1.7.  Narrative, Pragmatics, Fiction


Pragmatics of literature

The structure of a discursive act

Pragmatics of writing

Pragmatics of fiction

Illocutionary primitives and derived illocutions

Literature as a pragmatic category

Non-rigid conventions



Pragmatics of literature


A locutionary act is a speech act considered from the point of view of classical linguistics: as an abstract phrase consisting of a form and a meaning, devoid of context (or rather with an in-built conventional context) and considered in its morphological, syntactic or semantic aspects.  Let us picture a sheriff telling a desperado in the town saloon, "It was a mistake to cross the Mississippi, Flanagan."  From the locutionary point of view, the sheriff is uttering a sequence of sounds which according to the phonological, syntactic and semantic rules of English, convey to Flanagan an assertive  proposition, namely that it was a mistake to cross the Mississippi.  But when a locution is uttered in a particular speech situation, it becomes an illocution, a communicative act of some kind whereby a social interaction is established between the speaker and the addressee (an affirmation, an order, a promise).   In our example, in spite of the assertive proposition, Flanagan will probably interpret that the sheriff is warning or threatening him (and he will interpret that the sheriff intends him to interpret his words in that sense).  Uttering the assertive proposition "It was a mistake to cross the Mississippi, Flanagan" is a locutionary act, but not the complete speech act.  The speech act needs to be implemented as an illocutionary act, in this case as a warning.  In order to occur, an illocutionary act must be identified as such by the hearer.  Now Flanagan, once he has identified the warning as such,  might react in a number of different ways: he might try to ward it off making friends with the sheriff, or he might look askance to his six-shooter, thereby emitting (though not uttering) a non-verbal illocution, another threat.   Any of these reactions, any of the effects the illocution has on the hearer, is a perlocution.  A perlocution or perlocutionary act is the non-conventionalized effect the illocutionary act provokes on the hearer.  Recognizing that a threat is a threat is an illocutionary maneuver; the fear or laughter which may result from the threat are perlocutionary effects.

            At the illocutionary level, language is studied as a form of action, of socially relevant performance.  In order to communicate at all, speakers must share mutual contextual beliefs, that is, a reasonable degree of common assumptions as to the world in which they communicate and the direction of the talk-exchange, as well as tacitly agreed strategies of communicative behaviour.  These are described by linguists as sets of principles and maxims: the communicative presumption,  the cooperative principle,  the polineness principle,  the irony principle, etc.[1]  If there is fundamental disagreement between the speakers at this level, the speech act will probably be infelicitous.

            A felicitous illocution is described by Austin as the intentional recognition of an intention to communicate.  That is, an illocution must secure its uptake  in order to take place at all (Austin 1980: 117).  The speaker succeeds in making the hearer recognize the speaker's intention to make him recognize the illocutionary act he is performing.  If I promise something, my addressee will not only understand the semantics of the sentence, but also my intention to make a promise, which involves my intention of making him aware that I intend to make a promise.  As we shall see later, the notion of uptake needs to be modified in the description of much linguistic activity: not all speech acts are as heavily conventionalized as Austin's performative models, and they often do not require such a degree of rational intention in order to be effective.  But the notion of uptake is nonetheless useful in the description of many of these acts as a virtual and regulative mechanism. 

            According to Austin, a classification of illocutionary speech acts would start with a basic differentiation between constative  utterances ‹statements which describe the world‹ and performative  utterances ‹utterances which at once describe and contribute to perform an action.  As such, none of these categories is adequate to describe narration.  Simple, true narration of real facts would seem to be a succession of constative speech acts which describe a state of affairs as a temporal sequence.  Austin, though, does not pursue this matter further, though he reaches a conclusion we should keep in mind, namely, that all utterances have a constative and a performative value: any speech act is a social action embodied in speech. 

            An adequate pragmatics of literature must be able to deal with the effective use of language (Saussurean "parole"), and do so with actual discourse, that is, with textual units larger than the sentence. Austin and Searle study speech acts in a very abstract and simplified way, as if they always consisted of one-sentence utterances occurring in conventional contexts.  But in fact speech acts occur only in discursive activity.  What we might call primitive speech acts are linked, combined and transformed as they are used in wider units of social interaction.  These units can be called discourses, discourse acts or discursive activities.  A piece of discourse can often be described as a macro-speech act,   a wide-ranging speech act to which the micro-speech acts occurring at sentence level are subordintated.  Micro-speech acts are therefore instrumental in the configuration of macro-speech acts or discursive acts, which in turn are determined by the structure of social relationships: for instance, it is not unusual to find many statements, apologies and promises surrounding the basic framework of a request: the basis for the request is of course the social identity of the speakers, what they want, what they have, what they believe and what they are, ranging from their individual selves to their social or professional roles.

