DOI: 10.1215/03335372-10938592 ISSN: 0333-5372

Rhetorical Narrative Theory and the Act of Telling: Reflections on the Search for a New Paradigm

Roger Edholm
  • Literature and Literary Theory


James Phelan presents his rhetorical approach to narrative in opposition to the existing paradigm in contemporary narrative theory. His rhetorical poetics is therefore described as a search for a new paradigm. This article argues, however, that Phelan's view of narrative does not challenge the dominant paradigm within narrative theory. The main reason his approach fails to meet its goals is that it shares the common narratological aim of comprehending narrative according to a particular definition. Although the rhetorical emphasis on the action of somebody telling somebody else might seem applicable to most communicative situations we deem to be narrative, his definition is problematic in relation to literary fiction and fictional storytelling across different media. The article's examination of the key principles of Phelan's rhetorical theory thus leads to an interrogation of the methodological implications of his definition of narrative, in particular by analyzing the example of character narration. The author also presents a revised rhetorical approach, understanding narrative as a term used to denote communicative actions within a variety of contexts. The motivation behind this alternative lies not only in its theoretical contribution but also in its methodological possibilities, connecting the study of narrative fiction across different media.