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Chapter 4 - The rhetoric of narrative

H. Porter Abbott
Affiliation:
University of California, Santa Barbara
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Summary

The rhetoric of narrative

The rhetoric of narrative is its power. It has to do with all those elements of the text that produce the many strong or subtle combinations of feeling and thought we experience as we read. These include those elements that inflect how we interpret the narrative: that is, how we find meanings in it. Arguably, everything in the text contributes to its impact and our interpretation of it, and so everything has some rhetorical function. Change one thing, and the effect of the whole changes, if only subtly. As Barthes says, “everything in [the text] signifies…. Even were a detail to appear irretrievably insignificant, resistant to all functionality, it would nonetheless end up with precisely the meaning of absurdity or uselessness” (“Structural Analysis,” 261).

Who is exercising this power?

Note that when Barthes says that everything has a meaning he is not saying that the author of the text is necessarily in control of, or even aware of, the meaning of everything in the text. This is not to denigrate authors or to demean their often extraordinary gifts, but to acknowledge that interpreting texts is a complex transaction that invariably has to do with more than what the author consciously intended. The issue of meaning and its relation to the author is as important as it is vexed. I will return to this issue in Chapters Seven and Eight.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2008

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  • The rhetoric of narrative
  • H. Porter Abbott, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Book: The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
  • Online publication: 05 June 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511816932.006
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  • The rhetoric of narrative
  • H. Porter Abbott, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Book: The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
  • Online publication: 05 June 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511816932.006
Available formats
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Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • The rhetoric of narrative
  • H. Porter Abbott, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Book: The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
  • Online publication: 05 June 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511816932.006
Available formats
×