             A literary work cannot be studied adequately within the bounds of the monopropositional speech acts studied in the early pragmatic theories of Austin and Searle.  Since then, there have been some contributions towards a pragmatics of literature, though work still remains to be done in this area.[2]  From a pragmatic viewpoint, literature can be regarded as a specific speech situation, a specific communicative context.[3]

            Linguistic (including literary) narrative is one variety of discursive act.  If we adhere to our theory that simple or primitive speech acts can generate more complex acts of discourse or macro-speech acts through structured addition, we could say that narrative is a discourse act derived from the simple statement, affirmation or telling of a fact.   Other kinds of narration can be thought to derive logically  from this basic type of narration.  For instance, fictional narration, which is so important in literature, would result from a double structuration according to the principles of narrative and those of the fictive speech acts.  Fiction is a speech act in its own right, a basic "language game."[4]  More specific varieties of narrative speech acts or particular kinds of fiction (e.g. acting, reciting a monologue, narrating a tale)  could be established according to the needs of the classification. 


            In studying the pragmatics of a literary work, we study the discursive use of that work, its nature as a sign which is used.  In the case of fictional narrative, we must distinguish carefully between the narrative act of a fictional narrator, a fictional speech act which is a part of the text, and the author's narrative act, a real speech act within a well-defined communicative situation (literary production and reception).  A fictional narrator's activity produces discourse only fictionally; the author's activity, writing, is a real production of discourse, of the text we read.  A textual structure can be studied in a relatively abstract way, in the void, so to speak, but an adequate method will study the text as discourse, the text as it is used in a specific communicative situation.[5]  For contemporary discourse analysts, the basic unit of linguistic communication is no longer the text understood as an abstract system of suprasentential relationships, but rather the utterance of a text in a specific situation: the discursive act. The expression "the institution of literature" can be used to refer to a family of discursive ways of using texts.  Speech act theorists have identified such individual speech acts as "promising", "asserting", etc.  Is there such thing as a "literary speech act"?  Early speech act theories find some problems in dealing with literature, and they describe it as a "non-serious" or parasitic use of language.[6]  This is due to the need of explaining literature as a complex, overdetermined phenomenon.




The structure of a discursive act


An act of discourse can usually be analyzed as the performance of a macro-speech act (which may be explicitly present or represented by the analyst) which structurally governs the performance of individual micro-speech acts.  For instance, a macro-speech act such as requesting information  may include statements, questions, promises, etc. which are subordinated to the main interactive move between the speakers. 

            Macro-speech acts may be derived from primitive or microstructural speech acts.  We can summarise a macro-speech act with a micro-speech act, just as we can summarise a novel in one sentence.  Such summaries involve of course an interpretation. 

            But there is not a clearly defined two-level structure in discourse, including two separate groups of macro-speech acts and micro-speech acts.  Not all macro-speech acts can be derived directly from micro-speech acts.  Some of them need to be derived from more basic or primitive macro-speech acts.  For instance, if we want to describe the speech act involved in producing narrative fiction, we need not only the primitive micro-speech act "to state" but also the derived macro-speech act "to narrate", which is more complex than "to state" and more simple than "to produce narrative fiction".  

            In order to study the pragmatics of written narrative fiction, it will be useful to analyse the constituents which converge into this act of discourse.  "Literary" does not equal "fictional," neither implies  "narrative" nor "written" or "mass circulated".  All of these distinctions are pragmatically relevant and have a specificity of their own in the sense that they may be present in phenomena other than novels or short stories.




Pragmatics of writing


Writing has usually been considered as parasitic upon speech.[7]  There are, nonetheless, many traits which characterize written discourse as an autonoumous mode of communication which, while partially coding spoken language, submits it to a new system of semiotic constraints.  What is, then, so peculiar to writing as a mode of communication?  There are several peculiarities to writing as a communicative act.  We shall here take as our basic model of reference literary writing.  Taking letter-writing as a model would entail some modifications in our definition. 

