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Updated Up To 18/01/2017
Volume 10, Issue 2 (June 2012) : 197-221
On the Experientiality of Stories
A Follow-up on David Herman’s “Narrative Theory and the Intentional Stance”
Marco Caracciolo
Rubric A: Narrative as a Way of Thinking
Rubric B: Twentieth-Century Novel



Reading a narrative text is or provides an experience. In this article, I attempt to reconcile this common claim about reading with the intentionalist model of narrative David Herman has presented in his “Narrative Theory and the Intentional Stance” (2008). I do so by developing two lines of argument. First, taking my cue from Daniel D. Hutto’s philosophy of mind, I argue that two organisms can participate in a joint attention scene only if they are capable of sharing an experience. Thus, if we endorse Herman’s view that, through narrative texts, authors draw readers’ attention to some features of a storyworld, we must also account for how authors and readers can share an experience. I deal with this problem by tracing a (primarily heuristic) distinction between basic, embodied experience and linguistic, conceptual experience. At the level of basic experiential responding, I draw on psycholinguistic research to argue that both the production and the reception of narrative texts are grounded in embodied simulations. At the linguistically mediated level, I apply Dennett’s conception of consciousness as a “Joycean machine” to the experiences provided by narratives, adding that these experiences can be shared by authors and readers because they are narratively constructed.

Second, I address the question of interpretation, which I distinguish from both the understanding of linguistic meaning and the reconstruction of the storyworld: interpretation is concerned with the “aboutness” of a work, and touches on what Stein Haughom Olsen (1987) has called the “human interest” questions. It is because of its openness to human experience that interpretation cannot be fully subsumed under the intentionalist model of our engagement with stories. At this level, readers are not required to comply with the author’s instructions: they are free to relate the experience they have undergone while reading a story to their own past experiences, and draw their conclusions as to what the story is “about.” This is why the experientiality of stories — i.e. the experiential “feel” they create — can be said to bridge the gap between Herman’s intentionalist model and interpretation.


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