Coda: The Next Generation

By Margolin, Uri | Style, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Coda: The Next Generation

Margolin, Uri, Style

As already indicated in the introduction to these special issues, limitations of space have prevented us from including articles by the youngest generation of German narratologists, that is, people who have recently finished their doctoral dissertations or at most their Habilitationsschrift (tenure book). We have also indicated that some of these writings are of excellent quality. The least one could do then by way of conclusion is to provide a survey of several major contributions by members of this new generation, written in the last five years or so.

Some of the hallmarks of this work, like of that of the 1990s as a whole, are multidisciplinarity of theoretical frameworks, openness towards research in other languages, especially English, and concentration on contemporary, especially experimental literature. Narratology is thus conceived as consisting of at least three distinct paradigms: the classical structuralist or formal, the possible-worlds or semantic, and the functional-pragmatic, leading in its turn to issues of cognitive text processing, impact, and effect, and social contexts of reception. Another frequent feature of recent work, especially among Anglisten, is the desire to integrate formal studies with current, more theme- or context-oriented ones, such as feminism, postcolonialism, historical constructionism or cultural studies. Forms of expression are thus related to forms of content (themes, master plots), first because formal description by itself is felt to be incomplete until and unless functionalized, and second because of the firm conviction that narrative meaning-construction (Sinnkonstitution), whether textual or readerly, is crucially influenced by formal textual features and structures (focalization, multiperspectivism, etc). Analogously, major historical shifts in the selection or dominance of particular narrative procedures are correlated with, and considered indicative of, changes in worldview, cultural categories, and so on. While none of the foregoing assumptions is absolutely new as far as aesthetics of general literary theory are concerned, their consistent use as overriding methodological guidelines does mark an important new phase within narratological research. Once again, there is more available good work than space for its adequate coverage. I have therefore chosen only those studies which satisfy the following three criteria: clear theoretical emphasis, focus on a major issue of narratology, and innovative methods or results.

The first work to be discussed is Andrea Gutenberg's study (2000), whose title in English translation is "Possible Worlds: Plot and Meaning Construction in the English Feminist Novel." This study seeks to define the thematic concerns of fourteen novels by and about women published in Britain between 1960 and 1994, employing the conceptual machinery of structuralist plot theory as well as of possible-worlds semantics. This machinery is reviewed in part 1, followed in part 2 by a typology of sixteen general plot patterns defined according to five aspects discussed in the first part. The third part describes in detail the individual plots of the novels in relation to the previously defined general plot patterns. Basic to this procedure are several assumptions. First, while each novel has only one plot in the sense of a specific sequence of events, actions, and character constellations, several general of abstract plot patterns (as well as narrative themes and concerns) can be embodied in it (413). Second, abstract plot patterns are schemas, which exist only in individual embodiments and may admit of variants. Third, and most important, it is neither in abstract argumentative passages nor in details of the individual plot that a narrative's thematic concerns are to be found, but rather at the level of plot pattern. Fourth, plot patterns in their turn are defined according to both representational and formal factors. And finally, since plot patterns admit of variants, the preferred of dominant variant in each period is indicative of wider cultural preferences of trends. …

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