A FestBlog for Wayne Booth

A festschrift is a book published in honor of a renowned academician by his/her former students and close colleagues, meaning something like celebratory publication in German. Several Mormons have been so honored: Hugh Nibley, Eugene England, Richard L. Anderson and Leonard Arrington come to mind. However, I’ve never seen one for Wayne Booth, the deceased author of The Rhetoric of Fiction, among his other universally acclaimed works. Booth was also a frequent observer of Mormonism, the faith that reared him, set him on his way and then allowed him to come back and sack out in the basement of Sunstone every now and then[1]. How important was this guy? He was arguably the most important U.S. figure in literary theory in the 20th Century. If I were ever asked to contribute to an Essays in Honor of Wayne Booth collection, it would be the essay I’ve posted below called “The Rhetoric of Cheerleading.” In fact, consider this a Wayne Booth Festblog. I invite each of you to make your own contribution in his honor.

“The Rhetoric of Cheerleading,” by Ed Snow:

Wayne Booth taught me a lot about narrative theory and rhetoric[2]. In his memory, I’m going to talk now about the rhetoric of cheerleading. We may not think about it very much, but cheers are literary creations, and, as such, demand interpretation. Of course, they haven’t been privileged in the past, like, say, Moby Dick, but they deserve to be understood on their own terms and what they have to say about society. They are voices deserving to be heard.

Few people realize that the origin of cheerleading reaches way back into history, back to the pre-existence even, thereby legitimizing it as its own literary genre, possibly as proto-literature or as those Germans would say, Urliteratur, or whatever.

Consider Job 38:7: “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” To any but the prejudiced observer, that sounds a lot like cheerleading.

And, even to the casual reader flipping through the bible as s/he comes across, say, Joshua and Jericho–is this not cheerleading? “You shall march around the city … then all the people shall shout with a great shout.” (See Joshua 6: 3-5)

Now we have to ask, what do narrative critics do? They attempt to isolate the narrative of a text from the real author of the text in an effort to let a text speak for itself as much as possible. Rather than referring to the real author of the text, narrative critics refer to and study the implied author, meaning the person who wrote the text as that person is presented in the text itself. According to narrative interpretive theory, the narrative itself provides clues that indicate who the implied author is and which views the implied author holds. Likewise, the real reader of the text is ignored and an implied reader is referred to and studied by narrative critics, as is the anticipated response of such a reader to the views of an implied author.

My time is short, but let’s look at a couple of cheers and their implied authors and implied readers. (A more expanded version of this essay is to be published in the upcoming Association for Mormon Letters Annual).

“Rah rah ree, kick ’em in the knee, rah rah rass, kick ’em in the … other knee.”

The implied author here appears to be a sports fan, perhaps with violent tendencies. But, as evidenced by the implied author’s circumlocution of the word ass, the implied author also appears to have qualms about using profanity, at least in public. Here we have a person at odds with him/her self, an implied author with a tortured soul. And, since I transcribed this cheer while sitting in the stadium at a BYU home football game, I think the contextual evidence suggests that the implied author is a Mormon sports fan in need of LDS Social Services.

“D-Fence (clap clap) D-Fence (clap clap).”

The implied reader of this cheer is elusive due to the cryptic text, therefore offering an intriguing opportunity for the narrative critic. Interestingly enough, this is one of the few cheers accompanied by a written text. The text consists of a letter “D” followed by a picture of a white picket fence. One is tempted to apply the rebus principle to see how that might assist in determining the identity of the implied reader. Of course, rebus comes from the Latin, meaning by things, and is a text which uses pictures to represent words or parts of words, as in “I [heart-picture] BCC.” I read this cheer while attending a BYU home basketball game sitting in the FARMS section. Based upon this contextual evidence, I suggest the implied reader of this text is a Mormon apologist.

I trust this brief exercise demonstrates the universal utility of Wayne Booth’s enduring literary theories and tools. “Wayne Booth, Wayne Booth, he’s our man. If he can’t do it …. no one can!”


[1] For some of the contributions of Wayne Booth to things Mormon, see: (i) Letters to Smoother, etc.: Proceedings of the Fifth Annual BYU Symposium on the Humanities, edited by Joy C. Ross, Steven C. Walker (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1981); (ii) “Pride Cometh before the Fall: Mormonism and the Seven Deadly Sins,” Sunstone # 99 (August-September 1995); (iii) “Confessions of an Aging, Hypocritical Ex-Missionary,” Sunstone # 109 (March-April 1998); and (iv) “Do What Is Right, Let the Consequence Follow: Contrasting Messages in Mormon Hymns,” Sunstone # 113 (March-April 1999).

[2] At least I blame Booth for my more serious work: “Narrative Criticism and the Book of Mormon,” JBMS 4:2. p. 93-107


  1. Jonathan Green says:

    Ed, about real readers, implied readers, real authors, and implied authors: Where I come from, we call that “reception theory” or “reception aesthetics.” Did narrative criticism borrow the terminology, or did reception theory just change its name? (Either way is good for me, since it means that I’m not stuck in a critical school that had its golden age in the 70’s.)