            The most salient characteristic of written communication is that the participants engage with each other indirectly, through the mediation of a written text.  The paralinguistic elements in face-to-face communication are therefore replaced by another set of paralinguistic elements.  Absence brings about the impossibility of interaction.  Of course all communication is interactive to a point, but the dynamic interaction which results in replies, questions, clarification of what has just been said, etc., is missing in written communication.  The relevant discourse model or domain of reference must therefore be inferred by the receiver, and if there are doubts about relevance or meaning they must be solved hermeneutically, since the explicit thematization of these doubts in the speaker's discourse cannot be elicited.[8]

            In actual dialogue, the sender and the receiver may interchange their roles.  We should therefore speak of interlocutors, not simply of a speaker and a hearer.  Of course the possibility of interlocution is not a simple matter of spatio/temporal presence.  It is also determined by the conventions of the speech activity the interlocutors are engaging in, and more widely, of the social and institutional circumstances of discourse.  For instance, in a conversation between equals we follow a series of cues and politeness norms to start or stop speaking.  In a formal lecture, we are expected to wait till the end to ask questions, in the army soldiers are not expected to negotiate the orders they receive, etc. 

            The circumstances of literary reception also depend  two series of factors: the factual absence (total or virtual) of the writer and the institutional conventions which mediate literary reception.  The receiver of written literature initiates a one-directional communicative process. The 'dialogical' side of literature will have to be defined otherwise than on the basis of actual interaction. 

            Of course there are other models of written communication where a measure of interaction is allowed.  Written interaction is the essence of letter-writing, and even in the domain of literature living authors comment on reactions to their works and talk to some of their readers.  Small cliques (lovers, Renaissance courtiers, literary circles, etc.) produce written literary discourse while counting on the author's presence. The differences with the case of mass literature, nevertheless, are clear.   No immediate interaction is possible in each instance of mass reception.  The crucial interactive moment of a new literary is displaced to the negotiation between writers and publishers.[9]  Sales figures of course also have a communicative value, as do public indifference and unsold copies. In all these instances of interaction, however, the written text is usually left unaltered by subsequent interaction,  and can be read again since it remains fixed.  We shall deal below with the significance of rereading as a peculiar mode of interaction in the case of literature.

            And this leads us to another major difference between speech and writing: speech is instantaneous, while writing endures.  Written discourse involves, like spoken language, a sequence or process, but it also exists as a material object, a set of spatial relationships.  The temporal dimension of the text is mapped onto its spatial structure. 

            Writing is therefore not merely "saying things" but also "making things."  Pragmatics defines speech activity as "doing things with words," and all language is indeed a form of action.  But this is emphasized in writing, in "making things with words."

            A written text is therefore a text which can is also an object.  Some texts are destined to just one instance of language interactions.  Others are display texts,[10]  they address not just one specific hearer or situation, but a whole range of hearers.  Such display texts must therefore define their context to some degree; they must stake out the communicative situation in which they are relevant.  Display texts may be quite elaborate pieces of discourse which carry their own context to the extent that they are repeatable in a variety of different contexts.  What these texts display is an utterance which has been fixed for some reason: its relevance, utility, or intrinsic value (literature). 

            It is easy to see that altough the categories of 'written texts' and of 'display texts' do not coincide, it is only logical that many exhibition texts take the form of writing.  Until a century ago, memory and writing were in fact the only ways of fixing a text for exhibition, while nowadays the recording or broadcasting of spoken language stands somewhere between conversational speech and writing.  Display texts make use of the independence from context which is easily given to written language; a written text is usually less tied to its specific context of production than an oral one.[11] 

            The body of the text is a kind of metaphorical prolongation of our physical existence.  It is as if our language, which manifests our interiority, our "soul", had been given the immortal form which our body cannot achieve.  Writing has therefore since Horace been recommended as a remedy to dissolution, and this pragmatic circumstance of written communication has often been thematized in literature, from Horace's exegi monumentum aere perennius  to Shakespeare's "black ink" immortalizing his lover. 

            The sender of literature is then typically absent from the receiver, except insofar as he manifests himself in his work.  Contrary to spoken language, the speaker ceases being the cause of an evanescent discourse, and becomes instead an emanation or consequence inferred from the text.  We shall call the textual author  this image of the author which is, so to speak, coded in the text.  As readers, we know a textual author's style or beliefs, and also his values, judgements or implied attitudes.   

