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  • The Morphing Metaphor and the Question of Narrative Voice
  • Laura Buchholz (bio)

Over the last two decades, the advent of new narrative media has forced many in the field of narratology to grapple with the continuing questions and adjustments raised by such unconventional forms of story-telling. Among the leaders in this charge, Marie-Laure Ryan has worked to delineate the ramifications of new media, largely spawned from computer technology, on narrative theory.1 However, in her essay "Cyberage Narratology" which appears in David Herman's Narratologies: New Perspectives on Narrative Analysis, Ryan reverses this issue. Instead of asking how new technologies and narrative genres might necessitate "the broadening of the scope of narratology," here, Ryan seeks "to survey what computers can teach us about traditional forms of narrative" (115). Specifically, Ryan proposes applying four computer metaphors to narratological contexts. Among these four metaphors, Ryan suggests the metaphor of "morphing" may help define the changing nature of a narrator's voice throughout a text because the metaphor allows for "flexibility" within the discussion of the narrator's ontology (137).

In this essay, I will further explore Ryan's morphing metaphor, specifically focusing on its usefulness as a method of discerning and describing the process of shifting textual voices within third-person narratives. I will examine this question from three perspectives. First, I propose that describing voice with a morphing metaphor has the potential to add specificity to ongoing discussions surrounding the nature of free indirect discourse because it introduces the possibility of identifying a transitional process of voice between narrator and character, while also illustrating, through visual terminology, the varying fluctuations between two speaking agents. [End Page 200] Secondly, I propose that the metaphor may be useful in describing transitions of "authorial intrusions" which appear in both traditional novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as in twentieth-century metafiction. By speaking of a "morph" between a narrator and an author, we can better identify points of transition and overlap between the two perceived agents. More specifically, morphing is especially helpful when considering a third-person narrative which abruptly changes to a first-person perspective, because it allows the "I" to be identified in a fluid sense: sometimes narrator, sometimes author (or creative persona of the story), and sometimes a mixture of the two. Thirdly, the morphing metaphor, in this "cyberage" sense, also implies an artistic control outside the text. Therefore, a morphing metaphor may aid in our ability to describe how the author designs implicit voices or meanings, such as those found in satire or irony.

In Ryan's essay, she defines the term "morphing" within the context of computer graphics as "the technique of turning an image into another through a number of intermediary frames that gradually alter the features of the starting image into those of the target" (131). By using this metaphor and transposing it from a "visual to a verbal domain," Ryan uses the concept of transformation to argue that the narrator can change multiple times within a narrative by "morphing" into different states (131). Rather than binding an analysis to a fixed narrative voice, either a fully "embodied individual" or an amorphous entity with "no physical properties," the morphing metaphor allows us to describe how the narrator's subjectivity may change multiple times throughout a text (Ryan 136).2 Moreover, Ryan argues that morphing also answers objections to narrative theory raised by Andrew Gibson. She summaries Gibson's argument in Towards a Postmodern Theory of Narrative, that narratology is "obsessed with form" and "incapable to deal with the temporality of form" (Ryan 137). In reply, she asserts that "force can only be apprehended in its interaction with form" and morphing gives us a tool by which to measure these fluctuations. Ryan concludes: "By modulating narrative voice and allowing narrative modes to blend into each other, the concept of morphing not only frees the text from the 'mystifying singleness' of the narrator, it also gives dynamism to form and visibility to force" (138). Finally, Ryan argues that the advantage of using new metaphors in a field already inundated with terminology is that they "can provide new viewpoints on some local problems and redescribe...


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pp. 200-219
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