Narratology: An Introduction

By Susana Onega ; Jose Angel Garcia Landa | Go to book overview

structuralism. He insists that myth is an essentially temporal phenomenon, and cannot be reduced to a semantic matrix as Lévi- Strauss contends. He considers narrative ordering as a fundamental human experience, a way of structuring human existence in time and of opening up the possibility of meaningful action. Ricœur's work is a good example of narratology applied to philosophical and religious (Christian) hermeneutics.

The theory of history has always had to account for issues of representation, with the question of narrative as a central problem. The realization that modernist history leaves out of its account many facts that remain ungraspable or untranslatable informs the postmodernist concept of history, which thus becomes 'the problem of the past as unrepresentable burden'. 81 Consistently with this, the contemporary theory of history sets out to question the cognoscibility of the past and the ideological function of history writing in the selection of past events erased or recorded. According to the modernist interpretation, history is not a text at all but rather an idea which becomes accessible in textual form. By contrast, post- structuralist theorists of history such as Hayden White or Dominick LaCapra have questioned the validity of the modernist approach. 82 From their postmodernist perspective, historical meaning is the result of the inextricable unity of idea and textual envelope, of content and form, so that the study of the real can only be the analysis of the textual form reality takes when apprehended by subjects. In Metahistory ( 1973), for example, Hayden White studies the techniques of historical writing as versions of literary or mythical plots. His essay in our selection is also a good instance of the application of structural analysis of narrative to historical writing.


Conclusion

Much might be said about the possible developments of a science of narrative, because, as we have tried to show, narrative is a complex phenomenon whose analysis allows infinite perspectives. Many critics would argue that narratology should be understood as exclusively referring to formalist and structuralist analysis. Other critics envision narratology as an umbrella term, the meeting-place of multiple approaches to narrative, from the standpoint of a variety of disciplines: history, anthropology, psychology, cognitive science, hermeneutic philosophy, ideological criticism, and so on. In this introduction we have attempted to sketch an ample theoretical and historical conception of narrative theory. In our selection of texts, however, we have deliberately followed more restrictive criteria. First,

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