            We can speak of a textual author in any instance of written discourse.  Nevertheless, different discourses bring different conventions.  In official documents, the textual author is not so much the person who has produced document as that person's official capacity, that is, an abstraction, a more or less impersonal subject constructed for specific institutional needs.  A speaker may speak therefore as a political agent, or as a collective subject, as a representative, as performing a role, etc.  Literature, on the other hand, implicates individual personality and creativity in a much more inclusive way (although it is arguable whether that implication can be complete).  

            Dominant pragmatic models have traditionally been based on verbal interaction, not on writing. Let us take, for instance, Grice's Cooperative Principle of speech behaviour, formulated as the following implied maxim:

Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk-exchange in which you are engaged. (Grice 1989: 26)

It is easy to see that in the case of written language the "accepted purpose" of the "talk-exchange" becomes a matter of generic conventions.  A piece of writing must be sufficiently clear for us to make sense of what generic context it belongs to‹whether it is a legal text, an instruction manual, a poem.  We may of course play with these conventions, e. g. devising far-fetched motivations for a novel: giving it the shape of a legal document or a cookery book.  But play presupposes a relatively organized system which provides the materials and the conventions which are to be creatively disrupted.



Pragmatics of fiction


Fiction is fascinating for the student of language.  It is more complex than plain truth, more complex than lies.  It seems to combine these two potentialities of language, telling the truth and telling lies, into something which transcends both.  Gorgias defined poetic fiction as a kind of lie in which those who let themselves be deceived are wiser than those who do not believe it.  Plato dismissed it as useless and potentially immoral.  Later, Augustine[12] carefully distinguished between a lie and a fictional statement because of the different communicative intent: there is no deception in the use of fiction.  In our own century, philosophers of language have occasionally noted that fiction is a distinct speech act.[13]

            Philosophical reflection about fiction is almost always linked with reflection about literature.  The two are distinct categories, but this common philosophical tradition shows that there are reasons why fictional discourse seems to thrive in the realm of literature.  In his discussion of poetry, Aristotle takes for granted that it is the duty of a poet to produce nonliteral, nonhistorical narratives‹fiction.[14]  Most literary theorists have noted that fiction is a legitimate convention, a kind of linguistic game in which readers participate willingly and co-operate with the author to provisionally suspend the laws of reality.[15]  Coleridge's phrase about "that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith" is perhaps the best-known formulation of this principle‹and one more instance of the way in which the discussion of fictional language always tends to get mixed up with the definition of poetry or literature. 

            Fictional discourse should be derived from factual discourse, which seems to be logically prior.  A fictional statement might be described as a modalized factual statement, the way might be  is a modalization of is:  Aristotle's definition of poetry seems to point this way. Fictional statements have often been defined as a statement which does not fall within the scope of truth values‹a statement to which the true/false dichotomy does not apply, [16] or a "pseudo-statement" with no referential value, which is uttered for the sake of its affective, emotional function.[17]  This description of fiction is not sufficient, since fictional discourse does use truth values and reference‹only the referent is a fictional world.  We could say, then, that fictional discourse is that which refers to purely intentional objects, discourse consisting of "quasi-judgements."[18] But we need more than this: we need an illocutionary characterization of fiction, and one which describes these statements as actually more complex than their factual counterparts.

            Actually, fictional statements are just one kind of non-literal statements.  Other non-literal speech forms include figurative language and virtual forms of discourse (e. g. imagined rather than actual discourse‹whether in factual or fictional narrative).[19]  Lies are literal (though false) statements, and therefore cannot be described as non-literal, though they too are non-factual:




            Factual                                    Non-factual



                                               Literal             Non-literal                                         

                                               Lies                             Fiction

                                                                                   Figurative language

                                                                                   Virtual language


Using figurative language or fictional discourse are distinct types of illocutionary activity.  That is, though although at the semantic level a set of propositions have the same meaning whether they are fictional or factual, they may be used in actual communication to perform different speech acts: to acquaint the hearer with an actual state of affairs or to entertain him with a story. 

