Ecrire son lecteur : L'évolution du narrateur américain et l'emploi de la deuxième personne, 1750-2000

Abstract : “Second person narratives” may often be experimental, but are hardly new. The forms they take today are just the latest in a long history that stretches back to our earliest records of written English narratives. This dissertation traces the various forms they have taken in the past and the criticism they have provoked, exploring the historical links between narratorial apostrophe, indefinite or generic “you” address, and “experimental” uses of second person. This dissertation argues that what many theorists of narrative call “second person fiction” can no longer be limited to texts which use the pronoun “you” to designate a fictional protagonist. While examples of such texts date back at least as far as the 19th century (Nathaniel Hawethorne provides one notable early example), and sections of longer texts have used this technique as early as the 17th century, interest in 2nd person protagonist fiction mounted in the latter half of the 20th century. As authors like Butor, Perec, and Calvino found international critical success, experimenting with second person became almost a rite of passage for many writers, spawning hybrid and partial forms of use. Moreover, second person use once considered experimental has become commonplace in contemporary fiction – both literary and mainstream. Part One examines narratorial apostrophe, first in several Old English texts and then in a range of texts from the 13th century to the 17th, when, with the influence of continental linguistic habit, writers for a time had a choice of second person pronouns: the quotidian “thou,” the socially formal “you,” and the plural “ye.” A brief inquiry into how pronoun use adapted to social, political, and cultural changes closes with a study of the use of second person in texts by Sterne, Kirkland, and Fielding. The fluctuating use of “thou” and “you” in these 18th texts seems by turns to indicate reference to an ideal or “textual reader” (Mieke Bal), and to a growing awareness on the part of these writers of a wider audience now present with the advent of mass production and distribution of literary texts: an audience at once unknown and in control of authors' financial success. Part Two explores how writers in the 19th century adapted narratorial apostrophe to the general disappearance of “thou” and how perceptions of their reading audience might have been related. More importantly, this section examines the increasing use of indefinite “you,” especially in the U.S., in 19th century texts by Melville and Hawethorne. Increasing use of indefinite “you” – and the creation of a “generic narrattee” capable of becoming an actor on certain narratological levels of a text – opened the door for the “you” protagonist. Part Three examines 20th century critics' early responses to second person protagonists, tracing reactions from the New Critics through Poststructuralism, and finally through the work of several contemporary narratologists. The increasing volume of “second person fictions” being produced in the latter half of the 20th century caused theorists like Genette, Fludernik, and Bal to reexamine and revamp traditional narratological “levels” of texts, and to examine how integral metalepse has become to contemporary fiction. Finally, this dissertation asks how we might place texts which increasingly use a mix of indefinite “you,” apostrophe, and other more complex forms of second person within a traditional narratological framework. A synthesis of Greimas, Bremond, and Ricoeur is useful for diagramming what author-reader-character relations are indicated by such use, in a time where, according to linguist Eric Hyman, indefinite “you” may be fast becoming the unmarked use of the pronoun. We also examine a more general perspective on the dialogical relations of locuteur and interlocuteur, identification and alterity with fictional figures through the writings of Martin Buber, Kaya Silverman, and Mark Currie. Part Four uses the narratological schema developed in part three to examine several contemporary fictions not normally considered “second person fiction.” Finally, I examine how the increasing use of second person in contemporary fiction isn't limited to French and American writers, but is also increasingly present in the work of foreign writers who work in English or French.
Document type :
Sciences de l'Homme et Société. Université Paris-Diderot - Paris VII, 2005. Français
Contributor : Joshua Parker <>
Submitted on : Sunday, October 25, 2009 - 9:34:23 PM
Last modification on : Monday, October 26, 2009 - 6:43:56 AM


  • HAL Id : tel-00426377, version 1



Joshua Parker. Ecrire son lecteur : L'évolution du narrateur américain et l'emploi de la deuxième personne, 1750-2000. Sciences de l'Homme et Société. Université Paris-Diderot - Paris VII, 2005. Français. <tel-00426377>




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