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  • Even the Title: On the State of Narrative Theory Today
  • Nicholas Royle (bio)

You have tried to draw a line under this. What is happening? What will have happened?

Even the title. Is that the title or simply a reference to the title? Does it allude to some other title, yet to be revealed? Or is the subtitle the title (“On the State of Narrative Theory Today”) and, if so, is its status then being presented, in effect, in ironic quotation marks?—as if to say, whatever is happening, there is something wrong, something funny is going on with the very idea of “the state of narrative theory today” and the very idea of a title. Or, more peremptorily: something has happened, everything has altered, it is no longer possible to subscribe to the logic of the title, to the form of a title, and especially not to “the state of narrative theory today.”

All of this may sound outlandish, even uncouth. A bit unco, you are tempted to add, thereby dropping in at the outset a word that no one says, no one writes any longer, but a word that you love and that was deployed by Robert Louis Stevenson in his novel Catriona, the sequel to Kidnapped, as recently as 1893: “It was an unco place by [End Page 1] night, unco by day; and these were unco sounds . . .” (128).1 “Unco” is a shortening of “uncouth” and means, among other things, “weird,” “uncanny.” Since when did anyone suppose it might be appropriate or acceptable to write a critical essay or deliver a lecture about narrative theory in the second person? What are you doing? What is happening to you?

Veering is already underway. You would merely like to recall that, when it comes to reading and thinking about narrative, “the work that ‘veering’ does . . . is to call into question the very notion and possibility of a state, of stability or stabilization” (Royle, Veering 7).

Even the title. This phrase refers, among other things, to a recent novel by Jon Mc-Gregor called Even the Dogs (2010). You will come back to this. You promise.

“Even the title . . .” In short, you want to address what seem to you the disarming but ineluctable, game-changing, law-altering dimensions of thinking or writing about “narrative theory today.” This entails reckoning with what Jonathan Culler terms “the literary in theory” or, more precisely, with how the force and effects of literary narrative, narrativeering as you call it, put the “state of narrative theory” in a whirl.2 This whirl is what is happening in contemporary narrative practice (think, for example, of the ways in which Hélène Cixous and J. M. Coetzee incorporate critical writing into their books of fiction), as well as in critical writing as such.

As the book entitled Veering: A Theory of Literature seeks to suggest—starting with its title and with questioning the place or state or stability of a title—analysis of the figure of veering broaches an economy of the uncanny. In this respect, its concerns are closely allied with those of Brian Richardson’s Unnatural Voices: Extreme Narration in Modern and Contemporary Fiction (2006). Richardson provides a fine account of narrative fiction in terms of what is “dynamic, mutable, subversive,” especially in relation to what he calls a “perpetual reconfiguring of adjacent genres and established practice” (140). Richardson rightly admires those, from Roland Barthes onwards, who have “taken up the challenge and attempted to describe . . . unnatural narrators and extreme acts of narration in a systematic manner” (134). He goes on to conclude, “This is the direction narrative theory must continue to move toward if it is to accurately circumscribe the narratives of our time” (135). But the sort of safe place here evoked is like the Castle Keep in Kafka’s “The Burrow”—a place of anxious, troubled, sometimes calm, sometimes frantic, and certainly deluded seclusion and security from which systematic acts of circumscribing can be carried out. New kinds of accommodation and hospitality are necessary.

You are already on the road, on the high seas, a castaway as you speak.

That project of “circumscrib[ing] the narratives of our time” is...


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pp. 1-16
Launched on MUSE
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