Academic journal article Style

Debating Rhetorical Poetics: Interventions, Amendments, Extensions

Academic journal article Style

Debating Rhetorical Poetics: Interventions, Amendments, Extensions

Article excerpt

Wow! I now have a new appreciation of John V. Knapp's phrase "target essay." Reading all the responses reminds me of another occasion: my first meeting with the English Department faculty at Ohio State after I was suddenly appointed Acting Chair. (The previous Chair had unexpectedly stepped down.) My colleagues expressed a range of attitudes toward my appointment: support, skepticism, resentment, I am-willing-to-give-you-a-chance but.... Serious stuff, but there was a certain buzz in the room. I feel a similar buzz here, but I would like to make this occasion more like a party: I want to celebrate and give thanks to the twenty-five narrative theorists who have engaged so thoughtfully and generously with my work.

For the purposes of keeping the party from getting too chaotic, I think of my respondents/guests as gathering across three rooms. There are no doors between the rooms--the guests frequently move among them--but my engagement with each is in the room where I feel their (singular they!) presence most forcefully. Room One is the Interventions Chamber. Gathered here are those who, in the spirit of friends who speak difficult truths, want me to see the error of my ways and then take the appropriate steps toward rehabilitation. Room Two is the Space of (Mostly) Friendly Amendments. Gathered here are those who support significant aspects of rhetorical poetics but propose ways of improving it. Room Three is the Extensions Annex. Gathered here are those who generally endorse rhetorical poetics and then look to build on its current condition, often by taking up phenomena that I do not directly address. I also envision a few colorful posters in our party space: "ARA is a meta-chart." "Texts are almost always ambiguous but rhetorical actions often are not." "Test competing hypotheses."

THE INTERVENTIONS CHAMBER

Hello, Jan Alber, Emma Kafalenos, Gerald Prince, Marco Caracciolo, and Karin Kukkonen. You express a range of concerns, particularly about the epistemological basis of rhetorical poetics: how can I know what I claim to know about authors and audiences? Am I not just taking my own subjective interpretations, sprinkling them with rhetorical foo-foo dust, and asserting that they are accurate accounts of authorial intentions and/or responses of authorial audiences?

Jan, I hear you telling me that rhetorical poetics is based on a delusion-and a flawed definition of narrative. "[Phelan] does not only think that he is ... entitled to speak for the author and several different readers; his permanent references to alleged authorial intentions and reactions of audiences also create the impression that his interpretations are quasi-objective investigations" (35). These references cover up "the fact" (my emphasis) that I am only presenting my "opinions, intuitions, speculations, or hypotheses" (36). You align yourself with David Herman in viewing "hypothetical intentionalism" as a superior approach to authorial agency because it avoids claims about "subjective intentions" and can "account for the possibility that our conjectures about the intentions of others might be wrong" (36).

Thanks, Jan, for the straight talk. It makes me smile, since your objections to my speaking for authors do not seem to apply to your speaking for me. (1) "Hello, Pot, you can call me Kettle." But I also have a serious point: let us reject the idea that our common blackness is a critical sin and recognize that, in making interpretive claims, what I do in the target essay (and elsewhere) and what you do in your response (and elsewhere) is standard operating procedure in literary studies. Here is David Herman on Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach: "McEwan's novel reflexively calls attention to how systems of emotion terms and concepts make it possible to understand behaviors as actions--even as it prompts interpreters to use those systems to make sense of the characters" (130). Here you are on Martin Amis' Time's Arrow: Amis' narrator is "a kind of homunculus" (! …

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