Narratives of Disorder-Disorders of Narrative

Article excerpt

What is order, what is disorder? Consecution of temporal events and causality are normally regarded as prerequisites for understanding narratives. What happens when narratives become disorderly by violating the principles of consecution? One approach might be to look at narratives about disorder, or narratives where protagonists or narrators suffer from disorders. Amnesia, attention deficiencies, involuntary tics and compulsions (such as Tourette Syndrome symptoms), and other perception and communication related disorders, such as autism/Asperger's syndrome or certain forms of schizophrenia all pose challenges to narratives: interruptions, lacunae, disruptions, inversions, surpluses can all become narrative manifestations of these disorders. A proposition would be that by reading both fictional and non-fictional disorder narratives, we might gain insights into both the orders and disorders of brains and psyches and the workings of narratives as a medium of carrying meaning.

keywords: Disorder, narrative, narratology, syndromes, Palahniuk, DeLillo, Haddon, Lethem, Goldberg, Lightman

url: http://www.clas.ufl.edu/ipsa/journal/2006_soerensen01.shtml

What is order, what is disorder? Consecution of temporal events (things happen in sequences which are easy to follow, flashbacks and -forwards are clearly marked, the end is marked as a specific type of event or closure, clearly distinct from beginnings and middles, etc.) and causality (cause precedes effect) are normally regarded as prerequisites for designing, following and understanding/interpreting narratives. But increasingly literary criticism has become interested in what happens when narratives become disorderly by violating the principles of consecution and causality. This paper continues this general research interest, but perhaps in a more context-fixated manner, rather like reinventing the wheel before one takes one's Corvette for a spin. . .

One approach to the complex of interpreting narratives that violate schemata of consecution and causality might be, rather than fixating narrowly on plot, to look at narratives about disorder (theme/action), or narratives where protagonists or narrators suffer from disorders (character). Such disorders as amnesia, attention deficiencies, involuntary tics and compulsions (such as Tourette Syndrome symptoms), and other perception and communication related disorders, such as autism/Asperger's syndrome, and to some extent certain forms of schizophrenia and personality disorders all pose challenges to narratives: interruptions, lacunae, disruptions, inversions, surpluses can all become narrative and thematic manifestations of these disorders. Can non-sufferers of these disorders still decode such disturbed narratives? If so, why and how is that the case? Certainly I would claim that the increasing proliferation and popularity of those narratives must indicate an affirmative answer to those questions. Can we, then, maybe learn things from them that we cannot learn from more orderly narratives?

A proposition would be that by reading both fictional and non-fictional disorder narratives, we might gain insights into both the orders and disorders of brains and psyches, and the workings of narratives as a medium of carrying meaning. This project has been an on-going concern of mine for some years now, as it offers a field of study that is both literary and cultural, as well as an in-road into the study of human psychology and its use of narratives as construction of self. It therefore suits my preferences for studying texts culturally and cultures in their textual manifestations.

What I therefore wish to offer in this presentation is an initial charting of this terrain in its interdisciplinary form. It would be useful to have a history of disorder construction, both within the field of psychiatric and neurological diagnostics, and within the field of textual representation of such disorders. I cannot hope to give such an overview but I will give a sketch of some of the trends in such a double history and at least attempt to explain how we have come to the stage I claimed above that we find ourselves at, where a) there are more disorders than ever before and where b) certain cognitive implications of disorders seem to predominate over other, older symptom manifestations. …