Online readers between the camps: a Text World Theory analysis of ethical positioning in We Need to Talk About Kevin

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Abstract

Recent investigations into ethical experiences of fictional narratives have discussed the ‘positions’ that readers adopt in relation to the author, narrator and characters (Phelan, 1996, 2005, 2007; Stockwell, 2009, 2011, 2013; Whiteley, 2014). This article applies Text World Theory (Gavins, 2007; Werth, 1999) as a means of accounting for the ethical experience of Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin (2003). Qualitative analysis of a sample of 150 online reader responses on the reading-based social network Goodreads (2015) reveals a range of ethical responses to the novel positioned between two interpretative ‘camps’ (Shriver, 2010) and the nature/nurture debate they reflect with regards to the character, Kevin. Drawing from this dataset, I explore how stylistic features of Shriver’s epistolary novel could be seen to influence readers’ ethical positioning in relation to the multiple perspectives presented at different levels of its narrative structure. As a result of the analysis, I propose that an account of ethical experience using Text World Theory may benefit from the concept of ‘construal’ in Langacker’s Cognitive Grammar (1987, 1991, 2008). By modeling readers’ variable attention to multiple minds, including their own, a cognitive grammatical model of construal may support an understanding of ethical interpretation as an interpersonal experience within particular reading contexts.
LanguageEnglish
Pages153-171
Number of pages19
JournalLanguage and Literature
Volume26
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017

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experience
nature-nurture
narrative
grammar
social network
interpretation
Reader
Positioning
Construal
Ronald W. Langacker
Qualitative Analysis
Modeling
Cognitive Grammar
Reader Response
Narrative Structure
Social Networks
Narrator
Nature-nurture
Epistolary Novel
Fictional Narrative

Cite this

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title = "Online readers between the camps: a Text World Theory analysis of ethical positioning in We Need to Talk About Kevin",
abstract = "Recent investigations into ethical experiences of fictional narratives have discussed the ‘positions’ that readers adopt in relation to the author, narrator and characters (Phelan, 1996, 2005, 2007; Stockwell, 2009, 2011, 2013; Whiteley, 2014). This article applies Text World Theory (Gavins, 2007; Werth, 1999) as a means of accounting for the ethical experience of Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin (2003). Qualitative analysis of a sample of 150 online reader responses on the reading-based social network Goodreads (2015) reveals a range of ethical responses to the novel positioned between two interpretative ‘camps’ (Shriver, 2010) and the nature/nurture debate they reflect with regards to the character, Kevin. Drawing from this dataset, I explore how stylistic features of Shriver’s epistolary novel could be seen to influence readers’ ethical positioning in relation to the multiple perspectives presented at different levels of its narrative structure. As a result of the analysis, I propose that an account of ethical experience using Text World Theory may benefit from the concept of ‘construal’ in Langacker’s Cognitive Grammar (1987, 1991, 2008). By modeling readers’ variable attention to multiple minds, including their own, a cognitive grammatical model of construal may support an understanding of ethical interpretation as an interpersonal experience within particular reading contexts.",
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