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David Carrier ON NARRATOLOGY One reason recent studies of narrative seem exciting is that they may be relevant to many disciplines. Literature, philosophy, and history have different subject matters, and so iflanguage is transparent — if texts are about their content — then these are different subjects. But if, as narratologists suggest, language is translucent, and all texts are about themselves, then philosophical, literary, and historical texts are all "about" narrative. If the very act of telling a story introduces concerns having nothing to do with truth, how a story is told determining what is told, then perhaps narratives never simply describe. Maybe what is said and how it is said can never be distinguished. "Philosophers opposed the theoretical and narrative discourse. ... As long as such an opposition subsists between the particular and the universal, theory will dominate the mind, and 'anecdotes' and 'tales' will be considered harmless entertainment. . . ." ¡ Descombes is implying that we should reject such an opposition. If we dius can always deconstruct texts, then narratology is an important discipline. Just as the study of representations once linked Cartesian epistemology, physics, and illusionistic painting, so today narratology may have an equivalent role. Our philosophical, literary, and historical debates, and even our arguments about pictures, are given in texts, and so, if narratology is correct, really are debates about texts. To understand these debates we need to know how texts function. I offer here three arguments for rejecting such claims. I focus first on the claim that histories, because they deploy narrative techniques, are fiction-like; then on the suggestion that novels, like histories, seem to be about something outside the text; and finally, having contrasted literary and historical narratives, apply that account to philosophical narratives. My aim is to discourage the belief that finding features common to all these different kinds of narratives is possible. I The deconstructionist claim that narratives fail to refer to the world is like some worries about mental or visual representations. We cannot, Descartes 32 David Carrier33 notably claimed, determine from the internal structure of our mental representations whether they are actually ofthat world. So epistemology must find external tests for truth of perception. Analogously, from the narrative itself I cannot tell if it is about the world. Histories, like novels, are stories, and since a narrative is true if and only if it refers to the world, to check for truth I must go outside that narrative itself. The skeptic in epistemology notes that there is no way of checking our representations except by appeal to further representations. Analogously, the narratologist notes that we may only be able to check truth of narratives by appeal to further texts. If we are never sure that texts are truthful that seems no real check at all. In one way this parallel between epistemology and narratology may go too far. True narratives refer to events in the world, and how such reference is achieved is not our present concern. Even so, we may still worry about truth of narratives. A historian, like a novelist, tells a story, and noting how their techniques are similar may make historians uneasy. A novel aims to be convincing , and such an aesthetic goal seems only incidentally related to the historian's search for truth. In literature, furthermore, form and content cannot be separated. Is this also true of histories? Consider four qualities of narratives. 1. Narratives have beginnings, middles and endings; a story presents and resolves some problem. 2. Narratives have central characters whose development is described. 3. Narratives deploy stereotyped storytelling formulas, and use rhetorical devices like the tropes. 4. Narratives seek to be orderly. These are qualities of narratives, not of the world they describe. But when we read we may be misled into attributing such structures to the world. Hayden White asks, "Does the world really present itself to perception in the form of well-made stories, with central subjects, proper beginnings , middles and ends, and a coherence that permits us to see 'the end' in every beginning?"2 Perhaps we thus confuse text and world. White elides features of representations and what they represent, and the study of pictorial representations suggests that this procedure is confused. Gombrich...


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