Monday, December 7, 2009

Authorial reading

This post grows out of a minor mystery in my notebook. Looking closer at the role of the implied reader in a text, professor Peel cited theorist Peter Rabinowitz in order to introduce a further distinction: a model and an authorial readers. Both terms in my notebook are grouped under the heading of implied reader, which, at first, I took to mean that both types are projections of the text and have little to do with the actual process of reading. To use notebook shorthand, a model reader is the one who believes everything, is immersed in the story world, and an authorial reader knows that it's fiction.

Here are some examples prof. Peel used in class. In The Canterbury Tales, the model reader's role is to like or to dislike the pilgrims. Meantime, the authorial reader notices the complex structure of the text and wonders how it's done. More specifically, in the Shipman's Tale, the model reader wonders who "won" and believes that the monk and the couple existed; while in the authorial reader notices the ingenious plot influenced by other writers (Boccaccio). In Lardner's Haircut, the model reader's task is to distrust the barber; while authorial reader might notice the dramatic irony of the narrative. In Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," the model reader believes in the existence of Omelas, the authorial reader is the one who is actually given the option to imagine or create the Omelas.

The sense of mystery came from rereading Suzanne Keen's discussion of Rabinowitz's model. This is how she explains his concept of authorial reader: "an actual reader who actively attempts to enter the implied readership projected by the text and live up to the expectations projected by the text. (35)" First of all, as a definition, this seems closer to prof. Peel's notion of the model reader rather than the authorial. Moreover, this definition does not place authorial readers squarely within the properties or projections of the text, as a special case of the the implied reader role; but rather talks about an authorial reader as a kind of a real reader. This difference, however, seems insightful: it seems to bridge the gap between the real reader and the implied, attempts to describe the way the real reader behaves vis-a-vis the world of the story and the implied reader -- there's a contract to negotiate there, to choose what role you're going to play, the one of a wizened critic or the one of a novice ready to be enticed.

To solve the mystery and figure out what Peter Rabinowitz actually said about model and authorial readers, I used Scholar.Google to find and download a copy of Rabinowitz's 1998 book, "Before reading : narrative conventions and the politics of interpretation." I didn't get very far in reading it, but I'm hopeful. James Phelan says in the Forward, "The reading of Rabinowitz's title refers to what he calls "authorial reading," the activity by which actual readers seek to enter an author's hypothetical, ideal audience. (ix)" This explanation seems very closely aligned with Keen's in that it talks about the "actual" readers. But here's the next question: what does Phelan (and Rabinowitz, I suppose) mean when he talks about the author's "hypothetical, ideal audience" and what kinds of "expectations projected by the text" does Keen expect the authorial readers to "live up to"? Is that an expectation to do a critical reading or is it an expectation to have the reader fully immersed in the story world?

Keen does not provide specific examples; and I'm sure Rabinowitz does but I will have to read 280 pages to get to the particulars. For now, I'll go with professor Peel's distinctions between model and authorial. As a model reader of my notebook, I am fully immersed and learn from it, and as an authorial reader, I second guess everything it contains. As a model reader of The Blood Oranges, I am immersed in the Greek countryside and the intricacies of the double affair. Attempting to be an authorial reader of this novel I could never be an author of, I am trying to figure out what mythology I need to know to decode the metatext.

No comments:

Post a Comment