Narrative space and time : the rhetoric of disruption in the short-story form

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Bullock, Kurt E.
White, Patricia S.
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Thesis (Ph. D.)
Department of English
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This study traces spatial and temporal disturbances in the modem short story structure. Edgar Allan Poe's "indefinitiveness" and Kenneth Burke's "actualization" serve as historical foundations for this investigation, which leads to contemporary frameworks proposed by such theorists as Gerard Genette, Umberto Eco, Wolfgang Iser, Paul Ricoeur, Peter Brooks, James Phelan, and Susan Sniader Lanser. In particular, I explore how effect operates as a predominant concern of short fiction. Short fiction is a rhetorical interaction encumbered by spatial and temporal constraints, and its narrative teleology is necessarily disrupted by rhetorical techniques. Narrative's boundaries are purposefully violated, its tempo twisted and contorted, exposing a purposeful tension in the rhetorical engagement of author, text and reader. Instabilities crafted within the text disrupt time-space expectations of readers.Importantly, effect is perceived as a rhetorical device within short fiction, and so in this study the text serves as a site of transference privileging equally writer and reader. Conditions of possibility and understanding are invested in the text by the author through techniques of spatial disruption and temporal discontinuity, and then reinvested in the reader by the narrative through the text's generation of uncertainty. Short fiction serves as an invitation by the author for the reader to construct explanations; devices work to disrupt the time-space constraints of the genre, establishing as they do a narrative contract between author and reader that is resolved in and from the text.Burke considers this to be shaping prose fiction to the author's purposes, an act which "involves desires and their appeasements" - and one which purposefully aims for a particular effect. But what are the limits of purposefulness in short fiction? I examine both textual effect and reader affect, relying particularly on Iser and Eco, and turn to Brooks in conclusion to summarize the role of desire in and from the text, and to Phelan to critique the place of rhetoric in establishing and maintaining that desire. My analysis discloses that time-space disruption, employed as a rhetorical strategy by short story writers, serves to heighten rather than threaten the mediated engagement of writer/text/reader in short fiction, producing a measured effect.