This study considers the status of the abstract author and the abstract reader, two semantic entities which, although not confined solely to narrative environments, are discussed primarily in the context of narrative theory. We begin by examining the semiotic features of these two anthropomorphic hypostatizations, survey their development in the Slavonic (primarily Russian, Czechoslovakian, and Polish), then Western theoretical literature, and propose a systematic definition of both concepts. We respond to the well-known doubts concerning the narratological relevance of these notions with arguments which suggest it is perfectly sensible for narratologists to employ such entities even though they are not unique to narrative texts.
The abstract author is defined as the semantic correlate of all index signs in the text which refer to the sender. The abstract author is treated neither as a fictive (i.e. represented) instance nor as an intentional creation of the concrete author. He is not identical with the narrator but embodies the principle which informs the fabrication of a narrator and every aspect of the represented world. He has no voice of his own, no text. His word is the entire text with all its levels, the entire work in its totality.
The abstract author is real but not concrete. His existence in the work is no more than implicit and virtual; the traces left by the original creative acts are the only indication of his presence in the work, and only with the reader’s intervention does he become concrete. He therefore exists in two ways. On the one hand, he is objectively present in the text as a virtual symptomatic complex; on the other hand, his nature depends on the subjective acts of reading, comprehension, and interpretation which bring him into being. The abstract author is constructed, or rather reconstructed, by the reader on the basis of how he reads the work.
Every creative act which produces the work can be a symptom of the abstract author’s presence: the invention of a story with its situations, characters, and plots; the design of a specific plot logic with a more or less substantial philosophical component; the instantiation of a narrator; the transformation of the story into a narrative with the help of specific methods such as flattening simultaneous happenings into a linear sequence and rearranging the original historical order; and last of all the presentation of the narrative in its final linguistic form.
The abstract reader should be understood as the content of the author’s conception of the recipient as set out by particular index signs in the text. However, our two abstract entities do not have the diametrically opposing compositions that this might suggest. The abstract reader (i.e. the hypostatized concept of the target of the text) is ultimately an attribute of the abstract author reconstructed by the concrete reader. The abstract reader is therefore just as dependent as the abstract author on the individual reading and comprehension with which the concrete reader internalizes the text.
In contrast to many other contemporary theories, we make a clear distinction between the abstract reader and the fictive reader (narrataire), the narrator’s addressee. Two hypostatizations of the abstract reader must be distinguished on the basis of the functions which he can perform as the target of the text. First, the abstract reader can be an assumed, postulated addressee at whom the work is aimed and whose linguistic codes, ideological norms, and aesthetic concepts are adopted by the work in such a way that it is comprehensible to him. In this role, the abstract reader represents the codes and norms assumed to prevail among the factual audience. Second, the abstract reader can function as an image of the ideal recipient, whose understanding of the work is closest to the original and who accepts the interpretation which the work calls on him to adopt.
We conclude our discussion by considering the objections which narratologists have raised to the construction of the ideal recipient.