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Narrative 12.1 (2004) 1-2

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Editor's Column

Methods. Concepts. Definitions. Histories. This issue features reflections on and work with these fundamental components of narrative studies as well as three essays that go about the job of using some of these components in their elegant and illuminating analyses. The first two essays, by Mary Poovey and Jonathan Culler, respectively, are revisions of plenary addresses delivered at the very successful Berkeley Narrative Conference in March 2003. Poovey's reflections on method arise from her experience of reading Philip Meadows Taylor's 1839 narrative, Confessions of a Thug, and following up that reading with careful historical research. During her reading Poovey became persuaded that aspects of the narrative indicated that Taylor was offering a critique of British colonialism in India, but her research found that Taylor's contemporaries read the narrative as supporting the colonialist enterprise. Hence her question: are the method and conclusions of her early-twenty-first-century analysis better, worse, or just different from the analysis of Taylor's contemporaries? I won't give away the answer here.

Culler's essay examines the concept of omniscience, inviting us all to take a fresh and skeptical look at it. With his characteristic combination of lucidity and insight, Culler first finds fault with the analogy between God's omniscience and the narrator's, and then identifies the different kinds of narrative operations that get labeled as instances of omniscience. Culler provocatively argues that we would yield better, more precise accounts of these operations if we abandoned the label and paid more attention to the work they do—and do not—accomplish.

The Dialogue in this issue among David Antin and several scholars at Ohio State University, a transcript of a conversation that took place in Columbus in Autumn 2002, considers the pros and cons of Antin's definitions of story and of narrative. Antin proposes to distinguish the two not on the basis of the difference between an abstract sequence of events and those events rendered in a specific way but rather on the basis of subjectivity. For Antin, story is the "logical sequence of events," [End Page 1] while narrative is "a desiring subject's confrontation with the threat or promise of transformation, or one might say the threat and promise of transformation, which the subject struggles either to withstand or to bring about." One consequence of these definitions is that they allow for the decoupling of the two concepts: one can have story without narrative (as in a newspaper's report of an event) and narrative without story (as in some experiments by the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets). The Dialogue considers further implications and consequences of these definitions—how is Antin's conception of narrative different from what most people would call lyric?—and moves on to consider numerous other issues, including narrative across the media and the concept of irony.

Daniel P. Gunn's essay takes up the question of the relation between the technique of free indirect discourse (FID) and the authority of Austen's narrator in Emma and, by extension, the authority of other heterodiegetic narrators. Through skillful analyses of FID in Emma, Gunn counters theory and criticism advancing the position that FID is a technique that subverts the narrator's authority; he contends instead that the technique is part of Austen's careful modulation of voices, a modulation that enhances rather than undermines the narrator's authority.

Susan M. Griffin's essay identifies a significant strain of anti-Catholicism in the work of Wilkie Collins and uses her demonstration to add a new dimension to our understanding of the rise of the sensation novel in nineteenth-century England. Griffin's work, in other words, combines historical, cultural, and formal analysis to contribute to our understanding not only of The Woman in White but also of the history of the English novel.

Finally, Elana Gomel's essay provocatively considers the way in which Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray anticipates—and works through in its own way—recent theoretical debates about authorship. The essay both offers an original...


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