This paper investigates the question of whether it is possible to talk about aspects of the meaning of literary texts in a context-free manner. Its starting point is a detected discrepancy between the assumption that some (not purely formal or quantitative) approaches to literature operate in a context-independent manner, and the thought that processes of understanding are necessarily interpretive and/or context-dependent. The exemplary field of investigation is (structuralist) narratology, which is often said to be a »context-free« approach to literature.
To determine whether narratology actually is context-independent, I first offer an explicative definition of ›context‹ applicable to the field of literary studies, based on aspects of the meaning of ›context‹ in everyday use. According to this definition, ›context‹ in literary studies is to be understood as a sum of additional extra-textual facts that may be consulted in order to foster the understanding of a text. This definition implies that neither the text itself nor any of its parts may be properly regarded as possible contexts for a given text; consequently, neither the sentences which a text consists of nor the propositions these sentences express are possible contexts of that text. A more general upshot is that any reference to the propositions expressed by the sentences of a text qualifies as a context-free approach if said propositions can be accessed without drawing upon contexts. The question of whether this is possible is subsequently investigated with the help of a three-stage model of grasping linguistic meaning, fit to analyze the processes which are involved when understanding linguistic utterances. As it turns out, linguistic meaning is indeed accessible without drawing upon contexts in many, but not all cases.
The next step of the investigation involves a close examination of the application conditions of two types of narratological categories: categories for the analysis of the discours of a narrative, i. e. the presentation of a story, and categories for the analysis of the histoire, i. e. the elements of the story itself.
Two major results emerge from this investigation. First, as it turns out, the question of whether an approach to literature requires reference to contexts should be distinguished from, on the one hand, the question of whether an approach is interpretive, and, on the other, the question of whether an approach puts forward a theory of »work meaning«. For while questions about whether an approach is contextual are determined by whether additional »input material« is used in order to foster the understanding of a text, whether the approach is interpretive concerns what type of inference method is used to understand a text. Whenever non-necessary inference methods are used, i. e. inference methods that, in contrast to deduction, can produce more than one legitimate result from the same input material, an approach is interpretive in a broad sense of the word. Similarly, whether the approach puts forward a theory of work meaning concerns whether specific input material is mandatory for fostering the correct understanding of a text. This mandatory input material may be of contextual nature, but it can also consist of (parts of) the text itself. Consequently, processes of understanding a text that involve non-necessary inference and aim at discovering »the one correct meaning« of a text are to be qualified as interpretive in a narrower sense of the word.
Second, in addition to the knowledge of which kinds of textual features a narratological category aims to grasp and the process of subsuming a specific textual feature under a category, the application of both discours- and histoire-categories requires the understanding of the linguistic meaning of parts of the text. Since both the reconstruction of linguistic meaning (in many cases) and the process of subsuming a textual feature under a category (in every case) involve non-necessary inference, narratological categorization always is interpretive in the broader sense. Now, concerning the question of whether narratological categorization requires the inclusion of contexts, we have different answers for the two types of categories. While both require the inclusion of contexts in some cases, simply in virtue of the fact that linguistic understanding sometimes requires the inclusion of (extra-textual) contexts, histoire-categories depend on contexts in far more cases than discours-categories. This is because, in comparison to discours-categories, the application of histoire-categories generally presupposes many additional processes (like the (re)construction of the fictional world), which in turn requires the integration of common world knowledge (and sometimes other types of knowledge as well). So while both types of categories can in theory be applied without drawing upon contexts, the proportion of cases in which discours-categories can be used context-independently is much higher than for histoire-categories.
I would like to thank Nathan Wildman for proofreading this text, Jan Christoph Meister for many helpful comments, and, most of all, Arne Spudy for thorough discussions of this paper.
