Narratology: An Introduction

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

18
The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality*

HAYDEN WHITE

Starting from the Barthesean proposition that narrative 'is simply there like life itself . . . international, transhistorical, transcultural' ( 1977: 79), Hayden White sets out to analyse the value attached to narrativity in three forms of historical representation of reality: annals, chronicle and historical narrative. Following Hegel, White associates the development of historical narrative with the conflict created by the construction of a system of morality or human law and the historian's desire to endow events recounted with a manifest moral meaning or purpose. This moralizing intent forces the historian to confer some kind of 'authority' on the description of events, to impose on them a plot structure and to provide a closure for the otherwise open-ended and amoral historical data. White's article undermines the traditional assumption that historical narrative is superior to annals and chronicles and puts in question its purported objectivity; for, as he contends, the 'value attached to narrativity in the representation of real events arises out of a desire to have real events display the coherence, integrity, fullness, and closure of an image of life that is and can only be imaginary'. In this fight, the idea that history is truthful and objective and literature subjective and false becomes doubtful: history is presented as one among many kinds of narrative discourse, and as such subjective, provisional, partial and incomplete, a human construction whose validity depends on the social conventions and authority under which it is written.

Hayden White's approach to history is an instance of the application of the post-structural and deconstructive methods to nonfictional discourse. The issues he raises are highly polemical, dealing as they do with the central assumptions of Western culture concerning discursive strategies. White's works analyse history as narrative and rhetoric, not as a transparent, neutral mapping of reality.

____________________
*
Reprinted from W. J. T. Mitchell (ed.), On Narrative ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 1-23. First publ. in Citical Inquiry 7.1 ( 1980): 5-29.

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