Tom Kindt

Christine Putzo

The Implied Book and the Narrative Text: On a Blind Spot in Narratological Theory – from a Media Studies Perspective


Full-length article in: JLT 6/2 (2012), 383–415.

This article is concerned with the formal definition of a factor in narrative which, being of mainly theoretical relevance for western literature of the modern age, has largely gone unnoticed in narratology, but should be recognized as a general constituent of narrative form: the impact of the material appearance for which a narrative is destined on its structure.

Recent research on the materiality of texts has pointed out that the spatial arrangement of a text’s script makes up a substantial part of the formation of its meaning in the process of reception. In the case of narrative literature, this state of affairs affects the level of the plot: The fashion in which a text is visually aligned on its pages and the fashion in which its book is designed for use regulate the dispensation of plot information to the reader and the way in which the reader is guided to connect elements of the plot. They thus contribute significantly to the formation of narrative coherence and meaning.

This only fails to stand out because, from approximately the eighteenth century onwards, western narrative literature has typically been printed in a stereotyped low-key linear layout that strongly de-emphasizes the spatial dimensions of script and text. Books from this period are generally presented with single columns of continuous, monochrome, non-illustrated text, without variations in font size or other forms of spatial emphasis, with only static headers or none at all, and with chapter headings which, if at all extant, normally do not serve the purpose of dispensing or connecting plot information, but rather serve the purpose of setting pauses, providing bridges or creating tension. This type of linear presentation, however, is a poetologically specific and historically recent convention that can be tied to the emergence of distinctively modern strategies of constructing narrative temporality and causality. It forms only a comparatively brief episode in the history of the material shape of narrative (and is, at present, being systematically supplemented by hypertextual and other spatial forms). In contrast, European narrative literature of the later Middle Ages and the early modern period is typically presented in highly differentiated spatial layouts based on frequent chapter divisions, hierarchical systems of initials, informative rubrics and illustrations, while, in turn, high medieval narrative is typically based on another type of linear presentation.

The article points out that the immanent structure of a text, as regards to its form and contents, has to conform to that of its material presentation. Thus, if the spatial arrangement of a narrative text affects its plot, and if this plot is, naturally, strategically conceived by the author, then it is already during the process of production that the – anticipated – material shape of a narrative text contributes to its structure. To conceive a narrative, then, includes pre-visualizing a graphic, spatial layout that accompanies the linear process of writing and thereby flows into the composition. Unless authors are, as for instance in avant-garde literature, intentionally aiming at experimental graphic designs for their texts, they will (consciously or subconsciously) have in mind a material shape corresponding to their respective historical-cultural prototypes.

If one thus imputes to the author a mental vision of the appearance of the narrative he is composing, then this vision has importance for the form which he will accord to his text: the spatial dimension is, as it were, inscribed into the narrative – before it even exists. The text henceforth contains the spatial dimension ›negatively‹ or abstractly, that is, independently of its actual (and possibly quite different) material form. It becomes an implicit factor of the text’s structure.

These considerations lead to an analytic concept that, cautiously echoing Booth’s ›implied author‹ and Iser’s ›implied reader‹, is designated as the ›implied book‹. It denotes an author’s historically assumable, not necessarily conscious idea of how his text, which is still in the process of creation, will be dimensionally presented and under these circumstances visually absorbed. Assuming that an author’s knowledge of this later (potentially) substantiated material form influences the composition, the implied book is to be understood as a text-genetically determined, structuring moment of narrative. Historically reconstructed, it thus serves the methodical analysis of structural characteristics in a completed text.


JLTonline ISSN 1862-8990

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Abstract of: Christine Putzo, The Implied Book and the Narrative Text: On a Blind Spot in Narratological Theory – from a Media Studies Perspective.

In: JLTonline (27.09.2012)


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