University of Nebraska Press

Frontiers of Narrative

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Frontiers of Narrative

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Talk Fiction

Literature and the Talk Explosion

Irene Kacandes

Everywhere you turn today, someone (or something) is talking to you—the television, the radio, cell phones, your computer. If you think some of the novels and stories you read are talking to you too, you're not alone, and you're not mistaken. In this innovative, multidisciplinary work, Irene Kacandes reads contemporary fiction as a form of conversation and as part of the larger conversation that is modern culture.
 
Within a framework of talk as interaction, Kacandes considers texts that can be classified as "statements," that is, texts that wholly or in part ask for their readers to react— to talk back—to them in certain ways. The works she addresses—from writers as varied as Harriet O. Wilson, Margaret Atwood, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, Graham Swift, Günter Grass, John Barth, Julio Cortázar, and Italo Calvino—conduct their interactions in certain modes to accomplish different sorts of cultural work: storytelling, testimony, apostrophe, and interactivity. By focusing on texts within these groupings, Kacandes is able to relate the different modes of talk fiction to extraliterary cultural developments in our oral age—and to show how such interactions, however contrary to the dominant twentieth-century view of literature as art for art's sake, help to keep literature alive and speaking to us.

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Telling Children's Stories

Narrative Theory and Children's Literature

Edited by Mike Cadden

The most accessible approach yet to children’s literature and narrative theory, Telling Children’s Stories is a comprehensive collection of never-before-published essays by an international slate of scholars that offers a broad yet in-depth assessment of narrative strategies unique to children’s literature. The volume is divided into four interrelated sections: “Genre Templates and Transformations,” “Approaches to the Picture Book,” “Narrators and Implied Readers,” and “Narrative Time.” Mike Cadden’s introduction considers the links between the various essays and topics, as well as their connections with such issues as metafiction, narrative ethics, focalization, and plotting. Ranging in focus from picture books to novels such as To Kill a Mockingbird, from detective fiction for children to historical tales, from new works such as the Lemony Snicket series to classics like Tom’s Midnight Garden, these essays explore notions of montage and metaphor, perspective and subjectivity, identification and time. Together, they comprise a resource that will interest and instruct scholars of narrative theory and children’s literature, and that will become critically important to the understanding and development of both fields.

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Transmedial Narratology and Contemporary Media Culture

Jan-Noël Thon

It has become something of a cliché within the field of narratology to assert the commercial, aesthetic, and sociocultural relevance of narrative representations, but the fact remains that narratives are everywhere. Whenever we read a novel or a comic, watch a film or an episode of our favorite television series, or play the latest video game, we are likely to engage with narrative media. Similarly, the intermedial adaptations and transmedial entertainment franchises that have become increasingly visible during the past few decades are, at their core, narrative forms. Since a significant part of contemporary media culture is defined by the narratives we tell each other via various media, the media studies discipline needs a genuinely transmedial narratology.

Transmedial Narratology and Contemporary Media Culture focuses on the intersubjective construction of storyworlds as well as on prototypical forms of narratorial and subjective representation. It provides not only a method for the analysis of salient transmedial strategies of narrative representation in contemporary films, comics, and video games but also a theoretical frame within which medium-specific approaches from literary and film narratology, from comics studies and game studies, and from various other strands of media and cultural studies may be employed to further our understanding of narratives across media.

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Unnatural Narrative

Impossible Worlds in Fiction and Drama

Jan Alber

A talking body part, a character that is simultaneously alive and dead, a shape-changing setting, or time travel: although impossible in the real world, such narrative elements do appear in the storyworlds of novels, short stories, and plays. Impossibilities of narrator, character, time, and space are not only common in today’s world of postmodernist literature but can also be found throughout the history of literature. Examples include the beast fable, the heroic epic, the romance, the eighteenth-century circulation novel, the Gothic novel, the ghost play, the fantasy narrative, and the science-fiction novel, among others.

Unnatural Narrative looks at the startling and persistent presence of the impossible or “the unnatural” throughout British and American literary history. Layering the lenses of cognitive narratology, frame theory, and possible-worlds theory, Unnatural Narrative offers a rigorous and engaging new characterization of the unnatural and what it yields for individual readers as well as literary culture. Jan Alber demonstrates compelling interpretations of the unnatural in literature and shows the ways in which such unnatural phenomena become conventional in readers’ minds, altogether expanding our sense of the imaginable and informing new structures and genres of narrative engagement. 


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Useful Fictions

Evolution, Anxiety, and the Origins of Literature

Edited by Mike Cadden

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion observed in The White Album. Why is this? Michael Austin asks, in Useful Fictions. Why, in particular, are human beings, whose very survival depends on obtaining true information, so drawn to fictional narratives? After all, virtually every human culture reveres some form of storytelling. Might there be an evolutionary reason behind our species’ need for stories? Drawing on evolutionary biology, anthropology, narrative theory, cognitive psychology, game theory, and evolutionary aesthetics, Austin develops the concept of a “useful fiction,” a simple narrative that serves an adaptive function unrelated to its factual one. In his work we see how these useful fictions play a key role in neutralizing the overwhelming anxiety that humans can experience as their minds gather and process information. Rudimentary narratives constructed for this purpose, Austin suggests, provided a cognitive scaffold that might have become the basis for our well-documented love of fictional stories. Written in clear, jargon-free prose and employing abundant literary examples—from the Bible to One Thousand and One Arabian Nights and Don Quixote to No Exit—Austin’s work offers a new way of understanding the relationship between fiction and evolutionary processes—and, perhaps, the very origins of literature.

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Writing at the Limit

The Novel in the New Media Ecology

Daniel Punday

While some cultural critics are pronouncing the death of the novel, a whole generation of novelists have turned to other media with curiosity rather than fear. These novelists are not simply incorporating references to other media into their work for the sake of verisimilitude, they are also engaging precisely such media as a way of talking about what it means to write and read narrative in a society filled with stories told outside the print medium.

By examining how some of our best fiction writers have taken up the challenge of film, television, video games, and hypertext, Daniel Punday offers an enlightening look into the current status of such fundamental narrative concepts as character, plot, and setting. He considers well-known postmodernists like Thomas Pynchon and Robert Coover, more-accessible authors like Maxine Hong Kingston and Oscar Hijuelos, and unjustly overlooked writers like Susan Daitch and Kenneth Gangemi, and asks how their works investigate the nature and limits of print as a medium for storytelling.

Writing at the Limit explores how novelists locate print writing within the contemporary media ecology, and what it really means to be writing at print’s media limit.

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