Academic journal article Style

Narrative Anchors and the Processes of Story Construction: The Case of Margaret Atwood's the Blind Assassin

Academic journal article Style

Narrative Anchors and the Processes of Story Construction: The Case of Margaret Atwood's the Blind Assassin

Article excerpt

Linguistic theory has often prompted new ways of addressing some of the central questions of stylistic analysis (to mention only the emergence of discourse analysis or pragmatics). The issues of correlations between form and function, which have been crucial to analyses of style, have recently been given a new form through the cognitive linguists' focus on the mechanisms of meaning construction. The term was coined to represent the fact that describing the senses of simple linguistic forms cannot fully account for the resulting interpretation of a complex expression which contains them. Instead, words and other linguistic forms can be treated as prompts for the construction of meaning, and the analyst's task is both to identify the meaning chunks the expressions prompt, and, perhaps more importantly, to describe the processes which explain the construction of the higher levels of meaning.

Recent proposals have also extended stylistic analysis in ways which give more focus to cognitive considerations (cf. Semino and Culpeper, Stockwell), enriching our understanding of how vocabulary and sentence structure choices reflect conceptual constructs (consider the work on metaphor and blending, schemas, poetic forms, or speech and thought representation). It appears, then, that cognitive considerations are enhancing our understanding of both specific linguistic choices and general conceptual strategies involved in the construction of meaning.

In retrospect, the definitive works on stylistic analysis, such as Leech and Short's Style in Fiction, were the first to talk in clear theoretical terms about meaning construction in a literary text. And indeed, literary discourse is a perfect example of an expression mode where the emerging interpretation relies on the use of specific expressions, but cannot be fully explained through those expressions alone. The processes of the emergence of meaning have been described differently, primarily with respect to the level of linguistic form which is considered basic (a word, a category, a sentence, a construction, etc.), but few of the frameworks available can be naturally applied to narrative discourse. However, two interlocking frameworks which have emerged in the last twenty years, mental spaces and blending theories, show significant promise in this respect (see, for example, Sanders and Redeker; Oakley; Turner "Double-scope Stories;" Semino "A Cognitive Stylistic Approach," "Blending and Characters," "Text worlds," Dancygier "Identity and Perspective," "Visual Viewpoint," "Blending and Narrative").

In this paper, I extend the basic concepts of mental spaces theory to identify some of the aspects of meaning construction in fragmented narratives. Using Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin as an example, I introduce the concept of narrative anchors to describe some of the mechanisms which underlie the construction of a coherent story out of several substories and explain some of the sources of various understandings of the text individual readers may arrive at.

1. Story Structure

The authorial choices in sequencing the presentation of the story may rely on different organizational principles. While time seems to be invariably important in those choices, other factors often disturb the temporal sequence. In fact, contemporary fiction often experiments with the presentation of the story in ways which deliberately make the reader's task harder. Disruptions affect all areas of story construction--temporal organization, continued identity of characters, boundaries between fact and imagination, etc. And yet, in spite of all the intricacy, most readers have no difficulty in understanding the underlying story, and often enjoy solving the puzzles presented by the text.

The disrupted form of many contemporary narratives and the resulting challenges to narrative comprehension call for an elaboration of one of the primary categories of classical narratology--the distinction between the story on the one hand and text and discourse on the other. …

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