Academic journal article Style

Where Historiographic Metafiction and Narratology Meet: Towards an Applied Cultural Narratology

Academic journal article Style

Where Historiographic Metafiction and Narratology Meet: Towards an Applied Cultural Narratology

Article excerpt

1. Whither Narratology?

The histories and respective achievements of structuralist narratology and German contributions to narrative theory (Erzahltheorie) have recently become the subject of a controversy. While David Darby's article "Form and Content: An Essay in the History of Narratology" pits classical narratology against the history of German narrative theory, arguing that narratology should be remodeled into a contextualist theory of interpretation, other narratologists have criticized both his presentation of German narrative theory and his suggestion that such a "contextualist narratology" necessarily requires the ill-defined concept of the implied author. Monika Fludernik has pointed out that German contributions to narrative studies are much broader and more varied than Darby's essay suggests ("History"). Tom Kindt and Hans-Harald Muller have taken Darby to task for failing to provide convincing reasons for his claims regarding the purported need for a change in narratology's aims and for widening its research domain ("Narratology").

This controversy and the different accounts the participants have offered of the history of narrative theory are interesting not only from the point of view of the light they shed on the complex developments and international ramifications of narratology. They also metonymically illustrate what is at slake in the current debates about the directions into which narratology is moving. Hardcore structuralist narratologists are very sceptical about several of the so-called "new narratologies" collected in David Herman's recent volume Narratologies, suspecting that they will inevitably lead to a contamination that infects "pure" and "neutral" description with the taint of ideology and relativism. In contrast to the purists who want to make "the world safe for narratology," as John Bender aptly put it ("Making"), practitioners of the various postclassical narratologies intrepidly rush in where structuralists fear to tread. Whether or not they are fools in so doing may be an open question, but their work has arguably opened up productive lines of research. Nonetheless, one cannot rail to notice that the question asked in the title of an illuminating collection of articles edited by Kindt and Muller (What is Narratology?) has recently received quite different and even contradictory answers. There no longer seems to be a consensus about either the main aims or objectives of narratology or about the extension of its research domains. Echoing Christine Brooke-Rose's title "Whatever Happened to Narratology?" one may at this stage well ask "Whither narratology?"

Instead of reviewing these debates, providing yet another survey of recent developments in narratology, (1) of trying to act as arbiter of hostilities, the present essay pursues three more modest goals: to sketch out some of the premises and concepts of an applied cultural narratology that puts the analytical toolkit developed by narratology in the service of context-sensitive interpretations of novels, to provide a typological overview of new kinds of historical fiction partly based on narratological categories, and to indicate how the latter may be used in order to tease out the epistemological and ethical implications of what has come to be known as "historiographic metafiction." I hope to show that cultural analyses and interpretations of narratives in general, and research on historiographic metafiction in particular, would stand to gain a lot by actually applying the categories provided by narratology.

Using historiographic metafiction as a case study for testing the usefulness of a new kind of cultural narratology, I would like to argue that such dichotomies as the one between "the uncontaminated fields of 'classical' narratology" and the "contextualist dimensions of contemporary 'postclassical' narratological scholarship" (Darby, "Form and Context Revisited" 423) should not be exaggerated. They arguably present us with a set of false choices: between text and context, between form and content as well as form and context, between formalism and contextualism, between bottom-up analysis and top-down synthesis, and between "neutral" description and "ideological" evaluation. …

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