Danneberg, Lutz, Zum Autorkonstrukt und zu einem methodologischen Konzept der Autorintention, in: Fotis Jannidis et al. (ed.), Rückkehr des Autors. Zur Erneuerung eines umstrittenen Begriffs, Tübingen 1999, 77–105.10.1515/9783110944754.77Search in Google Scholar
–, Kontext, in: Harald Fricke et. al. (ed.), Reallexikon der deutschen Literaturwissenschaft, vol. 2, Berlin/New York 2000, 333–337.Search in Google Scholar
van Dijk, Teun Adrianus/Walter Kintsch, Strategies of Discourse Comprehension, New York, NY 1983.Search in Google Scholar
Douven, Igor, Abduction, in: Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2011 Edition), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2011/entries/abduction (25.12.2013)Search in Google Scholar
Genette, Gérard, Die Erzählung , Munich 1998.Search in Google Scholar
Greimas, Algirdas Julien, Sémantique structurale: Recherche de méthode, Paris 1966.Search in Google Scholar
Grice, Herbert Paul, Logic and Conversation, in: Peter Cole/Jerry L. Morgan (ed.), Syntax and Semantics, vol. 3: Speech Acts, New York, NY 1975, 41–58.10.1163/9789004368811_003Search in Google Scholar
Horstmann, Gabriele, Text, in: Jan-Dirk Müller et al. (ed.), Reallexikon der deutschen Literaturwissenschaft, vol. 3, Berlin/New York 2003, 594–597.Search in Google Scholar
Herman, David, Introduction, in: D.H. (ed.), Narratologies: New Perspectiveson Narrative Analysis, Columbus, Ohio 1999, 1–30.Search in Google Scholar
–, Cognitive Narratology (revised version; uploaded 22 September 2013), in: Peter Hühn et al. (ed.), the living handbook of narratology, http://www.lhn.uni-hamburg.de/article/cognitive-narratology-revised-version-uploaded-22-september-2013 (25.12.2013).Search in Google Scholar
–/Tilmann Köppe (ed.), Moderne Interpretationstheorien: Ein Reader, Göttingen 2008.Search in Google Scholar
–/Hans-Harald Müller, Narrative Theory and/or/as Theory of Interpretation, in: T.K./H.H. M. (ed.), What is Narratology? Questions and Answers Regarding the Status of a Theory, Berlin/New York 2003, 205–219.Search in Google Scholar
Korta, Kepa/John Perry, Pragmatics, in: Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/pragmatics/ (25.12.2013).Search in Google Scholar
Kroon, Fred/Alberto Voltolini, Fiction, in: Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/fiction/ (25.12.2013).Search in Google Scholar
Künne, Wolfgang, Verstehen und Sinn: Eine sprachanalytische Betrachtung, Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Philosophie 6 (1981), 1–16.Search in Google Scholar
Lewis, David, Truth in Fiction, American Philosophical Quarterly 15:1 (1978), 37–46.Search in Google Scholar
Meister, Jan Christoph, Narratology as Discipline. A Case for Narratological Fundamentalism, in: Tom Kindt/Hans-Harald Müller (ed.), What is Narratology? Proceedings of the First International Symposium of the Narratology Research Group, Berlin/New York 2003, 55–72.Search in Google Scholar
Phelan, James/Patricia Martin, The Lessons of »Weymouth«: Homodiegesis, Unreliability, and »The Remains of the Day«, in: David Herman (ed.), Narratologies: New Perspectives on Narrative Analysis, Columbus, Ohio 1999, 88–109.Search in Google Scholar
Propp, Vladimir, Morphology of the Folktale, Bloomington, Ind. 1958.Search in Google Scholar
Schaeffer, Jean-Marie, Fictional vs. Factual Narration, in: Peter Hühn et al. (ed.): the living handbook of narratology, http://www.lhn.uni-hamburg.de/article/fictional-vs-factual-narration (25.12.2013).10.1515/9783110316469.179Search in Google Scholar
Spree, Axel, Interpretation, in: Harald Fricke et al. (ed.), Reallexikon der deutschen Literaturwissenschaft, vol. 2, Berlin/New York 2000, 168–172.Search in Google Scholar
© 2012 Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin/Boston