The Present, Imagined and Absent Author: A Hermeneutical Approach to Audiences and Their Undrstanding of Authors
In this thesis I build on the tradition of audience and reception research that is concerned with audiences’ interpretation of texts and the question of how meaning is made. I aim to explore the relationship between the audiences and authors that is realised through a text and its interpretation, by asking how media audiences negotiate and articulate their understanding of authorial presence behind the text, and what the role of this ‘imagined author’ is in the meaning-making. The research is anchored in the theoretical framework of philosophical hermeneutics, with its ontological approach to interpretation as an inherent part of every understanding. I use Gadamer’s (1975) key concepts of prejudice, tradition and horizon to argue that interpretation is always co-determined by audiences’ preexisting assumptions, expectations and familiarity with various aspects of the text brought into the particular text-reader encounter. Borrowing Genette’s (1997) concept of paratext, the notion of author is instrumental here. I argue that the imagined author is a result of the text-reader encounter, into which the text brings an author as a part of its horizon in the form of a paratextual feature; the reader’s understanding of the author is thus not only negotiated through the process of the interpretation of the text, but also simultaneously co-determines the reader’s interpretation of the text. I suggest a theoretical multidimensional model of the author to further examine how these dimensions are articulated, or not, by the readers. To see how this articulation takes place, and to ask whether and how these understandings of the author are (re)negotiated within everyday media use, I carry out qualitative in-depth interviews with 40 adults between 50 and 65 years of age, selected to create a matrix of varying degrees of media engagement and use. The collected data are analysed using methods of discourse analysis, paying close attention to how the presence of an author in the texts is acknowledged and articulated, and identifying the dimensions of the imagined author that play a key role in the process of interpretation. The analysis will therefore feed back into the theoretical model. I expect to establish a further understanding of how the various dimensions of relations between the reader and author are negotiated, and the understanding and performance of these mutual relations within the location of the text and within the process of interpretation.