  2. Here, hear, a toast to Wayne Booth! I am amused by your satirical tribute. I think he would have been as well. I remember reading Rhetoric of Fiction in college many years ago.

    His autobiography was recently published for those interested: My Many Selves : The Quest for a Plausible Harmony. I haven’t read it yet.

    I understand Booth was good friends with Marion D. Hanks, a man I prayed for many years that he would become an apostle. Is Marion Hanks related to Maxine Hanks–anyone? Not to get off track. Not that there is a track.

  3. Jonathan, I was sloppy in this slapstick homage.

    As I understand it, narrative criticism (which I tried to do for the BoM as indicated in one of the notes) was a movement in biblical studies that had/has no direct counterpart in secular literary studies, but narrative criticism did in fact draw from both rhetorical criticism and reader-response criticism.

  4. #2–I’m very interested in reading Booth’s bio (but first I have to buy and read Levi Peterson’s). Thanks for the tip and kind words.

    Marion D. Hanks–I treasured anything he ever wrote in a church magazine. I think they were missionary companions–maybe this comes from a Sunstone article Booth wrote. Gene England was always trying to reactivate Booth, so I think they were friends.

  5. 2 more things. First, I don’t think people care too much for or about rhetoric anymore–it’s only taught in obscure graduate classes in literary theory. Second, look at our political candidates and their debates and compare them to the debates of yesterday. Take W v. Gore and compare that to Lincoln v. Douglas. Is that progress or not, I don’t know. Probably not.

    A rhetorician once studied Joseph Smith’s account of his first vision and said that his style was not designed, rhetorically, to convince. Then he compared Oliver Cowdery’s style, which was rhetorically trained and tried to convince. Can’t remember his name and don’t know if this was ever published. At the end of the day, the one that tries not to convince was more convincing.

  6. Jonathan Green says:

    Actually, rhetoric and composition are the hot fields in English these days. Not hot in the sense of theoretically trendy, but in the sense of where are all the people are getting jobs. Right, Ivan?

  7. That was Arthur Henry King (Abundance of the Heart).

  8. Jonathan, where do people get rhetoric jobs? I was amazed going to law school that there wasn’t more about this for lawyers (well, that was in the 80s–maybe things have changed).

    Justin, Arthur Henry King was quite a trip, as I recall at BYU. Cantankerous as all get out. Or maybe he was just that way to me.

  9. Jonathan Green says:

    Ed, to my understanding, the way it usually works is that retiring Romanticists or Brit Lit professors in English departments are replaced by rhet/comp/writing studies practitioners. Those who favor writing literary criticism rather than advertising copy soemtimes get upset by this. It’s not my field, though, just what I read in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. It does seem to be something that started in the mid-to-late 90’s, and I don’t know if it ever made it into legal writing courses, although you’d think it would be a natural fit.

  10. Re Booth: I came across a website paying tribute to Booth and his work: Bibliotherapy.

    Also relevant here is a 1995 collection of essays reviewed on the same site:

    Rhetoric and Pluralism: Legacies of Wayne Booth

  11. Ed, I second your appreciation for Booth. He, along with Harold Bloom and Terry Eagleton, is one of my favorite literary theorists. (This shows that even outside sports I’m a Mormon “homer.” Booth was Mormon, Bloom had a nice appreciation of Mormonism, and Eagleton married Willa, who, though not Mormon, went to BYU as undergrad and is the daughter of a BYU professor.)

    Here are two articles by Booth in Dialogue.

    “The Rhetoric of Hypocrisy, Virtuous and Vicious,” Dialogue, 33:1, Spring 2000.

    “Art And The Church: Or “The Truths Of Smoother,” Dialogue, 13:4, Winter 1980.

  12. Justin–cool links. What’s your connection to this topic?

  13. Ed, Justin has connections to every topic. We don’t ask a lot of questions…

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    I was present for Wayne’s original Smoother lecture at BYU. Very clever, and very effective, I thought. And I ran into him several times at Sunstone.

    And Arthur Henry King was a total gas.

  15. Wayne Booth, in my experience, was kind and gracious. I last saw him at my grandmother’s cabin in Provo canyon, where he discussed his book on amateurism for a little gathering of friends, and we all together listened (appropriately) to a famous cellist play for (I think) fun.

  16. Harold Curts says:

    The latest University of Chicago Magazine had a very good article on his life and work, that honors him more than any other obit-like article that I’ve ever gotten from them.

    Maybe because so many UofC English grads on the staff there, but it was interesting.

  17. Emily Hanks says:

    In answer to comment #2- Marion D. Hanks is married to Maxine Hanks. They’re my grandparents. :)

  18. Maxine Hanks says:

    Wayne Booth was a gifted scholar. I like his books, including _The Craft of Research_.

    As for Maxine Hanks, there are several, including Maxine Christensen Hanks (wife of Marion D) and the feminist heretic Maxine Hanks (distant cousin of Marion D.). Unfortunately, the two are often confused–an ongoing source of stress for which I can only apologize to Marion’s wife, a lovely person.

    Maxine, the heretic

  19. Steve Evans says:

    Yes Maxine, but you’re a really fun heretic. Glad you came by!

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