February 3, 2013

Full Disclosure: on my 'Ambiguity Theory'

Before yesterday's breakthrough, I'd been reading lit crit stuff for weeks, but nothing seemed to be really helpful.

Mark Allen Powell's book, What is Narrative Criticism? (in the Kindle edition, which really should have linked footnotes, but doesn't, but that's okay b/c I had my Kindle Reader open on this netbook screen, next to the Kindle screen, which was like way totes more convenient, like not, but yeah kinda) was brilliant, and a joy to work through, but it didn't have what I needed. Focusing on the text itself is a wonderful strength, but N.C. brackets out the actual writer and original readers, and yet admits relying on historical criticism (or, perhaps actually rather, "Background Studies") for any possible insight into referential aspects of the narrative. That seems like a very large limitation, if one's primary purpose in doing narratology is historically oriented.

In contrast - and I'll admit I haven't spent as much time looking into this one, but insofar as I understand it - Rhetorical Criticism seems to have the opposite major strength and weakness when compared to Narrative Criticism, in that R.C. only attempts access to the original writer and reader/s by constructing the 'rhetorical situation', which must necessarily come first, before interpreting the text in such light. Aside from being speculative, any insights resulting from such a method would seem heavily suspect as to circular reasoning. Especially for use in analyzing the Gospels, the text itself would no longer be much foundation (though to be fair, I understand this may be somewhat less so for Paul's Epistles).

What I needed was an approach to the original writer and original readers that begins solidly with the text.

Powell had tightly summarized Wayne Booth's 4 steps of reconstruction, but it hadn't stuck with me, and I'd seen the name "Booth" a number of times. But it was skimming his introduction to 'A Rhetoric of Irony' that I realized a kindred mind, in that he complained about a lack of practicality in previous studies. (Apparently, it so far seems to me, no one has yet replaced his prominence on this since the 1970's, either.) That passion for method sent me back to finish reading this helpful summary of Booth's program, while I waited for Amazon to send me his relevant book.

For months, by the way, I'd been wanting to go more broadly around "irony" in the contradictory sense, and to focus more on the other aspects of how the text evokes reader-based ironies, especially historical ironies, which obviously stretch the ridiculously broad definitions of "Irony" in yet another direction.

At any rate, it was reading Booth's 4 points again, as summarized by novelist Sara Humphreys, that broke the camel's back and tied a bow on all my thinking. The writer does something that makes the reader pause and reassess. Boom. That was it. It's not that reader contribution is some mysterious process of filling in things that aren't there. It's that a writer contributes specific mysteries which provoke the reader into 'solving' them, and hopefully with success.

I think my formulation is obviously much broader, but I want to give proper credit, on the record, because I'm really hoping this matters someday. (!)

I'm already drafting a few experimental posts, applying my new theory, but I've gotta go to work for the rest of the day. I'm planning one post about Pseudo-Hemingway's "baby shoes", and another about Matthew. And then several more about Matthew. But I was analyzing a trade magazine with this late last night, before falling asleep. And it worked. So who knows?

Promises, promises, promises to keep.

And miles to go, before I sleep...

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"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton