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Making readers.

Everyone knows the final sentences of The Rhetoric of Fiction, but I'll quote them anyway. "The author makes his readers. If he makes them badly--that is, if he simply waits, in all purity, for the occasional reader whose perceptions and norms happen to match his own, then his conception must be lofty indeed if we are to forgive him for his bad craftsmanship. But if he makes them well--that is, makes them see what they have never seen before, moves them into a new order of perception and experience altogether--he finds his reward in the peers he has created" (397-98). My essay will explore what it means, and what it might mean, for an author to make a reader and what authors and readers might make between them. I suppose that it is as much an exploration of some issues that seem to me to have mattered to Booth (or perhaps even troubled him) as it is a critique of Booth or an attempt to chart his influence (though writing such an essay may be said to enact that influence). My point of departure lies in the potential coerciveness attached to the notion that the author makes the reader. Booth seems to give the author deific powers. The author "makes" readers; the author "creates" peers who then serve as his reward.

A key reason why Booth believes that authors should make readers is that he is alive to the intensity of imaginative experience great writers evoke. This essay meditates on the promise of imaginative intensity, asking whether the power that allegedly helps make readers might be turned to other ends. It suggests that in his later thinking on this subject, Booth sought to contain that intensity in less coercive channels, as he thought further about audiences (inspired by one of his former students) and developed an enriched interest in the possibilities of dialogue (inspired by Bakhtin). My argument will be that, though both of these developments have promise, neither quite does the trick, because containment isn't what is actually needed here. Instead, we need to use the intensity to break through the coercion.

I am personally in favor of being made a better reader--and for that matter, of being made just plain better. Still, the idea that authors make their readers evokes in me a mixed reaction. My ambivalence arises in part from work by others since Booth wrote The Rhetoric of Fiction. To be sure, in some of this work the possibility that authors could make readers in a strict sense fails to arise, for authors as Booth imagines them don't effectively exist. Instead, textuality or general ideology or dispersed relays of power make readers, calling them forth (shall we say, interpellating them?) with a top-to-bottom power hardly dreamt of by Booth. Our critical discourse has shifted to a place where talk of making readers is likely to evoke notions of "disciplining" readers, making them subject to the workings of an oppressive ideological nexus. In such a critical context, Booth's notion that readers could be made "well" may seem naive at best (unless by "well" you mean, as Booth does not, "with unobtrusive but total efficiency"). I, and not I alone, have spent a lot of time trying to parry such lines of thought, and I won't go over that ground again here. But their emergence has deepened our sensitivity to the strategies of power, lending piquancy to Booth's declaration that "the author makes his readers."

Booth makes this claim because he believes that the ethical import of fiction matters, and he wants to remind us of the stakes involved in deciding whether or not to employ a mode of narration of fiction in which an ethical import can live. Beneath this concern lies, I'd argue, an exceptionally lively sense of the power of the experience of fiction itself. Novels for Booth are things you can lose yourself in. They can take over your mind. The opportunity arises to create fictions that will use their power for good ends, and providing guardrails becomes important. Booth disapproves of a situation in which readers are at the mercy of ethically unintelligible fictional worlds, for he fears that exposure to such worlds will eat away at our ability to make ethical judgments in general. Hence the attack on Celine in the last chapter of The Rhetoric of Fiction. Inundated readers, readers at loose ends, are unlikely to become peers a responsible author would want to have around, much less to have created. (There is a significant parallel here with Georg Lukacs's rejection of art that, in his view, overwhelms readers with a stream of undifferentiated impressions, preventing action and thereby helping to keep in place the status quo it refuses to analyze.) This fear becomes the basis for a call for authors to exercise a benign form of power, to help readers up the steep and dangerous cliff to a vantage point from which they will be able to see things steadily and whole. Am I perhaps overdoing Booth's acute awareness of the power art can exercise over our imaginations? It would be easy enough to show that this is a focus that persists in Booth's writing--in The Company We Keep, for instance, where a characteristic formulation runs as follows: "There is no escape then from the task, difficult as it is, of appraising the quality of the response invited by the whole work: What will it do with or to us if we surrender our imaginations to its paths?" (399). My prime exhibit in defense of the notion that Booth feels the power of esthetic experience will appear in the closing pages of this essay.

Having suggested why Booth came up with the notion that authors ought to make readers and why it might make current critics uneasy, I now wish to consider two aspects of his later work where Booth pushes it farther. The first involves audiences, the second Bakhtin.

Let me begin with audiences. An attractive aspect of the Afterword to the Second Edition of The Rhetoric of Fiction is how willing Booth is to learn from his students (even the one he refers to as "that upstart Jameson" [413]). One student he learns a good deal from is Peter Rabinowitz, whose schematization of different kinds of audiences he wholeheartedly adopts and then attempts, in a fine collaborative manner, to sharpen. In the present context, it's Rabinowitz's "narrative audience" that matters. As you will recall, the narrative audience is a group that believes that the events of a fiction are true; actual readers pretend to join this group and thus pretend to believe that the events are true. Booth prefers the term "credulous listener." According to Booth, the credulous listener "believes that it all really happened as reported by the TELLER" and entirely accepts the norms of the fictional world, but not necessarily those of the narrator (430). Booth, like Rabinowitz, suggests that the credulous listener is a role the actual reader pretends to assume. Yet it is significant that the term he employs evokes a single figure, and one who is listening. This creates a certain immediacy, well designed to capture the power fiction can have over us. The emphasis on volition that inheres in notions of pretending to join an audience recedes. Instead of choosing a seat in the theater, we find ourselves in the midst of an encounter with the Ancient Mariner. (1)

Why does Booth value the credulous listener? I'd argue that the credulous listener allows Booth both to register fiction's invasive power, but also to segregate that power from other aspects of reading. Credulous listeners are entirely taken over by the reality of the novel they are reading and its norms: what happens in the novel is, for them, "true." But, one might then argue (though Booth himself does not follow up on this explicitly), there are other audience positions where the members are not taken in. We can thus allow fiction to have a radical power--but only for one kind of audience, one aspect of the reading situation. The author won't have to make the reader; instead, the author will simply have to make it possible for the reader to join audiences besides the one inhabited by credulous listeners. At most, this will mean making part of the reader. The situation here is, I'll add in passing, like the one Mark Sacks says is created by Kant's distinction between the noumenal and the phenomenal worlds, which concedes that we can't know ultimate reality, but in so doing segregates what we can't know into one place, thereby leaving a lot of room on the other side of the epistemological fence where we can know (27).

In suggesting that Booth may value the credulous listener as a way of both registering and containing the power of fiction over the reader, I am performing an act of criticism in the conjectural and symptomatic mode. Booth's use of the credulous listener to segregate the power of the text would be more a tacit than an overt answer to the problem of fictional power; it wouldn't be something of which Booth was focally aware, and it isn't part of an argument he himself explicitly makes. But though I cannot by the nature of things be certain that my conjecture here is accurate (though of course I believe that it is, or I wouldn't have offered it), I am confident that the issues about audiences raised by such concepts as the credulous listener are central to the problem of the power of fiction.

I'm also confident that Rabinowitz's narrative audience can help us with these problems, even though that audience, as he defines it, mainly eludes them. To be sure, it itself does involve a slight note of coercion. At one point, Rabinowitz suggests that the narrative audience "is a role which the text forces the reader to take on" (95). But being coerced into playing a role is different from being forced into an actual state of belief. And in fact, Rabinowitz's narrative audience seems designed to explore the rules and contents of fictional worlds, not the disposition, forced or free, of the hearts and minds of readers. (2) He invented this category as part of his discussion of the "rules of signification" readers learn to employ as they make sense of fictional texts. To interpret texts, readers need to learn what to pay attention to in general (Rabinowitz's "rules of notice"), how to catch certain shorthand indications of the ethical valence of the characters ("rules of snap moral judgment"), and so on. The "narrative audience" falls under the category of the rule of realism. The problem it solves is from one point of view a generic one. If we are to interpret fiction properly, we need to know what to accept as givens: readers who refuse to accept that, in the world of the fairy tale, fairy godmothers exist "will see Cinderella as a psychotic young woman subject to hallucinations" (96). The narrative audience is thus the same sort of concept as Booth's celebrated (and sometimes denigrated) implied author. The implied author is a construct, derived from evidence in the text, that allows the critic to determine what the structure of values informing a text must be (and to differentiate it from the author's own values). The narrative audience is a similar construct. By encapsulating what readers are called upon to accept as real about a narrative world, it allows the critic to determine which kinds of meaning arise from that world, and which do not (that is, the rules that govern the way the world signifies). In this guise, it functions less as a description of how readers actually come to a working knowledge of the rules of signification for narratives than as a means by which critics can formulate those rules overtly and with precision. Taken as this sort of construct, the narrative audience need not have a direct bearing on how actual readers process works at all.

This is not of course to suggest that the narrative audience cannot also be used to discuss how actual readers process works, only that the task might take some doing. Rabinowitz's schematization of different audience positions could, for example, offer useful support in dealing with the problem of the power of narrative, as part of an attempt to imagine different and perhaps even opposing layers of response. (3) It might turn out that fiction exerts power on us with regard to some of these layers, but that we can resist or elude that power when we inhabit others--or perhaps in the very act of moving between them. One problem with identifying a variety of audience positions, however, is that doing so may generate the illusion that we have thereby solved problems that remain open and indeed unexplored. After we have defined the audience positions, we need to set them in motion if we are to understand the dynamics of the reader's situation.

In any such attempt, however, we need to avoid a situation in which intensity of imaginative experience derives simply from a naive relationship to the fictional world. I have suggested that one attraction of the credulous reader to Booth may be that the narrative audience can be used to cordon off the area of readerly experience in which we cathect with the fiction most forcefully and find ourselves most dramatically at its mercy. This promises to make room for other relationships with the fiction which would be freer, more critical, and more dialogic. But such a tactic seems to me, in the long run, a mistake. What we need to do instead is to reserve conceptual space for a potentially saving interaction in which "credulity" and self-consciousness reinforce each other. What this comes down to, among other things, is a passionate, stubborn, self-aware refusal to be talked out of the power of our own imaginative responses, not as members of a credulous narrative audience, but as complex human beings who are deeply immersed in a work of fiction but who nonetheless know that it is a work of fiction. The authors of great literature create imaginative structures that incite this complex imaginative reaction, but even they cannot wholly control it, in part because of its very intensity.

A further problem with the use of the credulous reader I have attributed to Booth is not only that it cordons off intensity (which we need to draw on to get beyond a state of being passively "made" by the author), but also that it takes intensity to involve issues of truth, belief, and what is real. According to the "credulous listener" model, we have an intense relationship with a fiction because we believe its world to be real and the propositions describing that world to be true. One danger in focusing on belief in this manner is that if we do so, we may never get to the question of imaginative action.

There are some indications that Rabinowitz might agree with me here. His notion that narrative readers pretend to accept the reality of the fictional world high-lights not questions of what readers believe about truth and reality, but what readers do. One of his more intriguing suggestions is that what makes a fiction a realist fiction is the nature of the assumptions it demands of the narrative audience. If those assumptions approximate the assumptions required by the cultural ideology that members of the narrative audience rely upon as they operate in the world outside the fiction, then we have a realist work. This seems to me correct as far as it goes, but (as I have argued in Narrating Reality) realism involves not only or centrally the components of the fictional and the everyday world, but the kinds of mental operations we employ to make sense of them. (4) The focus needs to shift from the status of the components that make up the real and fictional worlds, to the multi-tracked things our minds do with those components.

Rabinowitz, to be sure, notes a double-consciousness in our reaction to works of art (99). In his view, this double-consciousness arises from the fact that "all works of representational art--including novels--are imitations in the sense that they appear to be something that they are not" (94). The focus on the possibility of multi-layered consciousness is important, but the notion that representational works are not what they appear to be can be misleading, in much the same way that talk about bent sticks in water (to use an example J. L. Austin eviscerates) is misleading as a prop for the epistemological "argument from illusion." (According to that argument, the fact that a stick in water looks bent indicates that when we see this phenomenon, we can't be seeing the real, material stick, which isn't bent; we must instead be seeing "sense-data" that somehow emanate from the stick.) I won't pause to rehearse the entire job Austin does on this argument, though I regret not being able to dwell on the glee of his demolition. Along the way, however, he drops a line that seems to me of simple (and great) profundity: "The straight part of the stick, the bit not under water, is presumably part of a material thing; don't we see that? And what about the bit under water?--we can see that too. We can see, come to that, the water itself. [That's the key line.] In fact what we see is a stick partly immersed in water" (30). There is no need to suppose that some other entity ("sense data") intervenes and that as a result that which we observe (the stick partly in the water) is really not what it seems.

In similar fashion, I would argue that the representational powers of works of art do not produce objects that appear to be something they are not--unless we ignore part of the context of presentation (the water, in Austin's example). When we view a trompe d'eoil painting of a still life, we don't see it as a painting until we see it as ... a painting, and not as a bunch of real grapes, oranges, and so on. The painting doesn't present itself as real: we either mistake it for being real, or we see it as a real painting. It presents itself as something that looks surprisingly like real grapes and oranges, that seems to want to be mistaken for real grapes and oranges, that is designed to deceive ... almost. One of the things that most appeals to me in Austin is his insistence that the "common man" who looks at the stick in the water wouldn't react with the unnatural abstraction the philosopher who conjures him up supplies. (Austen's respect for the common man is intertwined with his respect for common language.) The common man wouldn't allow himself to be reduced to a state in which he fails to take into account the fact that, when you see a bent stick in water, there is water there. He would instead insist on the total reality of his experience of the situation, regardless of what the demands of a given epistemological inquiry would prefer that he focus on (and exclude). There is a parallel here with the remarkable work Janice Radway accomplished when she paused to ask what the female readers of popular romance novels actually do as readers, only to discover a mixture of passionate engagement and entire self-awareness that might serve as one model for the stance I am attempting to imagine here.

A novel does not appear to be something that it isn't, even though it can give rise to imaginative experience that is intense and peremptory. We need to discover ways of talking about intense fictional experiences that draw on a sense of reality, without finding ourselves making the claim that they involve a belief in the reality of the fictional world. To do so, we need to move from the realm of ontology and epistemology to that of desire and the will.

This is no easy task. Henry James tells us that to be contented readers of Scott, that "ideal fireside chronicler," we must become "as credulous as children at twilight" (James "Nassau Senior" 1204). Well, I have spent more time than I like to remember demonstrating that an adequate response to Scott requires, not a rest at the fireside, but self-aware alertness and dexterity. But I know what James means. There is some part of the mind and spirit that wants to come to rest by the fireside as one reads Scott, or Austen, or even George Eliot. How do these aspects of audienceship assort with one another? How can our rest and our alertness avoid canceling each other out? Is there some sort of oscillation here, built perhaps on the temporal ordering of narrative and of the reading process? Or what? If we admit (which I'm not sure I'm willing to admit) that the notion of a credulous listener describes one part of the experience of reading, how does that fit with the other parts? To ask such questions may in the end be best described, not so much as defining a problem with the credulous listener or the narrative audience, as exploring possibilities such categories could help to bring into focus.

Such issues have been raised on the level of individual psychology (for example, by Norman Holland). I suspect, however, that in the end history needs to enter into the discussion as well, since the problem of whether and how we can mix intense esthetic experience with self-conscious awareness gains urgency from our place in history (as do suspicions about the power of esthetic experience to embed us in larger circuits of coercive force). In chapter Nine of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon remarks that, as civilized moderns, we can hardly imagine what it must have been like for the members of the Germanic tribes to experience the singing of bardic poetry. (5) (I suppose what Gibbon has in mind here might be translated into an assertion that the tribal members in question were credulous listeners in ecstatic spades.) Were there ever, in very historical fact, such "naive" audiences, or is their existence merely a back-projection made by those who find themselves in a historical moment in which, in Schiller's parlance, it is impossible to be of other than the "sentimental" (that is, alienated) persuasion? Or could it be that the intensity of experience gestured at by talk of credulous listening is actually heightened for self-aware moderns, just because we are at several removes from immediacy? Do we move back and forth from immediacy to distance? Do both co-exist somehow (but how can they do this, if self-consciousness is corrosive of naive faith)? These are questions one would like to be able to ask, and perhaps even to answer.

My own readings of individual texts (couched in terms of what "we" discover as we read this or that novel) have tended to suggest that readers are anything but naive, and in their intricacy run the danger of losing a sense of the power of fiction to take over our imaginations. I wish I could devise a way of preserving a sense of that power without associating it with the simple beliefs of a credulous audience about reality and what is true. One solution to this problem may reside in notions of play. In this suggestion, Rabinowitz has probably as usual got there before me, though I'd hold out for a difference between "playing" and "pretending to play a role," which is what Rabinowitz says we do when we join the narrative audience. Have you noticed how often, when people talk about a certain kind of fictional vividness, they bring up children? (6) It is, to be sure, quite difficult to capture just what it is that children are doing when they engage in imaginative play. To raise only one complication, I can remember myself as a self-aware, "sentimental" child, wondering why I couldn't just "play" as I supposed other children did. Instead, I sometimes sat around thinking about things in a way that separated me from the immediacy of the playground. So perhaps not even children enjoy the credulity of childhood? (Or is it modern children? or children destined to become English professors?) In one of Booth's last books, to which I will turn at the end of this essay, he reports that his twelve-year-old granddaughter once informed him, with affectionate reproof and a certain amusement, that he was always "thinking, thinking, thinking" (120). Does this mean that his granddaughter was "never, never, never" thinking? Or does it suggest that the young know when to stop?

I'm pretty well persuaded, in any event, that one thing young children are not normally doing is mistaking the objects and protocols involved in their play for reality. When children--at least my own children and those of my friends--begin to believe that people in the world of their imaginations can impinge upon the world of their everyday life, they can find this exciting. But if it goes too far, it becomes disturbing, something they need to be reassured against. I would argue that the reality of children's play arises from taking the rules of the imaginative game with powerful, detailed seriousness. (Some of the more unsettling implications of this are explored in the brilliant story "Bang, Bang, You're Dead," by Muriel Spark.) For this to happen, children need to anchor those rules, either directly or by analogy, in the learned rules that allow them to negotiate their everyday world. That's where the link between imaginative worlds and the real world comes in--not in any belief that the imaginative world is real or true in a way that would usurp the reality of the quotidian world. (Or so I would like to think, since my own theory of literary realism stresses precisely such issues, and eschews the notion that realist fiction supposes that it is somehow represents the real world "directly.") The question then arises-does the intensity of children's games depend on their maintaining only a tacit or implicit sense of how the rules work (and how they diverge from those of the real world)? Or is the reality of their experience (that is, its intense selective focus) the result of a conscious desire to make the imaginative world real, which might nonetheless take account of its factitiousness?

The latter model promises a way past the naive/sentimental problem. I find this promise appealing, but am made uneasy by the way in which play is imagined by a formidable thinker who has explored it as a fundamental aspect of our life in history--Hans Georg Gadamer. For Gadamer, when you enter into the world of play, there is no outside. He points out, I think truly, that the opposite of a state of play is not a state of seriousness; play can be very serious indeed. The significant opposition, according to Gadamer, lies between entering in to play and refusing to enter in. But that suggests that you're either outside the ritual of play, or inside; you cannot be in both places at once. From outside, it may be hard to tell the dancer from the dance (Gadamer speaks in terms both dancing and of singing); from inside, the question simply doesn't arise (or is ecstatically resolved). This line of thought resonates with Gadamer's conceptualization of our place in history and tradition, which creates a horizon for us we rely upon but can never bring to full consciousness. (7) I believe that Gadamer is right about the power of tradition, but I am uneasy with the idea that the cultural horizon it creates must remain inaccessible; if this is true, it is a dangerous truth that requires mitigation. In the present context, one might say that the idea of a tradition that makes those who participate in it is not unlike the idea of an author who makes his readers.

I want to close this part of the discussion by probing one way of describing the effect powerful fiction can have on readers--the notion that fiction is something you can lose yourself in. The phenomenon of losing oneself is actually quite common; it arises from participating in skill-based activities of all sorts. One can lose oneself in reading non-fiction as well as fiction, or for that matter in wrestling with a problem in mathematics (for some of us, including the writer of these words, the loss there would be pretty complete), or even in driving a car. (8) A large number of activities (particularly those that are rule-based and involve repetition) can cause us to exclude various kinds of normal perceptions from our awareness, and thus to lose ourselves. Sometimes intensity of experience is involved, sometimes not. We could say that, when we go on "automatic pilot" (as we drive a car, for instance), we lose ourselves while doing something, but in situations involving intense interest, we lose ourselves in doing something. (9) Losing oneself while performing an activity involves a loss of focus. Losing oneself in an activity involves selective and peremptory focus.

When intensity enters in and we lose ourselves in an imaginative world, I would argue that the mainspring is desire. We are sitting in a railway station (the example dates the writer, but also introduces the realm of memory, where fiction belongs), waiting for someone who is due to arrive, we hope for reasons of passion. We imagine her as she steps off the train, the moments that follow, the drive home, and so on. No doubt we imagine the hoped-for events in real-world surroundings, but it seems doubtful that the intensity of our imaginings results from our entering into a state in which we credulously believe that what we imagine is real. Instead, we try to make our imaginings real (that is, intense and compelling) because we care about the outcome. To be sure, part of the process of making them real is imagining them in a real setting (that is, a world that is minutely and concretely specified according to the rules appropriate to the kind of imaginative experience we seek to realize--in this case, a world that is based on the same rules as the one we experience in everyday life). But in doing so, we make the world we imagine real because of our desire for intensity: the intensity doesn't arise from assumptions about truth and reality (though once we have made the world seem real, its reality may have a recursively heightening effect on the intensity of the experience).

Such considerations suggest that Henry James was correct in placing his stress on an artful making of readers into interested parties who are willing to do their share in creating fictions, as he does in the passage Booth echoes when he brings up the issue of the making of readers in The Rhetoric of Fiction. (10) When we become sufficiently "interested" in imaginative situations of greater ethical complexity than the daydream imagined above, we embrace and help to create a densely specific texture of experience. As we learn to work in and with that texture, we can find ourselves (as Booth would have it) "moving into a new order of perception and experience," precisely because we have helped to create that order. We are both the makers and the made.

I have suggested that one reason why Booth, as he looked back on The Rhetoric of Fiction, may have embraced the category of the credulous listener is that it provides a way of registering the potentially invasive power of fiction, but at the same time limits that power by assigning it to only one of the possible audiences a reader might join. I now turn to a different way in which Booth's work after The Rhetoric of Fiction moved on to explore the power relations between authors and readers. This involved his discovery of Bakhtin.

In his introduction to Bakhtin's book on Dostoevsky, Booth remarks that in The Rhetoric of Fiction part of his motivation for arguing against an unthinking acceptance of "objective" narration was "to defend certain open forms of control, as one legitimate expression of the author's voice," but that Bakhtin's conception of the dialogic promises to make such control both undesirable and unnecessary (xxiv). That Bakhtinian dialogue would appeal to Booth is unsurprising on a number of counts. What is a bit surprising is what Booth seizes upon in Bakhtin's shifting complex of ideas about the dialogic. One might have guessed that Booth would follow the lead of the Bakhtin of "Discourse in the Novel" (an essay Booth refers to in the Afterword to The Rhetoric of Fiction), by stressing the possibility of a dialogue between reader and author that passes, so to speak, through the book. According to this line of thinking, what Bakhtin had described in the Dostoevsky book as the "monolithically monological" (56) world of Tolstoy's fiction can become part of a larger dialogue, with Tolstoy using his monological narration as a way of "polemically invading the reader's belief and evaluative system, striving to stun and destroy the apperceptive background of the reader's active understanding" ("Discourse" 283). This would seem to assort reasonably well with the goal of making readers "see what they have never seen before." It also describes what looks like an attempt at the use of force by Tolstoy--but one that, just because it's so openly forceful, we can imagine ourselves resisting. But this kind of dialogue isn't what Booth seizes upon in Bakhtin. For Booth, as for Bakhtin himself in the Dostoevsky book for which Booth wrote his preface, dialogue occurs within the text of the novel; it's a matter of refusing to create a narrative presence who provides a univalent answer to complex human problems. Making the reader seems to be ruled out by definition here, but is it? The passion with which this sort of openness is claimed to be superior to all other ways of narrating fiction raises suspicions that a certain didactic force hasn't quite disappeared after all. Perhaps we could say that authors are still making readers, though now they are making them (or is it forcing them?) open to dialogue.

There's much that is winning about the notion of pluralistic dialogue that appears in various guises in Booth's work--among other things, a craggy decency that demands the best by way of argument and human imagination from itself and from you. This honest, open, intellectually demanding talk with his own readers is evident everywhere in Booth's writing, and its virtues are great (and uncommon) enough that one hesitates to carp and criticize. But that's what I feel, in a spirit of dialogue, I must do. Booth's version of Bakhtinian dialogue seems to me in the end to be simply too open; it is too free and maybe even too easy. (One thing we are in danger of losing in this sort of dialogue is a way of registering the power of art altogether.) To be sure, at the bottom of much of what Bakhtin is doing lies a wish to preserve the possibility of human freedom and the integrity of the individual. In the layers of meaning sedimented in language, there are possibilities waiting to be ignited into human significance, human experiences waiting to be retrieved and transfigured--possibilities that are definitively not organized in advance by power, whether concentrated or dispersed. Yet all of this has social and historical dimensions, and one must remember that sedimentation isn't free-floating sand. Booth's account of Bakhtin tries to take on board the social without the historical. Booth himself admits to being somewhat at a loss about what to do with Bakhtin's insistence on the importance of cultural and intellectual milieux as they inform works of art, and this, in my view, is only the tip of the iceberg (xxvi). All of this leads me to conclude that the deepest problem with the idea that the author or the text makes the reader may be not that it suggests that coercion is present, but that it locates the coercion in the wrong place--in a relationship between individuals that doesn't exist in history. (11) A Gadamerian reminder that, whatever the quality of our dialogue might be, we all operate within a culturally and historically given horizon of conceptual and imaginative possibility might be helpful here. Perhaps a better way of thinking about fiction and coercion might be that author and reader are engaged in a dialogue which involves fictive elements both agree to play with together, and which promises to allow the emergence of moments of lucidity about the larger social and historical forces that are necessarily and inescapably at work constraining the sense of human possibility normally available to us. Which, in the end, may bring us back to Booth's wish for a world in which authors and readers become worthy peers.


My discussion began with the closing sentences of Wayne Booth's first book. As a coda and finale, I now turn to a late work, For the Love of It: Amateuring and Its Rivals. Both works imagine salvation through art. Where The Rhetoric of Fiction concludes with a suggestion that authors have the power to make readers who are worthy peers, For The Love of It leaves us with an affirmation that "the history of cultures shows that the lives of all but the literally starving can be at least partly redeemed by the song of the amateur" (209). I have argued that a powerful sense of the intensity of esthetic experience underlies Booth's wish in The Rhetoric of Fiction that authors make their readers. The belief in the power of esthetic experience that pervades For the Love of It is striking, and it raises similar issues--issues involving artistic power and responsibility, the possibility of dialogue, and the place of art in society and in history. For the Love of It is a book about playing the cello that raises life and death issues. In what follows, I won't attempt to take on the book as a whole; instead, I will suggest that it continues, in a powerfully utopian mode (and for me, "utopian" is an honorific term), to imagine ways in which readers can be made, well or badly.

To begin with, Booth's loving evocation of cello playing provides a powerful alternative vision to a pedagogy in which readers are made by authors. Booth celebrates teachers who don't so much make their students into worthy cellists as invite them to dance the music with them. He reprobates teachers who involve their students in endless drills. The best learning dispenses with teachers: it occurs as friends play together and learn from one another. I have suggested that behind Booth's worries about how well or badly an author makes the reader lies his vivid sense of the power of art to take readers over, shaping them in and beyond the esthetic moment. This potentiality, which in The Rhetoric of Fiction had been a mixed blessing, becomes purely positive in the playing of chamber music as Booth describes it. Esthetic intensity triumphs. Individual amateur musicians are led by the power of musical communion to transcend themselves as players and as human beings: they begin to produce results they couldn't have imagined themselves capable of, and they find themselves in tears. Fears about less savory but no less intense pleasures are projected elsewhere--into discussions of sadism (53-54) and the worship of mere success (174-76)--but never arise in the sphere of amateur chamber music, which is communal, not individual. It's made quite clear that those (such as the writer of these words) who play a solo instrument in privacy are missing something central about music and about life. Why is this so? Why can't amateur solo playing be just as sublime? The answer involves the power of dialogue. Playing chamber music creates a situation in which a group of formal equals (each plays a vital part, though some play more skillfully than others) collaborate in making the music, the composer, and each other, live to the full. It would be hard to imagine a more attractive account of collaborative dialogue among those whom service to art places on an equal footing, whatever their disparities in talent and training. Yet we note that the powerful dialogue Booth celebrates has a tendency to leave the social world of flesh-and-blood collaborators behind and rise to a realm of transcendent spirituality. At this point we may wonder a bit about the dialogue of Bakhtin and indeed about notions of cultural sedimentation or Gadamerian tradition. Do they, too, become, after a certain point and despite all their insistence on the historicity of our existence, esthetic artifacts that ineluctably lead (as John Bunyan would have it) beyond Vanity Fair and "out of this world"? Would that be a bad thing?

Let's return to the world, or at least the world of this essay. Does Booth's evocation of musical dialogue solve the problems that I have suggested lie in his earlier interpretation of Bakhtin? Does it provide an answer to what I take to be Booth's earlier individualistic avoidance of the historical contexts and subtexts that are so richly present in Bakhtin, not to mention Gadamer? I think the record is improved, but remains mixed. To his credit, Booth courageously raises in pointed and explicit terms the objections that inescapably arise when one views elitist culture and the individual bliss and transcendence it can offer against the framework of a world full of injustice and suffering. The statement I quoted from the end of For the Love of It keeps such considerations in view, with its brave assertion that "the lives of all but the literally starving can be at least partly redeemed by the song of the amateur." This is a confession of faith I respect--particularly in its tentativeness--and in fact share. I must admit, though, to a certain disappointment in the way that Booth raises such issues in other parts of the book, only to veer away from them. I don't think he begins to register in an adequate way the problems raised by the disparity of resources available to people in the world today. Though one must respect his humility and honesty, what finally is one to make of an author who, after asking the question "Shouldn't every amateur like me be forced to work for a full day at least once a year as a manual laborer in subzero or 100-degree weather?" gives the following answer: "If any reader has satisfactory answers to such questions, please let me know" (97)? My disappointment at such moments (the question posed seems hardly less unsatisfactory than the answer, and the evident irony here doesn't help, at least not enough) is probably unfair. Indeed, I suspect that in the end it's a token of profound respect, a testimonial, really. These are all but insoluble problems, but I nonetheless expect him to solve them, since he is, after all, Wayne Booth.

