restricted access Story Logic: Problems and Possibilities of Narrative (review)
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MFS Modern Fiction Studies 49.4 (2003) 882-885

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David Herman. Story Logic: Problems and Possibilities of Narrative. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2002. xvi + 477 pp.

In this innovative and ambitious monograph, David Herman attempts to counteract most of the shortcomings of structuralist narratology [End Page 882] and other traditional approaches to narrative, offering nothing less than a cutting-edge synthesis and critique of interdisciplinary narrative theory. Drawing on models and insights from cognitive science, linguistics, discourse analysis, and structuralist narratology, Herman reassesses the relations between these fields of study, arguing that "narrative theory and language theory should instead be viewed as resources for—elements of—the broader endeavour of cognitive science" (2).

Although this review cannot do justice to the complexity and impressive scope of Story Logic, it is possible to give a brief synopsis of the book's structure, which, despite the comprehensiveness of Herman's wide-ranging theory and analyses, is crystal clear in exposition. Redrawing the whole "architecture of inquiry," Herman maintains that narrative is not just a discourse genre and a resource for writing, but also a cognitive style. In using the phrase "story logic" in the title of his study, he means to suggest that narratives not only have a logic but also are a logic in their own right because stories are cognitive strategies that help humans make sense of their world (22). Conceiving of narrative "as a strategy for creating mental representations of the world" and of narrative comprehension as "a process of (re)constructing storyworlds on the basis of textual cues and the inferences they make possible," Herman provides a comprehensive inventory and a very detailed description of those requirements for narrative understanding which "impinge, in the form of cognitive preferences, on both narrative microdesigns and narrative macrodesigns" (5, 6, 21). The subtitle of his book alludes to the fact that these requirements can be viewed "as problems of narrative representation" and "as sets of preferences that make it possible to make sense of the world in narrative terms" (22).

The chapters that follow develop and support the main argument sketched out in the concise introduction by presenting excellent elaborations of key concepts and fundamental issues in narrative theory and cognitive science, and by offering a wide range of perspicacious textual analyses, many of which would deserve to be singled out for more elaborate appraisal. The five chapters of part 1 deal with such principles of narrative microdesigns, or of storyworld design, as states, events, and actions (chapter 1), action representation (chapter 2), scripts, sequences, and stories (chapter 3), participant roles and relations (chapter 4), and dialogues and styles (chapter 5). Part 2 turns to complementary processes and principles for narrative macrodesigns like temporalities (chapter 6), spatialization (chapter 7), perspectives (chapter 8), and what the author calls "contextual anchoring" (chapter 9), that is, the process whereby a narrative asks its interpreters to search for and establish analogies between [End Page 883] the stories they are interpreting and the contexts in which they are interpreting them. The author never contents himself with just reviewing well-known issues, offering instead a welter of sophisticated terminological distinctions and supplementing the narratological tool kit with a wide range of additional concepts.

The interdisciplinary perspective Herman brings to the field of narrative theory allows him to see narrative not as an exclusively literary phenomenon but rather as an anthropologically universal cognitive style. An added virtue of Herman's eminently readable book is that he is equally at home with contemporary literary theory, linguistics, cognitive theory, and textual analysis. The extremely lucid exposition of complex theoretical issues is complemented by a sustained concern for textual analysis and practical demonstration, showing, for instance, that such concepts as the script, participant roles, and perspective can be productive not just for narrative theory but also for the practice of literary criticism. The cognitive perspective Herman adopts throughout leads to enlightening reconceptualizations of such key concepts of literary criticism as genres, point of view (or focalization), and speech styles. Some of Herman's interesting observations—for example, on the ways...