Academic journal article Style

Dual Textual Dynamics and Dual Readerly Dynamics: Double Narrative Movements in Mansfield's "Psychology"

Academic journal article Style

Dual Textual Dynamics and Dual Readerly Dynamics: Double Narrative Movements in Mansfield's "Psychology"

Article excerpt

In many fictional narratives, behind the plot development, there exists a powerful dynamic that runs, at a deeper level, throughout the text. This hidden dynamic paralleling the plot development is what I designate as covert textual progression" (see Shen, "Covert," Style). It involves different "instabilities" on the story level and different "tensions" on the discourse level (see Phelan, "Narrative Progression," Narrative), thereby conveying contrasting or even opposing thematic significance, character images, and aesthetic values to those in the plot development, and arousing or having the potential to arouse contrasting or even opposing response from readers. In my previous work, I have distinguished "covert progression" from other types of covert meaning as investigated by various critical approaches since the nineteenth century, including the covert meanings revealed by New Critics and contemporary literary/narrative critics (see Shen, Style 7-12, "Covert" 148-52). Other concerns with covert meaning focus on deep or deeper levels of meaning of the plot development, especially ways in which latent meanings of the plot subvert or oppose its manifest ones. In contrast, my concern with covert progression is a concern with a hidden narrative movement paralleling the plot development. But previously I did not pay sufficient attention to the interaction and joint fonctioning of the two parallel narrative movements, especially in cases where the meanings of the covert progression subvert those of the plot development. This is the first time I try to offer theoretical models of the dual textual dynamics and the corresponding dual readerly dynamics, both to show and to call for attention to the joint functioning of the two parallel narrative movements. This may enable us to do better justice to the instability, tension, complexity, and otherwise self-contradictory nature of literary narratives.

The present effort to theorize about the dual textual and readerly dynamics is based on the most telling case of Katherine Mansfield's "Psychology." In this narrative, the covert progression takes on an opposite event structure, contrastive focalization, and different degrees of narratorial reliability. More specifically, while in the plot development the event structure is merely "revelatory" and things "stay pretty much the same" (Chatman 48), in the covert progression the event structure displays a progress towards a resolution; while in the plot the focalization keeps shifting, in the covert progression the focalization is quite fixed. Moreover, what appears to be reliable reporting by the narrator in the plot development frequently turns out to be merely character's illusion in the covert progression. This covert progression in Mansfield's Psychology" very much relies on the ambiguity created by the use of free indirect discourse and point of view or focalization. These devices, among other modernist techniques, have attracted much critical attention in the investigation of Mansfield's fiction, including "Psychology," since she is well known for her masterful use of such techniques. But the covert progression in Psychology" has remained overlooked in existing literary criticism because ever since Aristotle, critical attention has focused on one narrative movement, the plot development. Indeed, the covert progression is a type of meaning that readers miss not because it's hidden but largely because their interpretive equipment won't allow them to see what is right there in plain sight (Abbott 560). As we will see below, unless we revise our interpretive framework and extend attention to another narrative movement behind the plot development, critical sophistication, acumen, and carefulness may not help much in discovering the double narrative movements as such.

Significantly, the dual textual dynamics purposefully created by the author invites dual readerly dynamics. In more specific terms, the covert progression and the interaction between the covert and overt narrative movements invite the authorial audience to change the perception and judgment of various textual details in the overt plot, increasingly altering and complicating the understanding of the rhetorical purposes of the author and the thematic import, character relationship, and aesthetic effects of the text. …

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