University of Nebraska Press

Frontiers of Narrative

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Narrative Beginnings

Theories and Practices

Brian Richardson

George Eliot wrote that “man cannot do without the make-believe of a beginning.” Beginnings, it turns out, can be quite unusual, complex, and deceptive. The first major volume to focus on this critical but neglected topic, this collection brings together theoretical studies and critical analyses of beginnings in a wide range of narrative works spanning several centuries and genres. The international and interdisciplinary scope of these essays, representing every major theoretical perspective—including feminist, cognitive, postcolonial, postmodern, rhetorical, ethnic, narratological, and hypertext studies—extends from classic literary fiction to nonfictional discourse to popular culture.
 
The authors, respected scholars and emerging critics, ask what conventions structure our understanding of beginnings before we encounter them; how best to analyze and comprehend beginnings in historical, traditional, and postmodern works; and how endings are (often unexpectedly) related to beginnings. The contributors use historical, political, narratological, and psychological frameworks to pursue these and related questions in works by Laurence Sterne, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, Manuel Puig, Salman Rushdie, Julia Alvarez, and feminist hypertext fiction. Together their essays comprise the single most important volume for theorizing about and understanding narrative beginnings.

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New Narratives

Stories and Storytelling in the Digital Age

Ruth Page

Just as the explosive growth of digital media has led to ever-expanding narrative possibilities and practices, so these new electronic modes of storytelling have, in their own turn, demanded a rapid and radical rethinking of narrative theory. This timely volume takes up the challenge, deeply and broadly considering the relationship between digital technology and narrative theory in the face of the changing landscape of computer-mediated communication.

New Narratives reflects the diversity of its subject by bringing together some of the foremost practitioners and theorists of digital narratives. It extends the range of digital subgenres examined by narrative theorists to include forms that have become increasingly prominent, new examples of experimental hypertext, and contemporary video games. The collection also explicitly draws connections between the development of narrative theory, technological innovation, and the use of narratives in particular social and cultural contexts.

Finally, New Narratives focuses on how the tools provided by new technologies may be harnessed to provide new ways of both producing and theorizing narrative. Truly interdisciplinary, the book offers broad coverage of contemporary narrative theory, including frameworks that draw from classical and postclassical narratology, linguistics, and media studies.

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Opening Acts

Narrative Beginnings in Twentieth-Century Feminist Fiction

Catherine Romagnolo

In the beginning there was . . . the beginning. And with the beginning came the power to tell a story. Few book-length studies of narrative beginnings exist, and not one takes a feminist perspective. Opening Acts reveals the important role of beginnings as moments of discursive authority with power and agency that have been appropriated by writers from historically marginalized groups. Catherine Romagnolo argues for a critical awareness of how social identity plays a role in the strategic use and critical interpretation of narrative beginnings.

The twentieth-century U.S. women writers whom Romagnolo studies—Edith Wharton, H.D., Toni Morrison, Julia Alvarez, and Amy Tan—have seized the power to disrupt conventional structures of authority and undermine historical master narratives of marriage, motherhood, U.S. nationhood, race, and citizenship. Using six of their novels as points of entry, Romagnolo illuminates the ways in which beginnings are potentially subversive, thereby disrupting the reinscription of hierarchically gendered and racialized conceptions of authorship and agency.

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Refiguring Minds in Narrative Media

David Ciccoricco

How do writers represent cognition, and what can these representations tell us about how our own minds work? Refiguring Minds in Narrative Media is the first single-author book to explore these questions across media, moving from analyses of literary narratives in print to those found where so much cultural and artistic production occurs today: computer screens.

Expanding the domain of literary studies from a focus on representations to the kind of simulations that characterize narratives in digital media, such as those found in interactive, web-based digital fictions and story-driven video games, David Ciccoricco draws on new research in the cognitive sciences to illustrate how the cybernetic and ludic qualities characterizing narratives in new literary media have significant implications for how we understand the workings of actual minds in an increasingly media-saturated culture. Amid continued concern about the impact of digital media on the minds of readers and players today, and the alarming philosophical questions generated by the communion of minds and machines, Ciccoricco provides detailed examples illustrating how stories in virtually any medium can still nourish creative imagination and cultivate critical—and ethical—reflection. Contributing new insights on attention, perception, memory, and emotion, Refiguring Minds in Narrative Media is a book at the forefront of a new wave of media-conscious cognitive literary studies.

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Spaces of the Mind

Narrative and Community in the American West

Elaine A. Jahner

Spaces of the Mind reveals how both immigrant European and modern Native communities and individuals use oral and written narratives to define and center themselves in time and space. Elaine A. Jahner skillfully weaves together years of fieldwork among the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota, her own memories of growing up in a German-Russian town across the Missouri River from the Standing Rock Sioux, and an illuminating set of narrative concepts.

Spaces of the Mind proposes a theory of cognitive style that emphasizes the ways in which distinct cultural identities are expressed through the structure of a narrative and the unfolding of its performance, telling, or reading. Themes of creativity and survival amid loss pervade the stories told by Natives about themselves and their past when discussing the inundation of the original Standing Rock Sioux village during the Oahe Dam construction in the 1950s. Immigrant Germans and Alsatians struggled to reconcile the hardships of the northern Plains with what they left behind in the Old World, and the narratives of a German-Russian community reflect and encourage survival in the face of transition. Jahner also studies how two prominent novelists—James Welch, a member of the Blackfeet community, and Mildred Walker, who left her native New England for the West— perceive a single landscape, the state of Montana, and how it has influenced their thought and narratives.