For the Love of It may not provide us with a theodicy or a means of redeeming history, but its vision of how a group of amateurs--lovers of an art--can join to make themselves and each other worthy peers is very attractive. It evokes, I suppose, not Jane Austen making us as individuals, but a seminar or reading group attempting to achieve a level of discourse that would be worthy of the potentialities her art opens up for us. It also contains a chapter that goes a long way toward capturing a sense of the power of cultural tradition ("sedimentation," if you like) that I miss in Booth's account of Bakhtin. This is the chapter in which Booth describes chamber music and his own involvement in it, not as an achievement, but as a "gift" It's a chapter I wish many of our powerful contemporaries would read, especially those who live in a country where the prevailing assumption seems to be that all human beings are self created and therefore have earned everything they possess. Booth, by contrast, reminds us that though he paid for it, his cello was nonetheless a gift to him. The skills required to craft it descended to the man who made it: coming from a source that must ultimately elude payment, they were a gift to the maker, and he passed that gift on to Booth. In a similar way, what a group of chamber music players produce is more than the sum of the parts, precisely because they constantly give one another gifts of inspiration that arise from the skills tradition has passed on to them. Finally, the music they play is itself a gift from the composer, to whom each performance returns the gift of new life. A recognition of these rich and varied modes of gift-giving does not exactly solve the power problems with which we began; it is another utopian vision of a solution. It is nonetheless heartening and enriching, not least in reminding us of how much that is positive can flow from a culture to individuals and back again. This reminder is one of the gifts we have received from Wayne Booth, gifts that began for many of us with the heightened sense we gained, years ago now, of how richly fiction can speak to us, as we first read the pages of The Rhetoric of Fiction. (12)


Austin, J. L. Sense and Sensibilia. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1962.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. "Discourse in the Novel" (1934-35). In The Dialogic Imagination, translated by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, 259-422. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1981.

Booth, Wayne C. The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1988.

--. For the Love of It: Amateuring and Its Rivals. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1999.

--. "Introduction" to Mikhail Bakhtin. In Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, edited and translated by Caryl Emerson, xiii-xxvii. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1984.

--. The Rhetoric of Fiction. 2nd Edition. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1983.

Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life, translated by Steven Rendall. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1984.

Fingarette, Herbert. Self-Deception, with a New Chapter. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2000.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. The Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essays, edited by Robert Bernasconi, translated by Nicholas Warner. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986.

Gibbon, Edward. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. edited by J. B. Bury. 7 vols. New York: Limited Editions Club, 1946.

Gombrich, E. H. "Meditations on a Hobby Horse"' In Meditations on a Hobby Horse and Other Essays on the Theory of Art, 1-11. London: Phaidon, 1978.

Holland, Norman. The Dynamics of Literary Response. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1968.

James, Henry. "The Novels of George Eliot" [1866]. Reprinted in Henry James. Literary Criticism: Essays on Literature, American Writers, English Writers, 912-33. New York: The Library of America, 1984.

--. "Nassau W. Senior" [1864]. Reprinted in Henry, James. Literary Criticism: Essays on Literature, American Writers. English Writers, 1196-1204. New York: The Library of America, 1984.

Rabinowitz, Peter J. Before Reading: Narrative Conventions and the Politics of Interpretation. Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1998.

Radway, Janice. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1991.

Sacks, Mark. The World We Found: The Limits of Ontological Talk. London: Duckworth, 1989.

Shaw, Harry E. Narrating Realio; Austen, Scott, Eliot. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1999.

Walton, Kendall L. Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1990.


(1.) Before he transforms the "narrative audience" into the "credulous listener," Booth suggests that "as the actual listener or viewer, capable of joining an unlimited number of authorial audiences, I am 'made' to join the ones that are postulated by this particular story--to join them, as we might say, really and not just in pretence; but as a member of the narrative audience, I pretend to go much further and may even weep tears that I know to be 'false' even though they are physically real." He then refers to a "tension between belief systems (a tension ordinarily not brought into consciousness)" involved in belonging to these various audiences, suggesting that this tension is "'the essential mark of the domains of fiction" (424). One of my purposes is to deny that it is useful to call the tears we may produce in such a situation "false" (with or without the scare quotes), precisely because a conflict between "belief systems" is not what is at issue at this level of the experience of fiction.