            A lie is a speech act which cannot be defined in illocutionary terms, since as far as illocutions are concerned a lie is the same as a true statement: in both cases the speaker asserts something as true and intends the hearer to interpret that the speaker believes it as true.  The additional beliefs or intentions of the hearer fall outside the illocutionary structure, i. e. they do not perform a communicative role‹rather the contrary.  A lie is definable, then, only on the basis of perlocutionary intention.  We achieve an (intended) perlocutionary effect through our illocution, which is defined not as a lie but as a statement.  Fiction cannot be defined, then, as a simple lack of compromise with what is being said on the part of the speaker.[20]  The speaker acquires an illocutionary compromise.  He may not utter his (pseudo) statements as statements, but he acquires the compromise of uttering them as fictional statements. 

            Fiction is then a special case of non-literal language.  In the case of an image, the non-literal element may be a modifier or a phrase; in the case of fiction it is a whole display text.  This text is uttered by the speaker under the presupposition that it will be read as fiction.  The hearer must infer this presupposition, thus sealing the fictional pact.[21]  As we see, this is a variety of the uptake  which characterises any illocutionary act.[22]


            Narrative enunciation in literature may be a quite complex phenomenon.  We must take into account that there are potentially at least three main enunciative levels: that of the author, that of the narrator, and the characters' speeches which are a part of the action.  The reader is working simultaneously with three different interpretive conventions in making sense of this complex system of enunciations. A fictional enunciation of this type is doubled in a way similar to indirect speech acts.  An indirect speech act has a doubled structure in which the performance of the apparent act is a condition for the performance of the indirect act.  In a similar way, the correct identification of the fictional narrator's utterance is a precondition for the uptake of the author's enunciation.  Just as "there is no one-to-one relationship between grammatical structure . . . and illocutionary force"[23], there is no rigid relationship between the fictional narrator's and the author's utterance. 

            The fact that the narrator's and the characters' enunciations are fictional enables the existence of fantastic modes of enunciation: for instance, a character in a fantastic novel might well deliver a speech several pages long in a few seconds of fictional time.  The conventions of fiction may govern and reshape the structure of narrative discourse as well as that of the narrated contents. 

            There are specifically fictional contents, which are made possible by the detachment from referentiality.  Fantasy, as opposed to realism, is one of those specific contents.  Semantic traits which would be contradictory or mutually exclusive in literal discourse can be used in fictional discourse as building blocks for hitherto non-existent meanings.  Even apparently realistic discourse is permeated by its fictional nature: the novel gives us a privileged access to the subjectivity of other people in ways which are, so to speak, "ungrammatical" in nonfictional discourse.


Illocutionary primitives and derived illocutions


We have already introduced the notion of derived illocutions.  A narrative is a textual illocution derived from an illocutionary primitive, the statement.  We can also put it like this:  a narrative is a sequence of statements, and can be summarized in the form of a statement. 

            This is not the only kind of derivation possible.  We can speak here of two relevant directions in derivation.  Following one direction we start from the statement and obtain the narrative sequence.  Following the other, we derive the fictional statement from the factual statement. This is not an altogether novel kind of derivation.  It amounts to an instrumentalization of the factual statement, putting it to a use which is not the primary one.  Such instrumentalizations are inherent to the nature of language.  We can distinguish, for instance, an assertive proposition (a locution) from an an assertion (an illocution).  An assertive proposition might just as well perform a non-assertive illocutionary act (e. g. a request, "I'm cold" = "Please close the window").  In the same way, a factual statement may be used to refer (factually) to an imaginary state of affairs.



Pragmatics of narrative


Narrative is ignored in Austin's classification of speech acts.  Using his terms it would presumably consist in a sequence of expositive speech acts.  From the viewpoint of a discursive pragmatics, narrative is basically an expositive macrostructure, a hierarchical sequence of statements about a sequence of events which represents that sequence from the speaker's stance.

            A narrative can be oral or written; it may, but it need not be, a display text.  Even oral narrative (of anecdotes, for instance) may present some characteristics of the display text: a good anecdote may be told again and again, while its specific verbal form is polished as the teller gauges the effectiveness of different ways of telling it.  Oral storytelling is an ever-present phenomenon in social interaction, but the literary and cultural functions it has in primitive cultures have practically disappeared in modern society: more elaborate forms, like science or literature, have taken the place of oral mythic narratives.  At least since the invention of the printing press, modern narrative (history, biography, fiction, etc.) is a written and mass produced phenomenon.  New technologies (sound recordings, film) have given rise to a second wave of  characteristically twentieth-century display texts.  The circumstances of mass production and other additional interactive rituals of each genre create a number of communicative situations with some general features:

- Narrative is produced by an individual author in the case of literature, and by a collective in the case of film.  Narrative texts are produced with its commercialization and consumption in mind, in the sape of discrete, finished and marketable objects.

