3.10. Reception


We have already discussed some of the interpretive activities involved in following a narrative, understood as an action sequence.  Now we have seen that the action sequence is not received as such: it must be constructed by the reader from the story, and this involves a whole additional set of hermeneutic manoeuvres. 

            As readers go along the narrative, they will construct a signified world and an action sequence on the basis of discourse information.  The story structures are decoded by the reader and interpreted in the light of general knowledge schemes (narrative competence, knowledge of social codes, general cognitive frames, etc.) so that the action and the fictional world emerge as phenomenologically different from their representation.  The gradually developing action and the represented world acquire a logic of their own, which in turn is fed back into the reading process and assists the reader in interpreting the story structures.  For instance, a flashback gives us information about a segment of the action we did not know anything about, but it will often be the case that it is the logic of the events in the action which helps us recognize that the flashback is a flashback. Therefore, the reception of story and action is a dialectical process in which both the phenomenological layers mutually define each other.[1]  The corollary is that it makes sense to speak of action and story as different levels of textual analysis only when we think of them as mutually related;  it is a pseudo-question, for instance, to wonder whether Ivanhoe is the protagonist of the action of Ivanhoe  (which might have been told with a different central character) or just of the story; a nonsensical question, since of course the action does not exist apart from the story, and a different story would yield a different action. 

            Action and story have different weight in the reading experience of different narratives.  In simple narrative forms action structures are the backbone, the main constructive principle and the most perceptible source of interest and attention during the reading process.  In more complex forms, the compositional structures of the story are given more weight; the reader's attention is drawn not so much to what happens but to the way the action is presented, to the action of telling rather than to the represented action. 




[1]          See Volek 1985, 154ff.