Non-Mimetic Narratives, Theoretical Perspectives and Literary Texts
Though non-representational narratives oftentimes challenge traditional literary conventions, whether they also demand distinct theoretical approaches for their analysis remains open to debate.
In his monograph, Brian Richardson (2019) argues that storytelling, in the larger sense of the term, is an important aspect of narrative. As this book proposes, with the proliferation of anti-mimetic, non-representational, anti-realist writing, traditional narrative theory has become inadequate for conceptualizing and theorizing a growing body of innovative narratives. In A Poetics of Plot for the Twenty-First Century: Theorizing Unruly Narratives, Richardson (2019), thus, offers a new model for evaluating literature. In doing so, he returns to the basis of narrative theory, to illuminate how authors play with and help clarify the boundaries of narrative theory. While Richardson (2019) focuses on late modernist, postmodern, and contemporary narratives, his study also encompasses many earlier works. The latter span narratives of authors ranging from Aristophanes and William Shakespeare, stemming from the antiquity and pre-modern period, through modernist authors, e.g., James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, to late twentieth-century writers, such as Salman Rushdie and Angela Carter.
In the introduction to this book, Richardson (2019, p. 1) contends that, “[s]ince the 1950s, innovative authors have produced some of the most compelling acts of story construction in the history of literature. These works move far beyond the realist parameters of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century novelists and take narrative into entirely new regions. The writers of these fictions are not interested in telling traditional stories in conventional ways. Whereas [Honoré de] Balzac could take pride in being thought of as the secretary of society, many later novelists would refuse to reproduce the world around them in the manner of realism, preferring instead to reconfigure or invert basic relations between events or to even create realms and forms that had never before existed” (Richardson, 2019, p. 1). Thus, this work reflects Richardson’s (2016, p. 385) long-standing engagement with exploring the limits of mimetic narratives, such as by focusing on the storytelling strategies of unnatural, anti-mimetic narratives across the history of their emergence and their various genres.
In narrative theory studies, unnatural narratives, such as that of Junot Diaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, published in 2007, not infrequently exemplify the effects of traditional narrative conventions, e.g., the stable presence of either first- or second-person narrators and the presentation of logically or socially plausible scenarios, while indirectly demonstrating the legacies of colonial regimes or the constructed nature of gender identities (Weese, 2014). For Richardson (2000, p. 168), this engagement with unnatural narratives that break with the established conventions of the causal and temporal order also has implications for literary criticism theories that continue to emphasize linear accounts at the expense of other models of narration that follow alternative patterns of storytelling and its analysis. For these reasons, the critique of extant narrative theories have also been oriented at the correspondences between their narratological strategies and methodological conventions, on the one hand, and their historical or ideological background in the context of attendant social, economic and cultural structures in which minority and majority subjects are differentially positioned, on the other hand (Kim, 2012, p. 233).
In recent decades, this interrogation of literary theory has also allowed alternative theoretical perspectives, such as interdisciplinary studies, postmodern narratology and ideology critiques, to take their place alongside more traditional approaches (Fludernik and Richardson, 2000, p. 319). This development has also led to an international dialogue between different strands of postclassical narratology as they seek to delineate their core concepts and defining principles in countradistinction both to one another and to other cultures and the ongoing international development of narrative theory (Biwu, 2015, p. 363).
Yet, Richardson’s (2016) theoretical perspective that prizes unnatural narratives is only one among other narratological approaches that have their respective conceptual strengths and flaws, such as when they apply to limited corpora of literary texts only (Sommer, 2016, p. 405). Likewise, the stylistic variations in the characteristics of literary texts do not necessarily invalidate the conventional theoretical approaches or narratological perspectives (Ryan, 2016, p. 478), which is, however, contrary to Richardson’s (2019) underlying assumption.
By Pablo Markin
Published by Ohio State University Press in 2019, A Poetics of Plot for the Twenty-First Century, authored by Brian Richardson, has become available in Open Access at the Open Research Library in early 2020, as part of the KU Select 2019: HSS Frontlist Books collection.
Biwu, Shang. “Toward a Second Phase of Postclassical Narratology.” Style 49, no. 3 (2015): 363-377. Accessed December 2, 2020. doi:10.5325/style.49.3.0363.
Fludernik, Monika, and Brian Richardson. “Bibliography of Recent Works on Narrative.” Style 34, no. 2 (2000): 319-328. Accessed December 2, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/style.34.2.319.
Kim, Sue J. “Introduction: Decolonizing Narrative Theory.” Journal of Narrative Theory 42, no. 3 (2012): 233-247. Accessed December 2, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24484772.
Richardson, Brian. A Poetics of Plot for the Twenty-First Century: Theorizing Unruly Narratives. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2019. Accessed December 1, 2020. https://openresearchlibrary.org.
Richardson, Brian. “Recent Concepts of Narrative and the Narratives of Narrative Theory.” Style 34, no. 2 (2000): 168-175. Accessed December 2, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/style.34.2.168.
Richardson, Brian. “Unnatural Narrative Theory.” Style 50, no. 4 (2016): 385-405. Accessed December 2, 2020. doi:10.5325/style.50.4.0385.
Ryan, Marie-Laure. “Response to Brian Richardson’s Target Essay “Unnatural Narrative Theory”.” Style 50, no. 4 (2016): 478-483. Accessed December 2, 2020. doi:10.5325/style.50.4.0478.
Sommer, Roy. “Unnatural Fallacy? The Logic of Unnatural Narrative Theory.” Style 50, no. 4 (2016): 405-409. Accessed December 2, 2020. doi:10.5325/style.50.4.0405.
Weese, Katherine. “‘Tu no Eres Nada de Dominicano’: unnatural narration and de-naturalizing gender constructs in Junot Diaz’s: the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” The Journal of Men’s Studies 22, no. 2 (2014): 89+. Gale OneFile: Diversity Studies (accessed December 2, 2020). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A362727300/PPDS?u=lirn17237&sid=PPDS&xid=8fa2c694.
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Kitty AI / Pinar Yoldas (TR), Linz, Austria, September 7, 2017 | © Courtesy of Florian Voggeneder/Ars Electronica/Flickr.