- It reaches its audience through the mediation of commercial or cultural insitutions.

- The communicative circuit is closed by the audience.  The receiver can inititate or interrupt the narrative circuit at will, but the insitutional overdetermination of that will should not be disregarded (e.g. the availability of editions or translations, the periodical distribution of films, marketing and publicizing, etc.).            




"Literature" as a pragmatic category


Literature is primarily one way of using texts, and only in the second place a way of writing them.  It is only with a view to a certain use of texts that we can speak of literature as a mode of textual production as well.  A text which was not intended to be "literary" (e. g. Buffon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)  may be read and appreciated as literature, that is, in itself, apart from any immediate practical considerations.  Literature includes both this kind of texts and those texts which were designed from the start to be read for their own sake (fiction, poetry).  One possible definition of literature might be the kind of texts that can be read for their own sake, without any practical considerations.  If this definition holds, we can see that literary texts can exploit to the full the permanence ensured by writing.  Literary texts are the quintessential display texts.

We assume that the literary utterance is expressly designed to be as fully "detachable" as possible, since its success is in part gauged by the breadth of its Audience and since its legitimate addressee is ultimately anyone who can read or hear.  (Pratt 1977: 148)

We have already noted that the conventions of speech are very elastic.  That is, they are not completely predetermined, but are always open to a greater or lesser degree of interaction.  In an abstract consideration, some speech acts can be described as requiring a fixed illocutionary conventionalization (cf. Austin's notion of uptake).  But actually there is a whole gamut of speech activities between the poles of illocutionary and merely locutionary conventionalization.[24]  Even if a notion of the ideal speech act may be active as a regulative principle, very often an utterance is left deliberately open to several developments through subsequent interaction.  Display texts are arguably even more susceptible of being given different usages than is the case for oral utterances.  Put otherwise, some texts are born literary, some achieve literariness, and some have literariness thrust upon them.  They may also have it snatched from them.  Unlike locutionary acts, illocutionary acts are codified socially, and not linguistically.  Beyond the semantic contents of the text, there must exist a social convention of using texts as literature for literature to exist.  Actually, there is a whole array of such conventions, since "liteature" is a notoriously ambivalent term. Texts may be interesting to generations of readers, they may be included in school or university curricula, they may have the status of cultural fetishes, or be mass-produced and marketed for a short period; they may circulate in a whole linguistic community or in several, or be restricted to small circles of connoisseurs; they may be anthologized, receive prizes or be rejected by editors.  All of these are different ways of being "literature". 


            Maxims of communicative cooperation still hold for written communication, but they are defined differently for each written language genre-including each literary genre.  The main maxim guiding the use of literary discourse, as of any other discourse variety, is a pragmatic one: "be effective."  What effectiveness might be is defined differently in each speech context: it is obvious that an effective legal report need not be an effective piece of literature.  Any other aspects of communicative cooperation (such as those identified by Grice, which are modelled on effective transmission of information) will be subordinated to the main maxim of effective speech.   If literature is (among other things) a category of texts which can be read for their own sake, one very important rule which holds in literary production is "be interesting" or "be entertaining", "hold your reader's attention."  In conversational interaction there are "literary" aspects whenever we engage in telling something which is worth telling in itself.  The most typical case is telling an anecdote to a number of hearers, one which is not directly concerned with essential information.  In such cases, the speech situation also takes place under the tacit principle that whatever is told must be tellable.[25] The same principle applies to literature: whatever is published as literature asserts itself as worthy of the reader's attention: the writer is asking the reader to give him the communicative floor by means of the title and the publisher's packaging.  The first evaluation whenever we buy a new novel need not be confidence in the author's work (which we may ignore): it may just as well be the confidence we place on a reviewer or on the publisher.

