Narrative Theory : Core Concepts & Critical Debates – Herman

Herman, David et al. Narrative Theory: Core Concept and Critical Debates. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University Press, 2012. Print.

In Narrative Theory: Core Concepts & Critical Debates, Herman argues for approaching narrative through the lens of worldmaking. He states, “worldmaking encompasses the referential dimensions of narrative, its capacity to evoke worlds in which interpreters can, with more or less ease or difficulty, take up imaginative residence. I argue that worldmaking is in fact the hallmark of narrative experiences, the root function of stories and storytelling that should therefore constitute the starting-point for narrative inquiry and the analytic tools developed in its service” (14). This focus on worldmaking, he continues, studies how storytellers and interpreters (readers, listeners, viewers, etc) co-create the storyworld. In this way, Herman agrees with Phelan and Rabinowitz that the essence of narrative exists between the author/narrator and the audience.  He clearly states, “Narrative worldmaking is made possible by the active, ongoing participation of readers” (150). Yet, the focus of the relationship between the author/narrator and reader/interpreter remains different. While Phelan and Rabinowitz are focused on rhetoric, Herman is concerned with the construction and understanding via the author/narrator reader/interpreter relationship. Additionally, for Herman, time, space, and character are all part of the world-building process that “prompt interpreters to construct worlds marked by a particular spatiotemporal profile, a patterned sequence of situations and events, and an inventory of inhabitants” (17).  Herman also discusses narration as a “situated communicative action,” and thus highlights the active power of narrative much as Phelan and Rabinowitz do. Herman, however, is less focused on the reason for the telling, than on the construction of the world it creates and the reason we derive from that storyworld. He states, “What distinguishes actions from mere behaviors is that whereas both as the effects of causes that can be described in physical or material terms, only in the case of actions does it make sense to ask, too, about reasons – that is, about why an agent has chosen to act in a particular way instead of in other possible ways…Narration, in other words, does involve behavior that is explicable in casual terms; yet it cannot be exhaustively described as behavior but rather falls in the subcategory of behaviors that constitute actions and that are engaged in for reasons. Interpreters impute these reasons to narrating agents to make sense of their behaviors as communicative actions in the first place” (44-45). In other words, storyworlds are created via the process of interpreters considering behavior as the effect of reasons leading to action. Put yet another way, and in Herman’s own words again, “Narrators making sense of characters’ minds, characters make sense of one another’s minds, and readers make sense of both narrators and characters mind insofar as they situate those individuals in the domain of persons” (127). Lastly, Herman discusses the role of inference in the co-creation of storyworlds. Herman notes that readers bring to a text their previous experiences both in their personal lives and co-created with other texts. This causes the reader to make inferences about the storyworld. These prior experiences and inferences work as a gauge by which the reader constructs the world, but their understanding of the world remains open to revision and re-construction as the text challenges or alters their inferences about it. This concept also works with Herman’s argument for worldmaking as an active process, that, pending feedback, is alterable and revisable throughout the process of its co-creation.

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