Narrative and Genre

Narrative and Genre

Narrative and Genre

Narrative and Genre

Synopsis

This collection of essays by international academics draws on a wide range of disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities to examine how far the expectations and forms of genre shape different kinds of autobiography and influence what messages they can convey. Contributors examine the problem of genre definition and how the evolution of genre as a concept can be traced.

Excerpt

Memory and narrative have long been central concerns, although in different ways, for a wide range of academic disciplines: from literature and history in the humanities, through ethnology to social anthropology, sociology, psychology and psychoanalysis in the social and behavioural sciences. Two hundred years ago there were of course no such academic disciplines with their self-conscious boundaries: in Enlightenment Edinburgh, for instance, a philosopher could without comment write history or practise politics, a historical novelist could be a ballad collector, or a national statistical survey could comprehend both antiquarian notes and contemporary economic and demographic information. The subsequent rise of sharply demarcated different perspectives, protected by those rising disciplinary walls, has made it increasingly difficult to see any common ground between the preoccupations of a behavioural psychologist, a specialist in the poetry of William Wordsworth, or an anthropologist in the tropics. Nevertheless all of them, in one way or another, were preoccupied with the role of memory in shaping a narrative, and narrative in shaping memory. In recent years, however, a reversal of the earlier distancing has begun. Prompted partly by the growing use of life story interviews by oral historians and sociologists, partly by the revived literary interest in both written and spoken autobiography, there has been a new recognition that autonomous disciplinary endeavours can be greatly enriched through exchange of ideas, approaches and insights across the boundaries.

Those who work with memory in the shape of the interview have come to acknowledge their role in, and contribution to, the process of recall and recount. It is no longer sufficient to present memory as innocent empirical evidence, but to see it, necessarily, as a multi-authored, textual and contextual event. Memories contain and are contained by a narrative which orders, links and makes sense of the past, the present and the future. At the same time they contain para-narratives, which weave in and out offering a counterpoint here, a substance there. Placing memory, in all its multifaceted and multilayered dimensions, within the longue durée of a narrative suggests more an act of creativity than a finite text, where the process of recall is as vital as the substance remembered.

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