This issue brings together essays relevant to the general topic of narrative theory. It will be evident to the reader, however, that there is no uniformity of approach or of purpose represented here; on the contrary, some of the essays are in clear conflict with each other on fundamental matters. The collection is deliberately heterogeneous in this respect, seeking to represent a counterpoint of different voices rather than a unison chanting the same critical point of view. For all its variations, however, this volume cannot claim to represent anything like the full range of approaches to narrative theory in current circulation. For those seeking an introduction to the complete spectrum, the reader might turn with profit to Wallace Martin's Recent Theories of Narrative, discussed in the review essay by Suresh Raval. Presented here is a necessarily restricted selection, offering in many cases just the first steps now underway in a process of rethinking the problems of narrative.
The contributions divide readily into three main groups. The first, comprising the opening essays by Weissberg and McPherson, deals with particular narratives and arrives at theoretical issues by confronting the special challenges of an individual text. The second, which makes up the middle section of the volume (Hühn, Kellman, Heyne, Leitch, and Koelb), contains attempts to approach by means of theory what we might call subtopics within the larger domain of narrative, or to use those subtopics as levers to open up new theoretical space. The third group—the final three essays by Diengott, MacKenzie, and Lokke—is more broadly theoretical, seeking to understand better the fundamental assumptions underlying various conceptions of narrative. The volume as a whole thus moves from the particular, with essays devoted to Julius Rodman and Absalom, Absalom!, to the general, concluding with Suresh Raval's critical overview of current books on narrative theory. [End Page 407]
In her engaging opening essay, Liliane Weissberg discovers an issue of narrative theory in an unexpected place and by unexpected means. She begins in a manner analogous to that of Stanley Fish in his famous essay "Reading the Variorum" by examining a text through the scholarly apparatus appended to it. As Fish learned that conflicting interpretations of passages in Milton's poetry revealed something crucial about the reading process those texts occasioned, Weissberg learns that the additions and corrections supplied by the editor of Poe's The Journal of Julius Rodman reveal the fundamental character of Poe's story and of the narrative process it embodies. The story in itself is a kind of "edition" that Weissberg argues "reflects not only on the nature of the American West . . . but also on the nature of narrative." Rodman's adventure in the American wilderness turns out to be essentially editorial, an effort to transform an inexplicable and essentially undiscoverable landscape into a clear and straightforward discourse that inevitably discloses its own gaps, inexactitudes, and false trails. The text describing the civilizing of the wilderness becomes its own wilderness, which later editors try in their turn to tame.
Karen McPherson comes to a similar conclusion by different means. The reader of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!, she contends, is unwilling to let the story be: the reader wants "in on the telling," and—if we take seriously the story's own practice—properly so. The novel dramatizes the importance of the addressee in the narrative process, at times incorporating elements belonging to the consciousness of the listener into the discourse of the storyteller. McPherson finds numerous instances where "telling contaminates listening and listening contaminates telling" so that the two are no longer readily distinguishable. The narrator, she discovers, is also narrated, to such an extent that his life is an artifact of the narration, and his story is the story of storytelling. She finds in recent critical responses to Faulkner's novel a repetition of the contaminating interaction of listening and telling, suggesting finally that this interaction is a fundamental characteristic of both narrative and critical practice.
The second group in the collection opens with Peter Hühn's demonstration of the importance of detective fiction in an examination of the social dimensions of narrativity. He points out that a...