Academic journal article Style

Recent Concepts of Narrative and the Narratives of Narrative Theory

Academic journal article Style

Recent Concepts of Narrative and the Narratives of Narrative Theory

Article excerpt

Now, narrative is everywhere. The study of narrative continues to grow more nuanced, capacious, and extensive as it is applied to an ever greater range of fields and disciplines, appearing more prominently in areas from philosophy and law to studies of performance art and hypertexts. Nor is there any end in sight: the most important new movement in religious studies is narrative theology, and there is even a new kind of psychological treatment called "narrative therapy." Cognitive science offers experimental evidence for a claim that only recently was the hyperbolic boast of a practitioner of the nouveau roman: that narrative is the basic vehicle of human knowledge. Or in the words of Mark Turner: "Narrative imagining-story--is the fundamental instrument of thought. [...] It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition

generally" (4-5).

In literary, cultural, and performance studies, narrative theory continues to expand, whether in the burgeoning field of life writing or in the analysis of drama or film. It is no exaggeration to say that the last ten years have seen a renaissance in narrative theory and analysis. Feminism, arguably the most significant intellectual force of the second half of the twentieth century, has (as should be expected) utterly and fruitfully transformed narrative theory and analysis in many ways. Virtually every component of or agent in the narrative transaction has been subjected to sustained examination, including space, closure, character, narration, reader response, linearity and narrative sequence, and even the phenomenon of narrative itself. Some of these reconceptualizations, as Honor Wallace's article in this issue demonstrates, continue to be debated and refined.

Broader-based gender criticism and queer studies steadily followed the rise of feminism, some results of which are likewise evident in this issue. Though rather less work has appeared from other marginalized or "minority" perspectives so far, these are certainly areas that can be expected to provide significant contributions in the near future. Already, several important studies are available, including work on narrative and race, and in postcolonial studies much attention has been devoted to the construction of imperial and national narratives. Other movements in critical theory from Lacanian analysis to "nomadology" to new historicism have been readily applied to narrative study and have often produced impressive results. Elsewhere in the field, a new kind of interdisciplinarity is quietly emerging, as developments in artificial-intelligence theory, hypertext studies, the concept of "possible worlds" in analytical philosophy, and advances in cognitive science are applied to narrative theory. Narrative thus seems to be a kind of vortex around which other discourses orbit in ever closer proximity.

Another interesting development is represented by the work of a number of younger scholars who retain the analytical rigor of traditional or "classical" approaches while moving far beyond the relatively limited theoretical parameters of structuralism to address new questions posed by postmodern texts and positionalities. These theorists (including Ruth Ronen, Tamar Yacobi, Brian McHale, Monika Fludernik, Emma Kafalenos, and Patrick O'Neill) have produced a number of groundbreaking studies that are necessitating a radical rethinking of concepts that hitherto have been foundational to narrative theory: the distinction between fabula and syuzhet, the nature of narrative time, the concept of plot, the notion of voice, and the concept of "the" reader. They have applied analytical methods to irreverent postmodern narrative practices and formulated a number of original positions. Though I suspect that some will reject the name (and perhaps the company) I am constructing for them, I will nevertheless refer to these works as gesturing toward a "Postmodern Narratology."

What is Narrative?

Currently, four basic approaches to the definition of narrative are in use; we may designate these as temporal, causal, minimal, and transactional. …

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