Ideal Readers and Actual Readers

From Textual Intervention
v also Longaker, Rhetorical Analysis
v also Audience Invoked - Audience Addressed
v also The Writer's Audience is Always a Fiction

[paragraphed for study]

The ‘actual writer’ is the author conceived as existing outside the text: the living, breathing, eating, loving, defecating, dying, etc., identity who is describable in biological, psychological, social and historical terms.

The ‘(authorial) narrator’ is that version of the author (her or his views, sympathies, beliefs, etc.) offered within the text: the particular (self-)projection the text implies.

The ‘narrative’, broadly conceived, comprises all those characters, descriptions and actions (including speech and thought) which are represented in the text. (Narrative therefore includes such ‘characters-as-narrators’ as Jane in Jane Eyre (see 4.4.3) and Pip in Great Expectations.)

The ‘narratee’ is the person or type of person for whom the narrative is apparently intended and whom it ostensibly assumes as addressee: overtly in the ‘dear reader’ mode of fiction, but covertly, as a supposedly sympathetic ear and knowing mind, in all modes of writing. The narratee is therefore the narrative’s implied ‘ideal reader’.

‘Actual reader/s’ - always pointedly singular for each individual reader/reading and always potentially plural when more than one reader /reading is involved - is and are each and every one of us every time we come to terms with a particular text. Actual readers are therefore never wholly or exactly identifiable with the text’s implied ‘ideal reader’, its narratee. Indeed, in so far as actual readers may interrogate and challenge anything and everything the text brings their way (characters, descriptions, actions; authorial narrators and what not), they may turn out to be anything from mildly sceptical to utterly ‘ideal readers’ - or simply ‘readers with different ideals’.

For worse and better, then, the roles of idealised ‘narratees’ and actual readers must be carefully distinguished if we are to maintain any active critical-historical sense. Moreover, it should be pointed out that ‘actual readers’ (plural) must to some extent be equated with ‘actual reading’; for in some sense each one of us is a slightly or a very different reader every time we read what is ostensibly ‘the same text’.

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