The Sequential Dynamics of Narrative: Energies at the Margins of Fiction

The Sequential Dynamics of Narrative: Energies at the Margins of Fiction

The Sequential Dynamics of Narrative: Energies at the Margins of Fiction

The Sequential Dynamics of Narrative: Energies at the Margins of Fiction


"Focusing on a hitherto neglected area of narrative theory, this study of the sequential dynamics of texts examines the nature of linkages across and between narrative units. Within the larger rubric of temporal and continuity relationships, it proposes taxonomies of transitions and order transforms, at both micro-sequential and macro-sequential levels. These narrative relationships are seen to project semantic interests by turning the reader's attention to energies operating at the margins, where shifts of direction can crucially affect the work's pacing, flow, and significance. For all readers attracted to the general issues posed by the interplay of temporality and narrative, and interested in the techniques and construction of texts, this study offers a practical approach, in its typologies of narrative phase, tabular and graphic representations, its glossary of terms, and in its general application to all texts. The practice of sequential dynamics is related here to a central literary tradition of prose fiction, and the discussion should be of particular value for readers drawn to the novel as a genre, and to the transformations it has undergone through the centuries." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


The question is, shall it or shall it not be linear history? I've al
ways thought a kaleidoscopic view might be an interesting her
esy. Shake the tube and see what comes out. Chronology
irritates me. There is no chronology inside my head. I am com
posed of a myriad Claudias who spin and mix and part like
sparks of sunlight on water. The pack of cards I carry around is
forever shuffled and re-shuffled; there is no sequence, every
thing happens at once.

—Penelope Lively, Moon Tiger

There I go again! Can't keep a story going in a straight line,
can I? Drunk in charge of a narrative.

Where was I?

—Angela Carter, Wise Children

AT LEAST, SOME MIGHT ARGUE, THIS WAS ONLY A NARRATIVE: NO PENALties, legal or otherwise, for deviation. As for the concern of Angela Carter's Dora about going in a straight line: what readers, narratively charged, could possibly be upset? And if one event follows this rather than that event in the act of narration, what difference should it make? The musings of Penelope Lively's Claudia, by contrast, are grounded in her pragmatic conviction that experience, far from being linear and chronological, tends rather to be kaleidoscopic and simultaneous. Such issues are multiplied and enriched, when literary works from diverse eras and traditions are taken into account, and their narrative lines closely, even soberly, scrutinized.

What then does the notion of sequential dynamics imply? Initially, it relates to the textual arrangement and interplay of elements between demarcated units in narrative. The term conveys, too, a proactive stance on the part of readers, and suggests the involvement of forces that instigate changes of state and direction. Early on, therefore, issues of ordering and continuity, isotopic and causal relations, accompany the core sense of one thing following another. That “thing” is itself protean. In fiction, it may mean a paragraph, a chapter, a series of chapters on the level of the text, or a narrative event represented by that text. Both orders of repre-

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