Academic journal article Style

What Is the Implied Author?

Academic journal article Style

What Is the Implied Author?

Article excerpt

The "implied author" (IA) as first proposed by Wayne C. Booth in The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961) has become "a household word" in the critical discourse on narrative fiction (Nunning, "Implied Author" 239). Due to the lack of agreement about what the term actually designates, it has aroused heated critical debate (for recent summaries, see Phelan 38-49; Kindt and Muller 63-121; Richardson 114--33; Nanning "Reconceptulizing" 91-97; Booth "Resurrection"; Shen "Booth's" 171-76; Schmid; Shaw). The debate "shows no signs of letting up," and some theorists predict that still more discussion is very much in order (Richardson 115; see also Nunning "Implied Author" 240). Summarizing the debate in the Routledge encyclopedic entry "Implied Author," Ansgar Nunning says, "Most objections raised against the implied author concern potential theoretical contradictions in Booth's formulation of the concept. For example, it seems to be a contradiction in terms to define the implied author as the structure of the text's norms and thus to conflate it with the text as a whole, and at the same time cast it in the role of the addresser in the communication model of narrative." ("Implied Author" 240) Tom Kindt and Hans-Harald Muller also see contradiction or inconsistency in Booth's own formulation of the concept which "leaves open the question of whether the implied author is (1) an intentional product of the author in or qua the work or (2) an inference made by the recipient about the author on the basis of the work" (7--8). They assert that a "sensible" explication of the implied author "must not try to explicate the concept as the contradictory whole that it is, but should seek instead to elucidate its individual components separately from one another in order to identify what, if any, possible explications for them emerge" (12, see also 151-82).

But if we examine Booth's own words carefully, we'll find that Booth's own formulation is quite logical and coherent, basically free from the theoretical contradictions alleged by many commentators. Such contradictions are primarily attributable to other critics' misinterpretation of an expression Booth quite consistently used, though in varied forms, namely, the real author's "creating" the implied author. Revealing the essential meaning of this key expression in its varied forms is a crucial step in getting at the true referent of the "implied author." In what follows, I'll first explore what the "implied author" actually refers to and reveal the major reasons underlying previous misunderstandings of the concept. Then I'll discuss the relevance and significance of the concept in today's critical context.

The True Referent of "Implied Author"

To grasp the essence of the implied author, we have to find out, first of all, what the term "create" means in Booth's claim that the novelist creates the implied author as he writes the text:

To some novelists it has seemed, indeed, that they were discovering or creating themselves as they wrote. As Jessamyn West says, it is sometimes "only by writing the story that the novelist can discover--not his story--but its writer, the official scribe, so to speak, for that narrative." ... it is clear that the picture the reader gets of this presence is one of the author's most important effects. However impersonal he may try to be his reader will inevitably construct a picture of the official scribe who writes in this manner.... his di f ferent works will imply different versions, different ideal combinations of norms. Just as one's personal letters imply different versions of oneself depending on the differing relationships with each correspondent and the purpose of each letter, so the writer sets himself out with a different air depending on the needs of particular works.

(Rhetoric 71; my emphasis)

Despite various unwitting 'mystifications' of the "implied author" by later critics, as far as the encoding process is concerned, the "implied author" in Booth's own formulation is no other than "the writer [who] sets himself out with a different air" or the person "who writes in this manner. …

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