Footnotes in Fiction: A Rhetorical Approach

Critical Writing
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2005
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Abstract (in English): 

This study explores the use of footnotes in fictional narratives. Footnotes and endnotes fall under the category of what Gérard Genette has labeled paratexts, or the elements that sit above or external to the text of the story. In some narratives, however, notes and other paratexts are incorporated into the story as part of the internal narrative frame. I call this particular type of paratext an artificial paratext. Much like traditional paratexts, artificial paratexts are often seen as ancillary to the text. However, artificial paratexts can play a significant role in the narrative dynamic by extending the boundaries of the narrative frame, introducing new heuristic models for interpretation, and offering alternative narrative threads for the reader to unravel. In addition, artificial paratexts provide a useful lens through which to explore current theories of narrative progression, character development, voice, and reliability. In the first chapter, I develop a typology of paratexts, showing that paratexts have been used to deliver factual information, interpretive or analytical glosses, and discursive narratives in their own right. Paratexts can originate from a number of possible sources, including allographic sources (editors, translators, publishers) and autographic sources—the author, writing as author, fictitious editor, or one or more of the narrators. The second chapter shows that artificial paratexts can have significant effects on narrative progression. Building on the work of James Phelan and Peter Rabinowitz, I show that artificial paratexts introduce tensions and instabilities that complicate narrative development and force readers to rethink their expectations about narrative conventions. In the next two chapters, I look closely at two complex uses of artificial paratexts, one in the short fiction of Jorge Luis Borges and the other in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Pale Fire . In the concluding chapter of the dissertation, I posit a number of extensions to my analysis through an examination of Manual Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman and Stuart Moulthrop’s hypertext novel, Victory Garden.

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Patricia Tomaszek