Impartial Stranger: History and Intertextuality in Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

By Peter Cosgrove | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Pandemonium and Romance

I

THE NARRATOR OF THE DECLINE AND FALL IS A PARADOXICAL BEING. HE IS A dream of the comprehensiveness and the incontrovertibility of knowledge standing outside and above the conditions that create him, yet he is composed entirely of figures of speech. The impartial stranger conveys his cognitive mastery through metaphors of vitality and immediacy, metaphors of height to denote range and scope, and métaphores of vision to denote the palpability of the vanished past. Even the alienation from the species evoked by the stranger's transcendence of the common life cycle is a metaphorical expression of the urge to be primus inter pares, to be ostentatiously singular while remaining part of the whole. The sense of self the stranger conveys is peculiarly modern. We can easily recognize all of these characteristics in narrators, authorial personas, even theories of aesthetic distance in the literature from the eighteenth century until now, authorgods paring their fingernails while their creations supposedly live out an objective reality. And we can be amused that notions of the self presented through such a battery of tropes should have pretensions to anything more than a rhetorical validity.

The relation between the narrator and the text is not the relation of subject to object that the foregoing metaphors seem to imply. Instead there is a recursive relation in which the anterior narratives, the narrative masks, spoken of by Munz and Barthes, flow back and forth between them. In other words, both the discrete memory tokens of the self and the records of the past are joined up not by some naked imaginative function but by preexisting discursive units, the repeatable formulae of fiction. "The techniques of writing," says Savoie Lottinville,

do not flow solely from the historical process. They flow from man's
long struggle with all other literary forms, some of them fictional, some
dramatic, others from description, characterization, and explication. His-

-100-

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Impartial Stranger: History and Intertextuality in Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 5
  • Contents 9
  • Acknowledgements 11
  • Introduction 13
  • Chapter 1 - Tropes of Transcendence 48
  • Chapter 2 - Pandemonium and Romance 100
  • Chapter 3 - The Genres of the Fact 160
  • Chapter 4 - Translating the Sources: Dialogue or Bricolage? 199
  • Conclusion 252
  • Notes 255
  • Bibliography 273
  • Index 282
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