The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993

By Graham Caie; Roderick J. Lyall et al. | Go to book overview

BERTHOLD SCHOENE-HARWOOD


13. A Story of One Faith and Blood
- Orkneyinga saga and the Poetics of
Historical Continuity
*

No doubt, it is our indefatigable human desire to make sense of time and our own existence in time which must be regarded as the main impetus behind the creation of all narratives, historical as well as pseudo-historical or fictional. In his article ‘Narrative Time’ Paul Ricoeur takes ‘temporality to be that structure of existence that reaches language in narrativity and narrativity to be the language structure that has temporality as its ultimate referent.’1 He points out that by emplotting time, narrative endows our human reality with a structure and hence with a meaning that is relatable and consistent. As Peter Brooks explains,

[n]arrative is one of the ways in which we speak, one of the large categories in
which we think. Plot is its thread of design and its active shaping force, the
product of our refusal to allow temporality to be meaningless, our stubborn
insistence on making meaning in the world and in our lives.2

This narrative making of meaning is a particularly urgent issue when it comes to answering the question ‘Who are we?’. As Ricoeur argues, ‘to answer the question ‘Who?’ […] is to tell the story of a life’,3 meaning that only by dint of narrative can human identity ever be adequately grasped and expressed. The problem here is that human identity is never static and immutable. Permanently exposed to the vicissitudes of historical change, it is caught up in a continuous process of having to rectify and readjust itself. It is always in quest of a more authentic narrative expression of itself, leaving behind innumerable versions of what will paradoxically never cease to be basically always the same identity-bearing story. Disaster lurks in a time of sudden and fundamental change when this identity-bearing story is in danger of losing track of its own red thread and consequently, an individual or a whole community faces a severe identity crisis. Then, it is essential that the story can be skillfully restored and thus salvaged from oblivion.

* This conference paper evolved into a chapter of my study on literature and the Orkney identity: THE MAKING OF ORCADIA. NARRATIVE IDENTITY IN THE PROSE WORK OF GEORGE MACKAY BROWN (Frankfurt A.M.: Peter Lang, 1995)

1 Paul Ricoeur, ‘Narrative Time’, in: W.J.T. Mitchell (ed.), On Narrative, Chicago and London 1981, 165.

2 Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot. Design and Intention in Narrative, Oxford 1984, 232.

3 Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, tr. by K. McLaughlin and D. Pellauer, 3 vols, Chicago and London 1984–8, vol. 3, 245.

-145-

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The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993
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