Narrative Transmission, Readers' Scripts,
and Illocutionary Acts
In this chapter I intend to provide an extended illustration of the primary methods and concepts I've been discussing, using two contemporary novels, Written on the Body (1992) by feanette Winterson and Waiting for the Barbarians (1980) by J. M. Coetzee. My purpose is to demonstrate that analyzing the structure of narrative transmission in a novel, while it cannot predict specific rhetorical effects, can identify and discriminate among textual elements that constitute illocutionary acts. Such analysis can identify at least some aspects about which an actual audience is likely to construct implicatures and, from them, to make judgments about thematic, mimetic, and synthetic elements, ultimately arriving at an interpretation of the novel. I've already used Written on the Body to exemplify several key points in the preceding chapters, especially the function of the ungendered narrator. Setting this novel against Waiting for the Barbarians and tracing how each novel may shape its readers' experiences during the actual time of reading will demonstrate once again the role of context in determining rhetorical effects. Additionally, the comparison yields some refinements in the tools of rhetorical narratology. Several of the elements discussed in the previous chapter will come up, notably theme, but the main purpose of this chapter is to explore and illustrate the rhetorical functioning of the structure of narrative transmission.
Written on the Body and Waiting for the Barbarians are both autodiegetic narratives. Both are relatively short, are open-ended, foreground sexual relationships, and have narrators who occasionally comment on the narrating itself. Waiting for the Barbarians is narrated simultaneously, Written on the Body retrospectively although with quite a bit of present-tense commentary. In spite of their similarities, the novels yield very different rhetorical effects. To dramatize this point I've selected the following pairs of sentences. (Ellipses are mine.)