Tags

Say you’re describing (in non-fiction) what a writer wrote in a book sometime in the past. Do you use past tense or present tense (perhaps some some sort of historical present). MLA apparently says use the present tense.

E.g.

In this chapter, Doris Authorname wrote that Frank poured her a beer, and
described in detail, the taste of the beer that she drank.

OR

In this chapter, Doris Authorname writes that Frank poured her a beer, and describes in detail the taste of the beer that she drank.

I would argue past tenses describe the act of the writing, but present tenses – even if historical present – describe the act of reading the writing. Is “Doris” describing the action to “you” when you read it (implicit indirect subject == the reader) the description of which reading you’re giving in the active historical present; or has Doris described the action by writing it at some point in the past (implicit indirect subject, the written page), the description of which you’re giving in the historical past tense? If the implicit indrect subject is “the reader”, then although I’ve read Doris in the past, but you (my reader) might not read it until the future, so is the present tense conveying the acknowledged ambiguity of this fact?

And what about tense sequences? If I’m writing about what Livy wrote about what Scipio had done, I’ll need correct tense sequence to make all that work properly.

Oh god my brain wants to explode.