Academic journal article The Comparatist

The Narrative of Ricoeurs Time and Narrative

Academic journal article The Comparatist

The Narrative of Ricoeurs Time and Narrative

Article excerpt

This paper tackles two problems. The first is the impossibility of a direct application of the ideas in Paul Ricoeur's book Time and Narrative (hereafter referred to as TN or cited by volume and page number) to literary studies. Ricoeur's work cannot be used for literary purposes without rethinking it. However, I limit myself in pointing out the necessity of this task without undertaking it. (1) The second problem--which is central for this paper--focuses on some peculiarities of the narrative of TN. My main point is that, by means of attenuating its narrative end, making its narrative beginning ambiguous, and expanding its narrative middle, TN resists the systematic tendencies of the hermeneutic type of philosophizing and thus, in a postmodern era, evades the pitfalls of a constituting consciousness which masters all meaning. In formulating this problem, I take over and try to elaborate in a narratological direction Ricoeur's rethinking of Hegel's Reason in History. Ricoeur's critique of Hegel, as we will see, sets the possibility for such a development ajar without, however, exploring it. What intertwines the two problems of the essay is the fact that they both arise from a literary reading of a philosophical work that, among many other things, deals with literary issues.


The first question that a literary scholar faces while reading TN is the asymmetrical meaning of the seemingly symmetrical title of the book. The conjunction "and" in Time and Narrative (in the original, Temps et recit) does not entwine together two equal notions such as "time" (temps) and "narrative" (recit) but rather suggests the direction from which Ricoeur enters his project. In this methodological sense, "and" (et) stands for a logical connector that means "therefore": "time, therefore narrative." In order to explain this formula it is necessary to clarify the two major sets of notions in the book and their relation. The first conceptual field in TN tackles the issue of the threefold mimesis, whereas the second deals with the relation between time and narrative.

1. 1. The threefold mimesis--[mimesis.sub.1], [mimesis.sub.2], and [mimesis.sub.3]--is a universalization of Aristotle's mimesis in the Poetics. It is a notion that is applicable not solely to tragic plots, as in Aristotle, but to the whole narrative province and especially to its two major branches comprising the primary interest of Ricoeur: fictional narrative and historical narrative. Two basic notions are equivalent in terms of action in Aristotle--mimesis or "representation of action" and muthos or "organization of the events" (1: 37). Muthos and mimesis are operations, not structures, and bear the mark of production and dynamism. In production of plots activity is primal with regard to any static structures (1: 33). Aristotle's poetics is the art of composing plots. The operative and dynamic character of Aristotle's mimesis is the springboard for Ricoeur's reading of the Poetics, and it opens the possibility of elaborating on the threefold mimesis as a phenomenological version of what the Poetics contains as a seed. What is the driving force of this elaboration?

Explicitly, the Poetics is a work only about the art of composition. Implicitly it also refers to what precedes and what follows the act of emplotment. The former is the realm of practical action as opposed to theoretical rationalization. The latter is the field where the world of the work and the world of the receiver overlap and start interacting.

The threefold mimesis consists, first, of [mimesis.sub.1] or prefiguration; this is the world of action. Following Heidegger, Ricoeur's main idea is that living practice precedes narratives: "the story 'happens to' someone before anyone tells it" (1: 75). Ricoeur writes about an "existential analysis of human beings as 'entangled in stories'" (1: 75) and invents a set of synonyms such as "a prenarrative quality of experience," "(as yet) untold stories," "a potential story," and "an untold story" (1: 74). …

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