Drawing on theorists as diverse as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Wayne C. Booth, M. M. Bakhtin, Joan Rivière, Erving Goffman, and F. M. Cornford, this carefully documented, stylishly written, and cogently argued study examines the structure and functions of intersubjectivity in a variety of literary as well as cinematic narratives. More precisely, the book explores fictional representations of intersubjectivity from both a diachronic and a synchronic perspective.
On the one hand, Butte traces the evolution of techniques for representing the interaction of fictional minds. He concentrates on British literary narratives written since the time of Defoe, arguing that a new technique of layering or embedding fictional consciousnesses emerged in the early nineteenth century, and first of all in the novels of Jane Austen. The author terms this new fictional practice "deep intersubjectivity" and uses the famous scene in Molland's bakery shop in Austen's Persuasion, in which Anne Elliott frames inferences about the perceptions and inferences of Elizabeth Elliott and Captain Wentworth during their moment of mutual regard, to characterize both the novelty of the practice and the way it "has altered our sense of self and community and the discourses that construct and reflect them" (4). On the other hand, in order to capture what is distinctive about narratives deploying such deep intersubjectivity, Butte seeks to outline a general approach to the study of fictional representations of consciousness. He terms this approach "poststructuralist phenomenology," recruiting from Merleau-Ponty's account of embodied consciousness to avoid the idealism and abstraction that Butte associates with Husserlian phenomenology without however reverting to the wholly [End Page 753] fragmented model of the self, the "story of loss and aloneness" (23), that the author finds in Lacanian theories of the subject.
Noting that for Merleau-Ponty intersubjectivity can be defined as "a web of partially interpenetrating consciousnesses" (28), Butte finds in the French philosopher's account a theoretical paradigm for what practitioners of the novel, beginning with Austen, had begun to explore intuitively a century and a half earlier in their representations of fictional minds:
For Merleau-Ponty, the process [of intersubjective awareness] begins when a self perceives the gestures, either of body or word, of another consciousness, and it continues when the self can perceive in those gestures an awareness of his or her own gestures. Subsequently, the self, upon revealing a consciousness of the other's response, perceives yet another gesture responding to its response, so that out of this conversation of symbolic behaviors emerges a web woven from elements of mutually exchanged consciousnesses. This web is too intricate to be the product of only private or mutual delusion.(28)
Butte places this model of intersubjectivity as a form of mutuality or "espousal" in counterpoint with the Sartrean paradigm of intersubjectivity as "shame," according to which the Other's appearance invariably threatens the coherence and integrity of the Self. Although the Sartrean paradigm has had widespread influence, shaping psychoanalytic and feminist accounts of the gaze, for example, Butte's study foregrounds how the reciprocal awareness of fictional minds can eventuate in espousal and not just shame. Granted, in choosing Meleau-Ponty over Sartre we do not disallow the possibility of failures of intersubjectivity, opacities of co-consciousness, as the mutual misunderstandings in Austen's own Emma suggest. But we do enter a new representational economy, one in which we move "beyond consciousness of consciousness, to the all-important third (and exponentially different) layering, to one's consciousness of the trace in the other of one's own previous and now appropriated gesture, and so on down the long corridor of the embodiments in subjects facing each other" (34–35). At the same time, Butte acknowledges that the new practice of intersubjectivity demands fuller historical contextualization—for instance, via research on different national literatures, and on the gender, racial, and class-based asymmetries that may constrain who can be conscious of whom, when, where, and to what extent.
The book is divided into two main parts, with Part I (chapters 1 and 2...