Academic journal article Style

Unnatural Narrative Theory

Academic journal article Style

Unnatural Narrative Theory

Article excerpt

Unnatural narrative theory is the theory of fictional narratives that defy the conventions of nonfictional narratives and of fiction that closely resembles nonfiction. It theorizes fiction that displays its own fictionality, and focuses on works that break (or only partly enter into) the mimetic illusion. Paradigmatic examples of unnatural narratives include Samuel Beckett's The Unnamable and many of his later texts, Alain Robbe-Grillet's La Jalousie (and other works that employ this kind of construction), Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, Anna Kavan's Ice, Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, and Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. For a pithy example of the unnatural in a single phrase, one may go to Christine Brooke-Rose's line in Thru: "Whoever you invented invented you too" (53). Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan comments on that line--and the narrative as a whole--in the following terms: "The novel repeatedly reverses the hierarchy [of narrative levels], transforming a narrated object into a narrating agent and vice versa. The very distinction between outside and inside, container and contained, narrating subject and narrated object, higher and lower level collapses" (94). For an example centered on events, we may adduce the following passage from Mark Leyner in My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist: "He's got a car bomb. He puts the keys in the ignition and turns it--the car blows up. He gets out. He opens the hood and makes a cursory inspection. He closes the hood and gets back in. He turns the key in the ignition. The car blows up. He gets out and slams the door shut disgustedly" (59). Here, an impossible sequence of events is depicted.

Unnatural fiction is different not only from mimetic fiction but also from what I call nonmimetic or nonnatural fiction. Nonmimetic narratives include conventional fairy tales, animal fables, ghost stories, and other kinds of fiction that invoke magical or supernatural elements. Such narratives employ consistent storyworlds and obey established generic conventions or, in some cases, merely add a single supernatural component to an otherwise naturalistic world. By contrast, unnatural texts do not attempt to extend the boundaries of the mimetic, but rather play with the very conventions of mimesis. (1)

EXIGENCY

In most models of narrative theory, both ancient and modern, there has been little consideration of or space for highly imaginative, experimental, antirealistic, impossible, or parodic figures and events. Instead, we generally find a pronounced inclination or even a strong bias in favor of mimetic or realistic concepts; often, fictional characters, events, and settings are analyzed in the same terms or perspectives that are normally used for actual persons, events, and settings. (2) In many types of narrative theory, the model or default type of narrative was and still is a more or less mimetic one. (3) This is even largely true of structuralist narratology, despite its scientific posture and desire to transcend humanism, as Luc Herman and Bart Vervaeck have thoroughly established (41-101, esp. 63-65, 69-70, 82-86, 101). To be sure, there have been a number of exceptional theorists who have attempted to go well beyond the parameters of the mimetic, including Viktor Shklovsky, Mikhail Bakhtin, Jean Ricardou, Christine Brooke-Rose, David Hayman, Leonard Orr, Brian McHale, J. Hillis Miller, and Werner Wolf (see Richardson, Unnatural Narrative 23-27). The fact remains, however, that most current narratological accounts continue to employ substantially or exclusively mimetic models.

Thus, on the subject of narrative time, nearly all general works of narrative theory or narratological handbooks employ and limit themselves to Genette's categories of order, duration, and frequency. The category of order contrasts the sequence of events presented in the text (recit, sjuzet) with the sequence of events we can derive from the text and place into a chronological order (histoire, fabula). …

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