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Elements of Hermeneutic Pragmatics

Agency and Interpretation

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Tahir Wood

Can linguistic pragmatics be developed without the need to formulate rules, criteria or maxims? The author argues that rules as they have been conceived of within pragmatics, particularly speech act theory, are limiting and out of step with the linguistic science of recent decades.
Using a hermeneutic approach to pragmatics, this book seeks to bring pragmatics closer to the cognitive paradigm that has transformed the other branches of the linguistic and communication sciences, with the help of developments in certain neighbouring disciplines such as philosophy, sociology and narratology. The elements that are opened up to pragmatics in this approach include some new conceptions of intentionality, intertextuality, communicative action and literary authorship, as well as the subjectivity of interpretation, which by its very nature ceaselessly transforms all forms of communication in its historical spiral.
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Chapter 9: The Worlds of Author, Character and Reader Intertwined

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CHAPTER 9

The Worlds of Author, Character and Reader Intertwined

Character and characterization

To recapitulate the findings of the previous chapter: on one level, the reader is driven through his or her own wish to insert him/herself into novelistic worlds as spectator and to attain there the faux omniscience that is otherwise denied to human beings. The attraction into the subjective world of a character is a simulation of invaded privacy, the lure of a simulated mind-reading ability, and who does not occasionally wish for such powers? But, for the reader who is sufficiently active there is another level of interest. To such a reader the author is one who characterizes in particular ways. Why is character X presented as a stereotype with no apparent inner life? Why is character Y presented as full of ambivalence concerning the milieux that make up his background? It is in response to the products of these authorial decisions that one begins to envision the author him/herself.

What is most real in fiction, then, are the subjectivities of author and reader and their mutual engagement through the simulated subjectivities of characters. Thus the highest form of realism might well be one for which the pragmatics of fiction alone holds the key. If it lies in the fact that a character is a figure that presents a social milieu to us problematically, then this means that that milieu is presented to us neither in an idealized form...

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