The Imagined Moment: Time, Narrative, and Computation

The Imagined Moment: Time, Narrative, and Computation

The Imagined Moment: Time, Narrative, and Computation

The Imagined Moment: Time, Narrative, and Computation

Synopsis

Time is a key aspect of narrative. It can advance a story, illuminate its role in our daily lives, and help us understand how events unfold. In this groundbreaking interdisciplinary work, Inderjeet Mani uses recent developments in linguistics and computer science to analyze the use of time in narrative form. The Imagined Moment outlines directions for an emerging discipline of "corpus narratology," an approach involving the computer analysis and interpretation of multimillion-word collections of narrative text. This approach, Mani explains, could alter the very foundations of narrative theory. Accordingly, he develops a computer representation for timelines and applies it to a variety of literary works. Among these are such classics as One Hundred Years of Solitude, "A Hunger Artist," Swann's Way, Jealousy, Candide, and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." Along the way, Mani considers stories embedded in temporal cycles; the cognitive processes involved in the construal of events in time; the modeling of narrative progression in terms of changes in readers' evaluation of characters; the study of variations of tempo in fiction; and time in computer-mediated forms of storytelling.

Excerpt

Stories inform our lives. the prince who renounces his kingdom to seek the meaning of life; the warrior who returns home after many travails and is reunited with his faithful wife; the ingénue who learns to find her way in a corrupt world; and the valet who rescues his master from embarrassments and entanglements — these stories live on in our imagination, long after the author has disappeared; they make their presence felt in books, movies, speeches, excuses for war, campaigns for peace, and moments when we throw away the cares of life and seek humorous relief.

How is it that a few strokes of a pen or taps of a key can summon up entire worlds, immersing us in the triumphs and traumas of various characters, and even suggesting how exemplary lives should or should not be led? My book attempts to answer this question, focusing on one key slice of narrative: time.

I examine time in narrative primarily from the perspective of recent developments in linguistics and the computational sciences. I try to account for some of the delight we feel in reading, in particular explaining our identification with narrative characters and their journeys in time. I do this with the help of computer models.

Computers have had a long history of use in analysis of literary works, the best-known area being authorship identification. Recent successes have included the unmasking of the journalist Joe Klein as the anonymous author of the roman à clef Primary Colors. (What gave Klein away was his relatively frequent use of adjectives ending in “inous,” like “vertiginous,” and his hyperactive use of prefixes such as “hyper,” “mega,” and “quasi.”) Almost all of this literary forensics work has been focused on vocabulary, spelling, and grammar, aided by statistical analyses. These methods are very useful in revealing the style and personal stamp of the author. However, computer science today can dig much deeper. I

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