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About this book

How have developments in literary and cultural theory transformed our understanding of narrative? What has happened to narrative in the wake of poststructuralism? What is the role and function of narrative in the contemporary world?

In this revised, updated and expanded new edition of an established text, Mark Currie explores these central questions and guides students through the complex theories that have shaped the study of narrative in recent decades. Postmodern Narrative Theory, Second Edition:
• establishes direct links between the workings of fictional narratives and those of the non-fictional world
• charts the transition in narrative theory from its formalist beginnings, through deconstruction, towards its current concerns with the social, cultural and cognitive uses of narrative
• explores the relationship between postmodern narrative and postmodern theory more closely
• presents detailed illustrative readings of known literary texts such as Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and now features a new chapter on Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello and Slow Man.

Approachable and stimulating, this is an essential introduction for anyone studying postmodernism, the theory of narrative or contemporary fiction.


Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
Postmodern narrative theory, as a phrase, presents an awesome trinity, a grouping of terms and relations that produces complex questions from the start. This is a book about three things that have to be thought about together: postmodern narrative, postmodern theories of narrative and the postmodern world. The awe is partly inspired by the sheer size of these things, these generalities the size of epochs, and the quantity of material they encompass. But from the start there is some uncertainty about the size of entity under consideration. The postmodern world sounds like the universal set, encompassing the other two as subsets, but how big are the subsets? Is a postmodern narrative one kind of contemporary narrative, or is it any contemporary narrative? The noun phrases postmodern narrative and postmodern narrative theory are inhabited by this basic tension between part and whole, or between the qualitative and the epochal description.
Mark Currie

Lost Objects

Frontmatter

1. The Manufacture of Identities

Abstract
Is our identity inside us, like the kernel of a nut? Most of the perspectives presented in this book are implicitly dedicated to the proposition that personal identity is not inside us. There are two types of argument. The first is that identity is relational, meaning that it is not to be found inside a person but that it inheres in the relations between a person and others. According to this argument, the explanation of a person’s identity must designate the difference between that person and others: it must refer not to the inner life of the person but to the system of differences through which individuality is constructed. In other words, personal identity is not really contained in the body at all; it is structured by, or constituted by, difference. The second type of argument is that identity is not within us because it exists only as narrative. Two things are meant by this: that the only way to explain who we are is to tell our own story, to select key events which characterise us and organise them according to the formal principles of narrative — to externalise ourselves as if talking of someone else, and for the purposes of self-representation; but also that we learn how to self-narrate from the outside, from other stories and particularly through the process of identification with other characters. This gives narration at large the potential to teach us how to conceive of ourselves, what to make of our inner life and how to organise it.
Mark Currie

2. Terminologisation

Abstract
The language of literary criticism and theory has become the ugliest private language in the world. Narratology has been one of the places where the most offensive terminology has taken hold, particularly in its structuralist and poststructuralist phases. Often the problem lies in a puerile overuse of abstract nouns like textuality, discursivity, narrativity, historicity, referentiality, intertextuality, supplementarity, iterability, synchronicity, subjectivity, specificity, directionality, positionality, apsectuality, modality, contiguity, multiplicity, intentionality, plurality, structurality, intelligibility, heterogeneity, homogeneity, polychronicity, temporality, post-modernity, linearity, specularity, canonicity, hyper-canonicity and hyperreality. Then there are all those new processes invented by criticism which also become abstract nouns: focalisation, reification, problematisation, characterisation, naturalisation, defamiliarisation, totalisation, structuration, identification, interpellation, contextualisation, recontextualisation, acceleration, duration, actualisation and historicisation. Narratology in particular raided the terminology of linguistics and classical rhetoric for formal descriptors too numerous to list, some of which will feature in the argument of this chapter.
Mark Currie

3. Theoretical Fiction

Abstract
Some fictional narratives seem to be more theoretical than others. Sometimes writers seem to choose consciously between fiction and the dry abstractions of a theoretical work. Proust is a good example. At the start of his manuscript notebooks for A la recherche du temps perdu he poses the question, ‘Should this be turned into a novel, a philosophical essay?’ If fiction is sometimes a better vehicle for ideas than the essay, it is fiction with theoretical intent or theoretical fiction. There have always been philosophers and historians who have forsaken theoretical discourse for the advantages of fiction, for its subtle mechanisms of persuasion, for its ability to explore ideas or historical forces as they are lived by individuals. Sometimes it is exactly the imprecision of narrative fiction which appeals, as when Sartre turned to the novel to express ideas which escaped systematic knowledge. Literary theory has seen the same kind of defection.
Mark Currie