(2.) The forces of coercion that in fact interest Rabinowitz seem to exist on a social and ideological plane, not on the plane of what individual authors consciously do. A major purpose of his book is to remind readers that they are, whether they realize it or not, subject to the influence of ideological "reading strategies that their society has taught them and reaffirmed in them before they begin the book" (207-8).

(3.) Among its more general virtues, thinking in terms of a multiplicity of audience positions might be of assistance in registering the crucial fact that the ideological force of any work depends in part on how it articulates with a specific ideological context, one that is likely to involve dimensions of history, class, gender, and race.

(4.) Partly, my uneasiness arises from my work on fictional realism. The "credulous listener" seems to me suspiciously like a figure I have elsewhere characterized as the "dumb" reader, a reader who is supposedly taken in by a realism that thinks of itself as giving a transparent view of an entirely available and unproblematic external reality. (There are nearly as many mistakes as words in the formulation I've just ventriloquized, but this isn't the time and place to identify them.) Once you let somebody start talking that way, they'll take you (and realism) to the cleaners.

(5.) "The immortality so vainly promised by the priests was, in some degree, conferred by the bards. That singular order of men has most deservedly attracted the notice of all who have attempted to investigate the antiquities of the Celts, the Scandinavians, and the Germans. Their genius and character, as well as the reverence paid to that important office, have been sufficiently illustrated. But we cannot so easily express, or even conceive, the enthusiasm of arms and glory which they kindled in the breast of their audience. Among a polished people, a taste for poetry is rather an amusement of the fancy than a passion of the soul. And yet, when in calm retirement we peruse the combats described by Homer or Tasso, we are insensibly seduced by the fiction, and feel a momentary glow of martial ardour. But how faint, how cold is the sensation which a peaceful mind can receive from solitary study! It was in the hour of battle, or in the feast of victory, that the bards celebrated the glory of heroes of ancient days, the ancestors of those warlike chieftains who listened with transport to their artless but animated strains. The view of arms and of danger heightened the effect of the military song; and the passions which it tended to excite, the desire of fame and the contempt of death, were the habitual sentiments of a Germanic mind." A footnote adds that similar feelings were produced by the singers in the Phaeacian court and in Sparta, because "similar manners will naturally be produced by similar situations" (I, 181).

(6.) Gombrich and Walton provide two distinguished examples.

(7.) It is also doubled by Gadamer's assertion that, if you go to the opera to hear Callas (not Donizetti or Puccini), your interest has nothing to do with the essence of art, but instead must involve "a secondary level of reflection" (52). On one level one can understand and agree with this. Gadamer, however, does not mention the possibility that we might feel our way through the appreciation of the distinctive art of Callas to a deeper and more responsive experience of the opera she is singing.

(8.) Car examples can become quite complex. Herbert Fingarette uses the experience of driving back and forth to work as an example of an action we can perform without being aware that we are performing it: he's interested in the fact that when we get home, we may fail to recall the experience of driving there (167). Such a situation may leave room for us to have thought about other things entirely. Here we seem to lose our experience while keeping ourselves. But it can also be the case that the driving is just demanding enough that it takes us out of our normal mode of attention to the world without allowing anything else to supervene. We are in a "car" reality. For an intriguing take on what we might call "transportation experience" and its difference from the complex, multivalent ways in which we negotiate everyday life, see de Certeau (111-14).

(9.) I owe this formulation to Jim Phelan. He suggests, rightly I think, that Booth's concept of "coduction" (The Company We Keep, 70-75) would be less subject to the reservations I express below about Booth's version of Bakhtinian dialogism.

(10.) Booth's assertion that the author "makes" readers is an explicit echo of a passage from one of Henry James's essays on George Eliot, quoted in part by Booth in The Rhetoric of Fiction (49-50, 302), which runs in full as follows: "In every novel the work is divided between the writer and the reader; but the writer makes the reader very much as he makes his characters. When he makes him ill, that is, makes him indifferent, he does no work; the writer does all. When he makes him well, that is, makes him interested, then the reader does quite half the labor. In making such a deduction as I have just indicated, the reader would be doing but his share of the task; the grand point is to get him to make it. I hold that there is a way. It is perhaps a secret; but until it is found out, I think that the art of storytelling cannot be said to have approached perfection" (922). What Booth makes of this passage is revealing and a bit surprising, but I lack space to delve into its complexities here.

(11.) In discussing Bakhtin in The Company We Keep, Booth does bring into the picture issues of history and of power, but not in a way that alters his view of the nature of Bakhtinian dialogue. Dialogue in The Company We Keep means, within a work, the author's losing himself or herself in the characters (along the lines of Bakhtin's description of what happens in Dostoevsky). On a more general level, dialogue involves the interaction between the "author as friend" and the reader that is Booth's central trope in The Company We Keep.

(12.) It is a pleasure to acknowledge the acute, helpful readings of this essay provided by Peter Rabinowitz and James Phelan.

Harry E. Shaw is Professor of English at Cornell University, where he is currently serving a term as Senior Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. His most recent book. Narrating Reality: Austen. Eliot. Scott (1999), was reissued in paper in 2004. He is currently completing a book on nineteenth-century fiction for students and teachers with Alison Case.
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Title Annotation:narratives
Author:Shaw, Harry E.
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Date:May 1, 2007
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