How often with all the theoretical experience of method accumulated in me over the years have I stared blankly quite similar to one of my beginning students at a page that would not yield its magic.
Leo Spitzer. Linguistic and Literary History
Чем рассказывать мне, что в данной вещи хотела дать - я, лучше покажи мне, что сумел от нее взять - ты.
М. Цветаева: Поэт о критике
5.1. Stylistics of the author and of the reader.The notions of encoding and decoding
Decoding stylistics is the most recent trend in stylistic research that employs theoretical findings in such areas of science as information theory, psychology, statistical studies in combination with linguistics, .literary theory, history of art, literary criticism, etc.
Decoding goes beyond the traditional analysis of a work of fiction which usually gives either an evaluative explanatory commentary on the historical, cultural, biographical or geographical background of the work and its author or suggests a kind of stylistic analysis that comprises an inventory of stylistic devices and expressive means found in the text.
Neither of these approaches seems quite satisfactory. The first kind of analysis is typically done by a literary critic and may tend to become an arbitrary or judgmental reflection of his personal esthetic or other preferences and tastes. Such critiques may be detached from the text and based on the critic's inferences of what he conjectures as the author's intention. Many authors resent critical analysis of this sort as an attitude but not real evaluation.
The other approach tends to pursue another extreme: a formal registration of the data of the text. It divests a work of art of its magic and poetry by a pragmatic and statistical treatment that dissects the text and explains but little.
Decoding stylistics makes an attempt to regard the esthetic value of a text based on the interaction of specific textual elements, stylistic devices and compositional structure in delivering the author's
message. This method does not consider the stylistic function of any stylistically important feature separately but only as a part of the whole text. So expressive means and stylistic devices are treated in their interaction and distribution within the text as carriers of the author's purport and creative idiom. By this the stylistic study of a literary work acquires a new, semasiological dimension in which the stylistic elements become signs of the author's vision of the world.
Decoding stylistics helps the reader in his or her understanding of a literary work by explaining or decoding the information that may be hidden from immediate view in specific allusions, cultural or political parallels, peculiar use of irony or euphemy, etc.
The term 'decoding stylistics' came from the application of the theory of information to linguistics by such authors as M. Riffatrre, R. Ja-cobson, F Guiraud, F. Danes, Y. Lotman, I. V. Arnold and others.
In a rather simplified version this theory presents a creative process in the following mode. The writer receives diverse information from the outside world. Some of it becomes a source for his creative work. He processes this information and recreates it in his own esthetic images that become a vehicle to pass his vision to the addressee, his readers. The process of internalizing of the outside information and translating it into his imagery is called 'encoding'.
To encode certain information an author resorts to certain means-meaningful units that are organized according to certain rules. The salient feature of this information encoded by the author is called the message.
The process of encoding will only make any sense if besides the encoder who sends the information it includes the recipient or the
addressee who in this case is the reader. The reader is supposed to decode the information contained in the text of a literary work.
However to encode the information does not mean to have it delivered or passed intact to the recipient. There are more obstacles here than meet the eye. In contrast to the writer who is always concrete the reader who is addressed is in fact an abstract notion, he is any of the thousands of people who may read this book. This abstract reader may not be prepared or willing to decode the message or even take it. The reasons are numerous and various.
A literary work on its way to the reader encounters quite a number of hindrances of all sorts - social, historical, temporal, cultural and so on. Many of these differences between the author and his reader are inevitable. Readers and authors may be separated by historical epochs, social conventions, religious and political views, cultural and national traditions. Moreover, even if the author and the reader belong to the same society no reader can completely identify himself with the author either emotionally, intellectually or esthetically. Apart from these objective and personal factors we cannot disregard the complexity of certain works of art. Many of them are quite sophisticated in form and content. Some are full of implications that create more than one semantic plane and may contain understatements, semantic accretion, or open-ended composition that makes the reader waver about the outcome. Others require of the reader a wide educational thesaurus and knowledge of history, philosophy, mythology or religion.
The readers will differ not only from the author but also from each other. They have a different life experience, educational background, cultural level and tastes
All these factors often preclude easy decoding and show how difficult it is for the message to reach the reader and be appropriately construed by him. The message encoded and sent may differ from the message received after decoding.
So the result may be a failure on either side. The reader may complain that he couldn't understand what the author wanted to say, while the author may resent being misinterpreted. A good illustration of the problem of mutual understanding is provided in M. Tsvetaeva's essay "Poets on Critics" in which she maintains that reading is co-creative work on the part of the reader if he wants to understand and enjoy a work of art. Reading is not so much a hobby done at leisure as solving a kind of puzzle. What is reading but divining, interpreting, unraveling the mystery, wrapped in between the lines, beyond the words, she writes. So if the reader has no imagination no book stands a chance (29, p. 274-296).
From the reader's point of view the important thing is not what the author wanted to say but what he managed to convey in the text of his work.
That's why decoding stylistics deals with the notions of stylistics of the author and stylistics of the reader.