author. There is of course no objective yardstick against which we could measure the various images. No one has ever seen God, so no one really knows what She or He looks like. In order to clarify the functions of the implied author in narrative theory, we will use live stereotyped images of God in monotheistic religions--four of them treasured by believers, one by non-believers. Our aim is not to start a discussion about God in various religions, let alone to attack religion as a human practice. Our point is that the implied author is often endowed with God-like characteristics. Maybe that is not surprising, since the implied author is a hermeneutical tool (Chatman 77-80), and hermeneutics originated in the study of sacred texts. This early art of interpretation was looking for divine truths emanating from the ultimate implied author--God.

The first part of this essay will briefly outline the parallels between God and the implied author. This leads us to dismiss Wayne Booth's concept as restrictive (since it reduces texts to a supposedly ultimate source) and circular (since the source is really a projection of the reader's own processing; the effect on the reader is mistaken for the origins of the story). (2) In the second part, we juxtapose Booth's "spiritual" tradition with two more down-to-earth angles on author images--the empirical approach proposed by Marisa Bortolussi and Peter Dixon, and the Bourdieu-inspired discourse analysis in the work of Jerome Meizoz, Dominique Maingueneau and Ruth Amossy. Our alternative to the implied author is a dynamic author image that is not at the root of the text, but originates in a process of negotiation between reader, text, context, and the author's self-presentation. The crucial role in this process is for the reader, but this role is not at the root of the process either. In the third part, we illustrate our alternative with reference to Thomas Pynchon. We show how readers construct his elusive author image, and how Pynchon and his editor develop reader images. In both cases, text and context play an important part, but the four elements of the constructive process (author's self-presentation, reader, text, context) are interdependent. In this complex and never-ending process of negotiation, there is neither an absolute starting point+ nor a God-like creator.

1. The Implied Author as Our Lord and Savior

One: God = Invisible and Omnipresent

In spite of His or Her invisibility, God is supposed to be everywhere, just like the implied author is supposed to pervade the text and, in some cases, even the entire literary production of any literary author. (3) The power of the concept is actually based on a weakness, namely on the impossibility to locate and trace it in the actual text. The implied author is said to hover over the textual world, very much like a God who hovers over our actual world. The implied author does not have a voice but invents all voices telling the story (Chatman 85). …

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