            Interaction may assume very different forms in different literary genres.  Indeed, this may also be the case within  one genre.  Dickens's novels read differently now, as a finished and consecrated product, than they did to their original audience a century and a half ago, when they were published in the form of monthly or weekly instalments.  The novelist was aware of the reaction of the public and might even give a different turn to the plot when sales lagged (as was the case with Martin Chuzzlewit). 

            The aesthetic element in literature is reinforced by the relative anonymity of the speaker, the relaxation of practical interests in the interaction between speaker and hearer, the gratuitousness of the whole situation.  The word 'aesthetic' is related to the notion of contemplation, and a contemplative attitude involves this lack of immediate practical concerns.[26]



Non-rigid conventions


As Strawson pointed out,[27] not all illocutionary acts are equally conventionalized.  We need to distinguish a scale of degrees of conventionality between the poles of illocutionary conventionalization and of merely locutionary conventionalization. 

            The definition of an illocutionary act presupposes an intention on the part of the speaker and the attitude to that intention on the part of the hearer.  A typical illocutionary act, such as a promise, a question or a statement, takes place when the hearer recognizes the speaker's intention to make him recognize the illocutionary act which he is trying to perform. Illocutionary acts can be performed only on the basis of shared assumptions, of "mutual contextual beliefs" and maxims of linguistic behaviour[28] These are, nevertheless, relatively simple and unproblematic cases.  The simple referential state of affairs presupposed in such speech acts is doubled or problematized when we approach the definition of more complex speech acts such as lies, irony, fiction.  These are of course not the same.  In the case of irony and fiction, a correct uptake of the intended illocutionary force is essential: ironists or novelists do not intend to deceive their audience.  In the case of lies, the speaker's intention to perform, for instance, a statement, is doubled by the intention that his actual intentions or his representation of the real state of affairs are not recognized by the addressee.





Literary study has always been concerned with the perlocutionary effects of texts.  Classical rhetoric defined literary devices with a view to their effect on the hearer, and the emotional or ethical reactions of the audience have always been thought relevant in the study of a work.   Literary criticism has always been an implied pragmatics of literature, at least to the extent that it is concerned with the actual use of texts in the literary speech situation. 



[1]          See Bach and Harnish 1979; Grice 1989; Leech 1983.

[2]          See Pratt 1977; Petrey 1991. 

[3]          Pratt 1977: 86.

[4]          And not an abnormal use of speech, as the theories of Austin and Searle seem to suggest at times. 

[5]          Cf. Ohmann 1971: 245; Schmidt 1977: 51ff; Van Dijk 1972: 3; 1980: 32; Lozano, Peña-Marín and Abril 1982: 37; Segre 1985: 377.

[6]          See e.g. Searle 1980: 65, and Derrida's critique (1988). 

[7]          E.g. Saussure 1949, ch. 6; Ohmann 1971: 248.  For a different view, see Derrida 1967, 1988.

[8]          Cf. Sanford and Garrod 1981: 208.

[9]          See Pratt 1977 for the pragmatic implications of publishing. 

[10]        Pratt's term (1977).  See also Lázaro 1987: 164.

[11]        Segre 1985: 41.

[12]        Augustine, Soliloquia  II, x. 

[13]        Brugmann classifies the "statement about imagined reality" as one of eight basic modes of verbal action (Verschiedenheiten der Satzgestaltung nach Massgabe der seelischen Grundfunktionen,  qtd. in Jespersen 1968: 301).  Wittgenstein mentions literary fictions as one type of "language game" (1958 § 23).  But close attention to this issue is quite recent.

[14]        Poetics  ix, 1451b.

[15]        Cf. Sir Philip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry  124; John Dryden, "A Defence of an Essay on Dramatic Poesy" 89; S. T. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria 168.

[16]        Frege 1984 [1892]: 59.

[17]        Richards 1925.

[18]        Ingarden 1973: 104, 167; Martínez Bonati 1962: 55ff.

[19]        See Bonheim 1982: 34.

[20]        Searle's characterization (1975).

[21]        Cf. Castilla del Pino 1983: 321.

[22]        Austin 1980.

[23]        Lyons 1977: 733.

[24]        Cf. Strawson 1964: 456-7.

[25]        See Pratt 1977: 142; Labov 1972.

[26]        Cf. Escarpit  1971. 

[27]        Strawson 1964: 456-7.  Cf. Hirsch 1976: 67-71.

[28]        See Bach and Harnish 1979; Grice 1989.