Narrative Time and Space

Frontmatter

4. Narrative, Politics and History

Abstract
We must conceive of power without the king. So Foucault tells us throughout his work, as if to dissociate historicism from the idea of a single sovereign force and from the model of linear succession from which kingly power derives. We must conceive of power instead as a multiplicity of forces in permanent battle, and the movement of history in terms of discontinuity and rupture, not linear succession. How embarrassing then that Foucault should be the new king, and how contradictory the battle cries: formalism is dead, long live the New Historicism. There were two paradoxes inherent in these battle cries. The first was that the New Historicism was committed to the dissolution of kingship while enjoying its privileges, its supremacy and its institutional power. The second was that the New Historicism was new, constructing the analytical methods of the recent past as old hat, implying a kind of technological progress or teleological evolution that the new historiographies flatly denied.
Mark Currie

5. Culture and Schizophrenia

Abstract
By what right have literary critics appointed themselves as critics of culture at large? Or, to limit the question slightly, what special expertise does narratology bring to the analysis of culture? It is perhaps easy enough to understand why narratology should export its insights to nonliterary narrative forms such as narrative history, but can it presume to go further, to attempt a narratological explanation of culture at large? I think there are two arguments which lend some weight to the idea of a cultural narratology. The first is the idea that narrative is ubiquitous in the contemporary world, in fact so commonplace that it would be difficult to think about ideological issues and cultural forms without encountering it. The second is that culture not only contains narratives but is contained by narrative in the sense that the idea of culture, either in general or in particular, is a narrative.
Mark Currie

Narrative Subjects

Frontmatter

6. True Lies: Unreliable Identities in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Abstract
If I tell you that I am lying, I create a perpetual logical rebound. If it is true, then it is false, so how can it be true? And if it is false and I am not lying, then I am telling the truth, in which case I am lying. The undecidability in this predicament comes to rest only if the statement about myself and the moment of saying it can be separated in time, so that I am no longer a liar while I am saying so: ‘sometimes I lie’ or ‘I used to be a liar’ make perfect logical sense because they separate the reliability of the narrator from the unreliability of the narrated, even when they are the same person. The pragmatic contradiction is resolved by splitting the ‘I’ between the past and the present.
Mark Currie

7. The Dark Clouds of Enlightenment: Socio-Narratology and Heart of Darkness

Abstract
Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is the most analysed narrative in history. It has been used to demonstrate everything in the narratological universe, and I will use it here to survey some of the transitions through which narratology has passed in recent years. I want to make a simple point that despite the diversification, fracturing and deconstruction of literary studies, narratology is a common resource, a finite set of terms and concepts which can be deployed by critics with very different interests. Narratology is not a critical school and not a branch of formalism. In some ways narratology has followed the same course as globalisation. It has devolved into smaller units at the same time as it has converged into an increasingly shared vocabulary with increasingly similar objectives. This phenomenon marks a profound change from the condition of narrative criticism as recently as 15 years ago, when critics tended to draw terminology and critical concepts from disparate sources, and where those sources often had incommensurate aims and assumptions. Perhaps the most apparent change is the shift from a widespread fear of and resistance to theory in narrative criticism towards an almost wholesale acceptance of its perspectives and methods, towards the canonisation of certain theorists who have become the shared reference points for disparate narratologies.
Mark Currie

8. Postmodern Narrative Theory Reading Postmodern Narrative: Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello and Slow Man

Abstract
When postmodern critics read Victorian or modernist narratives like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, or Heart of Darkness, the subject and the object, or the critic and the narrative, are separated by a significant historical and temporal gap. The postmodernism in those situations belongs to the critic and not the narrative, and all the conscious and unconscious assumptions of the contemporary epoch, its theories and ideas, its history and its ideology are brought to the narrative by the critic. But what happens when the temporal gap closes, when contemporary critics write about contemporary novels or when postmodern narrative theory takes postmodern narrative as its object? Given the general argument of this book, that narrative and narrative theory, literature and criticism, or the novel and the critic are increasingly inseparable in the postmodern age, what is the role of the critic in a world of theoretical fictions, self-conscious narratives and self-referential discourses?
Mark Currie
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