Spaces of the Mind provides a fresh understanding of Western literature and culture, encourages a reconsideration of the formation and modern character of the American West, and contributes to a fuller appreciation of the significance of narrative.

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Stories and Minds

Cognitive Approaches to Literary Narrative

Lars Bernaerts

How do narratives draw on our memory capacity? How is our attention guided when we are reading a literary narrative? What kind of empathy is triggered by intercultural novels? A cast of international scholars explores these and other questions from an interdisciplinary perspective in Stories and Minds, a collection of essays that discusses cutting-edge research in the field of cognitive narrative studies. Recent findings in the philosophy of mind and cognitive psychology, among other disciplines, are integrated in fresh theoretical perspectives and illustrated with accompanying analyses of literary fiction.

Pursuing such topics as narrative gaps, mental simulation in reading, theory of mind, and folk psychology, these essays address fundamental questions about the role of cognitive processes in literary narratives and in narrative comprehension. Stories and Minds reveals the rich possibilities for research along the nexus of narrative and mind.

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Storying Domestic Violence

Constructions and Stereotypes of Abuse in the Discourse of General Practitioners

Jarmila Mildorf

Globally, at least one in four women experiences domestic violence at some point in her life, according to World Bank figures, which are confirmed by local surveys throughout the world. Since domestic violence can cause both acute physical injuries and long-term chronic illness, an abused woman is likely to appeal to a family doctor or general practitioner as one of her first resources for help. General practitioners, however, rarely report domestic violence in their practices.
 
Jarmila Mildorf’s interdisciplinary study makes a unique contribution to the fields of domestic abuse and narrative studies with her analysis of the narrative practices of doctors who treat abused women. Mildorf, a sociolinguist and literary scholar, analyzes the narrative trajectories, space-time parameters, agency, modalities, metaphors, and stereotypes in thirty-six narratives deriving from in-depth interviews with twenty general practitioners in Aberdeen, Scotland. Mildorf shows what these narrative strategies reveal about the perceptions and attitudes of practitioners toward domestic violence and the ways in which the narratives linguistically reconstruct knowledge and realities of domestic violence.
 
Unique in its emphasis on the discourse of doctors, Storying Domestic Violence suggests the possibility of narrative approaches in medical modules that might preclude further stigmatization and victimization of abused women. A cross section of scholars will recognize this study as significant for its potential to change how people think about domestic abuse, physician-patient relations, and public health policy.

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The Storyworld Accord

Econarratology and Postcolonial Narratives

Erin James

“Storyworlds,” mental models of context and environment within which characters function, is a concept used to describe what happens in narrative. Narratologists agree that the concept of storyworlds best captures the ecology of narrative interpretation by allowing a fuller appreciation of the organization of both space and time, by recognizing reading as a process that encourages readers to compare the world of a text to other possible worlds, and by highlighting the power of narrative to immerse readers in new and unfamiliar environments.

Focusing on the work of writers from Trinidad and Nigeria, such as Sam Selvon and Ben Okri, The Storyworld Accord investigates and compares the storyworlds of nonrealist and postmodern postcolonial texts to show how such narratives grapple with the often-collapsed concerns of subjectivity, representation, and environment, bringing together these narratological and ecocritical concerns via a mode that Erin James calls econarratology. Arguing that postcolonial ecocriticism, like ecocritical studies, has tended to neglect imaginative representations of the environment in postcolonial literatures, James suggests that readings of storyworlds in postcolonial texts helps narrative theorists and ecocritics better consider the ways in which culture, ideologies, and social and environmental issues are articulated in narrative forms and structures, while also helping postcolonial scholars more fully consider the environment alongside issues of political subjectivity and sovereignty.

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Storyworlds across Media

Toward a Media-Conscious Narratology

Marie-Laure Ryan

The proliferation of media and their ever-increasing role in our daily life has produced a strong sense that understanding media—everything from oral storytelling, literary narrative, newspapers, and comics to radio, film, TV, and video games—is key to understanding the dynamics of culture and society. Storyworlds across Media explores how media, old and new, give birth to various types of storyworlds and provide different ways of experiencing them, inviting readers to join an ongoing theoretical conversation focused on the question: how can narratology achieve media-consciousness?
 

The first part of the volume critically assesses the cross- and transmedial validity of narratological concepts such as storyworld, narrator, representation of subjectivity, and fictionality. The second part deals with issues of multimodality and intermediality across media. The third part explores the relation between media convergence and transmedial storyworlds, examining emergent forms of storytelling based on multiple media platforms. Taken together, these essays build the foundation for a media-conscious narratology that acknowledges both similarities and differences in the ways media narrate.
 
 

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Strange Narrators in Contemporary Fiction

Explorations in Readers' Engagement with Characters

Marco Caracciolo

A storyteller’s craft can often be judged by how convincingly the narrative captures the identity and personality of its characters. In this book, the characters who take center stage are “strange” first-person narrators: they are fascinating because of how they are at odds with what the reader would wish or expect to hear—while remaining reassuringly familiar in voice, interactions, and conversations. Combining literary analysis with research in cognitive and social psychology, Marco Caracciolo focuses on readers’ encounters with the “strange” narrators of ten contemporary novels, including Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Caracciolo explores readers’ responses to narrators who suffer from neurocognitive or developmental disorders, who are mentally disturbed due to multiple personality disorder or psychopathy, whose consciousness is split between two parallel dimensions or is disembodied, who are animals, or who lose their sanity.
A foray into current work on reception, reader-response, cognitive literary study, and narratology, Strange Narrators in Contemporary Fiction illustrates why any encounter with a fictional text is a complex negotiation of interlaced feelings, thoughts, experiences, and interpretations.

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