Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology & British Women Writers

By Kathy Mezei | Go to book overview

allow us as readers to construct a "story" of the fluidly interactive relationship between the surface and palimpsestic depths of a given text--taking into account all the historical, literary, and psychic resonances that are embedded within the horizontal narrative and waiting to become narrated in the reading process. Ideally such a story is made up of a sequence of relational readings that at every point in the horizontal narrative examines its vertical component. The richest insights produced by a spatialized reading strategy may well reside in the way it potentially produces interpretations of the textual and political unconscious of a given text or series of texts. But, in general, spatializing narrative gives us a systematic way of approaching the various forms of narrative dialogism and of (re)connecting the text with its writer and world. In Kristeva's words, spatialization suggests an interpretive strategy that regards a text as "a dynamic . . . intersection of textual surfaces rather than a point (a fixed meaning), as a dialogue among several writings: that of the writer, the addressee . . ., and the contemporary or earlier cultural context" ( Desire, 65).


NOTES

An earlier version of this essay was presented at the International Conference on Narrative Literature in Nice, France, June 1991. Portions of the theoretical argument appeared in Narrative ( 1993) as "Spatialization: A Strategy for Reading Narrative."

1.
For my purposes here, I am not suggesting a masculine/feminine binary for time as space, as do Kristeva in "Women's Time" and de Lauretis in Alice Doesn't (143). See also Winnett's critique of Brooks's model.
2.
Other examples of dissonant narratives include Charlotte Brontë's Villette, George Eliot's Mill on the Floss, Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Charlotte Perkins Gilman 's "The Yellow Wallpaper," Emile Zola's Germinal, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Nella Larsen's Passing.
3.
This and subsequent figures are intended as pedagogical aids rather than as pseudoscientific topologies. They represent the kind of visualization of abstract ideas that I and many others commonly use in the classroom. The two-dimensional space of a board or page cannot represent with accuracy the multidimensional intersections that I posit for narrative configurations of space and time.
4.
See, for example, Barthes's "Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives"; Genette; Chatman; Phelan; and Brooks's discussion of spatialization in Russian Formalism and French structuralism (16).
5.
See their distinctions between the "narrative audience" (which accepts the story as "real") and the "authorial audience" (which covertly remains "aware of the synthetic"--that is, constructed--nature of the narrative) ( Phelan, 5). Rabinowitz proposed the original distinction that Phelan develops extensively in relation to his work on the rhetorics of character and progression.

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