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Ethos and Narrative Interpretation

The Negotiation of Values in Fiction

Liesbeth Korthals Altes

Publication Year: 2014

Ethos and Narrative Interpretation examines the fruitfulness of the concept of ethos for the theory and analysis of literary narrative. The notion of ethos refers to the broadly persuasive effects of the image one may have of a speaker’s psychology, world view, and emotional or ethical stance. How and why do readers attribute an ethos (of, for example, sincerity, reliability, authority, or irony) to literary characters, narrators, and even to authors? Are there particular conditions under which it is more appropriate for interpreters to attribute an ethos to authors, rather than to narrators? In the answer Liesbeth Korthals Altes proposes to such questions, ethos attributions are deeply implicated in the process of interpreting and evaluating narrative texts.

Demonstrating the extent to which ethos attributions, and hence, interpretive acts, play a tacit role in many methods of narratological analysis, Korthals Altes also questions the agenda and epistemological status of various narratologies, both classical and post-classical. Her approach, rooted in a broad understanding of the role and circulation of narrative art in culture, rehabilitates interpretation, both as a tool and as an object of investigation in narrative studies.


Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-xvi

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Why Ethos?

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pp. 1-16

...basis for cloning that will allow humans to reproduce without sexual intercourse. At some point the reader realizes that what mostly reads like conventional narration by an omniscient narrator is in fact the narration of one such clone, who observes, from around 2080, the gloom of the late twentieth century with the commiseration...

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Part 1

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pp. 17-20

...humanities, such issues are traditionally the province of hermeneutics, which encompasses the theory, the method (or the “art”), and the practice of interpreting texts. Alternately, interpretations and their underlying processes are studied from the perspective of literary and aesthetic phenomenology, the sociology of literature...

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1 Literary Interpretation, Ethos Attributions, and the Negotiation of Values in Culture

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pp. 21-50

...The following chapter brings together insights from different theoretical frameworks. My intention is not, however, to suggest that such an eclectic juxtaposition amounts to a theory. My aim is, rather, to point out between these quite different frameworks transversal echoes that shed fresh light on narrative, interpretation, and...

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2 Ethos as a Social Construction

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pp. 51-86

...Who or what determines the credit granted to Houellebecq’s work and to himself, as a writer? Is it appropriate to ask about the sincerity or authority of his novel’s denunciation of the rotten state of Western culture? What clues would we have to answer this question, or does trust come before the clues? What is the role in such an ethos...

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Part 2

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pp. 87-90

...or even an author? In what respect would our ethos attribution change? What made readers expect Frey to be authentic and truthful in his narration of his character’s tribulations? Can and should narratology account for the role ethos attributions play in interpretation and evaluation of literary works and for the diversity...

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3 Narratology between Hermeneutics and Cognitive Science

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pp. 91-99

...did not exactly increase disciplinary consensus on terms and procedures. Concepts that involve ethos attribution, such as those of the implied author or the (un)reliability of narrators, play a central role in rhetorical, ethical, and other forms of critically engaged narratologies, yet there is not much agreement about even these core...

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4 Key Concepts Revised

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pp. 100-122

...Should the debunkers of Frey’s “fraud” have done their narratological homework better? Would any of the current branches of narratology, each of which claims to analyze how we make meaning from narrative texts, have helped explain the bewilderment that for some readers, like Oprah, followed from Frey’s exposure...

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5 Whose Ethos?

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pp. 123-170

...says, Come on, dance for me, and in the bedroom he puts on a cd, the Artie Shaw arrangement for The Man I Love with Roy Eldridge playing trumpet. Dance for me, he says, loosening the arms that are tight around her and pointing toward the floor at the foot of the bed. And so, undismayed, she gets...

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Part 3

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pp. 171-174

...point of the literary experience and the work’s rhetorical aims: for instance, to move, convince, and denounce, in the case of engagé literature; to inform and, often, to testify or denounce, in documentary works; to reflect, in the essay. To the generic expectations also belong anticipation regarding an author’s or...

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6 Generic Framing and Authorial Ethos

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pp. 175-204

...Rather, I explore the heuristic and metahermeneutic fruitfulness of focusing on the dynamic connections between genre- bound ethos expectations as framing acts, reading strategies, and textual clues. Clearly, one case does not suffice to build an argument about specific genre expectations. Moreover, this research would benefit from being extended, combining...

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7 Sincerity and Other Ironies

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pp. 205-248

...both parents, takes upon himself the education of his younger brother, and explores adult life. The cover indicates that the book is based on a true story. Many critics and readers have responded to the book’s autobiographic material, often perceived, as in Angot’s case, as raw, authentic, and grippingly told. Many critics, however, also...

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On Narrative, Ethos, and Ethics

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pp. 249-256

...The notion of ethos has been characterized by Ruth Amossy as a crossroads at which different critical approaches meet. I hope this book has highlighted the fruitfulness of making narratology encounter some perspectives focused on the social construction and negotiations of meanings and values...


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pp. 257-284

Works Cited

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pp. 285-312


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pp. 313-325

in the frontiers of narrative series

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pp. 326-327

E-ISBN-13: 9780803255593
E-ISBN-10: 0803255594
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803248366

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Fiction -- History and criticism.
  • Values in literature.
  • Narration (Rhetoric).
  • Rhetoric -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Literature and morals.
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