Temporal or Diachronic Interpretation
Stephen Mailloux borrows a series of interpretive strategies and terms from Kenneth Burke, Roland Barthes, Stanley Fish and Steven Booth in order to provide an interpretive method and descriptive vocabulary to explain how readers experience a text in time, as they read. He derives his evidence of reader experience, initially, from previous critics' holistic or synchronic interpretations that were derived from New Critical or Structuralist methods. Their disagreements usually demonstrate, for Mailloux, the existence of enigmas and snares and partial disclosures of enigmas' resolutions in those readers' experience of the text. By keeping evidence firmly situated in its chronological context, Mailloux argues that he can solve problems in texts which pretend to be revealing one kind of truth while actually helping readers to experience the discovery of another kind of truth, perhaps one the text never explicitly articulates, but which the reader detects by virtue of the overall struggle to make meaning of the text over time.
If we returned to the not-entirely hypothetical New Critical quarrel over the light imagery in the page on "Holistic or Synchronic Interpretation," a temporal or diachronic interpreter who followed the narrative sequence carefully might discover that we are told early in the tale that the protagonist of the story was a young man who had been walking nearly all day without food before seeking his elusive kinsman in a strange town. Several times the narrator tells us that his hunger and fatigue affect his perception and judgment. The light imagery which was most associated with positive values occurs early in the narrative, before a series of disturbing encounters have combined to make the young man suspicious, angry, and extremely confused. Moonlight often is associated with positive revelations, and artificial light with negative or vision-obscuring events, but that synchronic/holistic pattern may not be sustained by the tale's conclusion. The protagonist's physical condition clearly is deteriorating due to fatigue and lack of food until finally, he sees the Bible in the moonlight and sinks down exhausted to hallucinate a vision of his family at home, in the only sun-lit scene in the story (but a purely imagined one, too!). Finally, his most important revelation occurs as a result of concentrated artificial light and leads him to completely discard his interpretations of previous events in the town. Perhaps, the temporal/diachronic interpreter might conclude, the story's most important disclosure has to do with the state of mind of the protagonist who perceives the light, rather than the nature of the light, itself.
*The examples are taken from Hawthorne's "My Kinsman, Major Molineaux."