- Certaine Tales in Sundry Fashions:Social Minds and Hypothetical Focalization in Early Modern Narratives
Preliminaries: Social Minds and Intermental Thought
In his study Social Minds in the Novel, Alan Palmer proposes a paradigm shift in the analysis of narrative: “traditional” narratological approaches, Palmer claims, have put “undue emphasis” on an “internalist” perspective on the representation of consciousness in narrative, focusing on “private, solitary, and highly verbalized thought” (39). Palmer, however, stresses the importance of an “externalist” perspective that examines the social nature of fictional thought in the novel and focuses on “socially distributed, situated, or extended cognition” (41). In light of this distinction, Palmer differentiates between intramental (individual or private) thought, and intermental (i.e. joint, group, shared, or collective) thought (ibid.). The entities that are ultimately capable of intermental thought, Palmer labels social minds1. Social minds and intermental thought, finally, he considers “a crucially important component of fictional narrative” (ibid.) that should be “at the center of narrative theory” (42).
Palmer’s arguments and ideas have elicited some scholarly opposition and, occasionally, even harsh criticism.2 Specifically, it has been claimed that Palmer does [End Page 169] not provide a sufficiently clear definition of intermental thought3 and that his notion of intermental units and social minds is, despite his assertions, merely metaphorical.4 Moreover, scholars have argued that the theoretical apparatus introduced by Palmer does not yield new or innovative readings when applied to concrete textual artifacts.5
While terminological and conceptual precision is crucial and the debate on both important, it is beyond the scope of this essay to address the first two issues referred to above. Particularly the question of whether or not the concept of social minds and intermental thought is a metaphor would deserve a more thorough discussion than the present paper can provide. Moreover, and most importantly, the technical apparatus developed within Palmer’s conceptual framework has displayed a high level of analytical power irrespective of this discussion.
The third argument raised by opponents of Palmer’s model, however, warrants closer attention in the context of this essay; it is an argument he himself anticipates: “Some skeptics argue that cognitivists put old wine into new bottles” (“Social Minds in Fiction” 223). Proponents of this argument claim that pre-cognitive analyses of the texts that Palmer discusses would produce readings very similar to his, and that, consequently, the theoretical apparatus Palmer developed is unnecessary. In an insightful response to this argument, Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan makes three important points: “First, such a claim has been made about every new approach, including—of course—mainstream narratology before it became mainstream [ . . . ]. Second, perhaps one can get to the same “bottom line” without the apparatus, but the trajectory is not less interesting and enriching than the “bottom line.” Third, the new apparatus can yield a [ . . . ] higher degree of precision” (341).
It is in light especially of the second and third points raised by Rimmon-Kenan that this paper takes its cue from Palmer. In what follows, I will examine some of the means by which social minds and intermental thought are represented and negotiated in two early modern texts: Robert Greene’s A Notable Discovery of Coosnage (1591) and Thomas Dekker’s The Wonderfull Yeare (1603).6 I do not pretend to offer revolutionary readings of these narratives or to get to a new “bottom line.” Rather, I am interested in (a) giving a more precise account of key strategies in each narrative and (b) refining the apparatus, i.e. adding the narrative strategies and principles used in these narratives to construct and reflect intermental minds to those narrative devices already identified and discussed by Palmer (see, for instance, “Middlemarch Mind” 433–434). Thus, I want to shed light on the ways in which experience is depicted as shared and cognition emerges as intermental in both narratives.
The Corpus: A Few Remarks on Genre and (Non-)Fictional Narration
Both Greene’s and Dekker’s text are hybrids in that they participate in the fictional as well as the non-fictional mode. Greene’s late Elizabethan prose narrative relates fictional or semi-fictional accounts of the crimes perpetrated by some of the shadier characters populating...