Academic journal article Style

A Corporeal Narratology?

Academic journal article Style

A Corporeal Narratology?

Article excerpt

Despite its signal importance to so many schools of contemporary criticism, the human body has largely failed to garner a significant place in narratology. This neglect results from narratology's traditional focus on what Gerald Prince has called questions of "how" over questions of "what." An overview like Mieke Bal's influential Narratology breaks narratology down into the study of "elements" and "aspects." The former are the actual events, actors, and places that make up the story, and the latter are the ways that the text manipulates the presentation of those elements. A narrative cannot exist if it lacks both elements and aspects, but, as Prince notes, narratology has traditionally been interested in the latter: in the most common type of narrative criticism "the narratologist pays little or no attention to the story as such, the narrated, the what that is represented, and concentrates instead on the discourse, the narrating, the way in which the 'what' is represented" (75). One reason for this focus on the manipulation of story elements rather than on the elements themselves is narratology's emphasis, growing out of modern fiction, on consciousness and perception. Our most flexible and enduring narrative concepts--"stream of consciousness," "point of view," and "free indirect discourse"--all describe the authorial attempt to get down on paper a character's way of thinking. The human body has rarely been an explicit part of these modernist aesthetics. Another reason that narratology has focused on story aspects rather than elements is that it is far less clear how we are to study such elements. While students at the undergraduate level can usually grasp with relatively little difficulty the idea that a narrative is a series of choices made by an author to achieve a certain effect and meaning, we have considerably more difficulty explaining how the objects represented shape the narratives that represent them. The human body, consequently, has rarely been studied as a narratological object.

I am not, of course, suggesting that critics have not discussed the human body in individual narratives, hut rather that such discussions rarely are used as an occasion to raise fundamentally narratological issues. The 1985 issue of Poetics Today on the female body edited by Susan Suleiman is typical of the way that narratology has failed to integrate the body into its core interests. This volume certainly talks a great deal about narrative and about issues arising from the body, but the two rarely come together to produce what we could call a corporeal narratology. Suleiman's own essay on alternatives to traditional ways of representing the female body is a case in point. Suleiman first discusses the reaction to recently popular female erotic texts, like Erica Jong's Fear of Flying and Rita Mae Brown's Rubyfruit Jungle, and concludes, "If the popularity of these books is, on the one hand, a positive sign, suggesting that the American public is ready to admit some real changes in what is considered an accept able story or an acceptable use of language by women, it may also be a sign that neither book is felt to imply a genuine threat to existing ways of seeing and being between the sexes" (47). Suleiman then goes on to consider the alternatives to traditional representations of gender, concluding with Angela Carter's The Passion of New Eve, in which "it is impossible to say who is woman and who is man, where one sex or one self begins and the other ends" (63). Despite her interest in how narrative represents gender, Suleiman does not ask the question that seems to me the central one of a corporeal narratology: how do certain ways of thinking about the body shape the plot, characterization, setting, and other aspects of narrative? [1] In reviewing the recent history of narratology, Mieke Bal cites this Poetics Today volume as an instance of how recent criticism has drifted away from core narratological issues: "although this volume is definitely not devoid of narratological concerns, these certainly do not predomi nate" ("The Point" 728). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.