- Prolegomenon to a Differential Theory of Narrative
The object of study of this article is narrative.1 My aim is to sketch what exactly constitutes the necessary and sufficient building blocks of narrative as such. The article’s concern is thus with the ontological build-up and status of narrative. In this, it argues against narratology’s prevalent anti-metaphysical Kantianism and for a Deleuze-inflected metaphysical conception of narrative. My account unfolds according to the following trajectory: first, I stage a critique of narratology’s default Kantianism; second, I formulate an alternative Deleuzian program; third, I present short exemplary readings of three literary narratives, two contemporary novels and a nineteenth-century short story. The concept of narrative that ultimately emerges from this trajectory is differential, immanent, univocal, unconscious, and non-human.
1. Narratology and Metaphysics
But why Kant and why Deleuze? In which sense is it possible to claim that narratology defaults to a Kantian anti-metaphysics? And why should Deleuze be particularly suitable as an alternative? It all starts with Kant’s limitation of the field of reason’s legitimate inquiry to reason itself inaugurated by his (in)famous Copernican Revolution: in Kant, everything plays out within the human mind. This is true of both the empirical, the realm of experience, and the transcendental, the realm of the conditions of experience. Kant conceives of both realms as immanent to consciousness and thus relegates things in themselves to an inaccessible outside. With Kant, even though things in themselves are thinkable, they remain unknowable. Kant’s transcendental idealism fundamentally constrains the powers of thought, limiting its legitimate field of enquiry to itself: for thought, there is no outside of thought. While Kant himself does not demolish the realm of the in-itself, he exorcizes it: ever since Kant, any in-itself turns out to be always already for-us. Kant achieves the all-pervasiveness of consciousness. In fact, he effectively facilitates the reign of experience and of representation—despite, or, as we will shortly see, because of his transcendental.
It is not hard to see how this philosophical program underpins most narratological explanatory frameworks that cast narrative precisely as representational and experiential with no purchase on any mind-independent reality whatsoever.2 This is exemplarily manifest in the current paradigm [End Page 155] of cognitive narratology. This exemplarity of cognitive narratology with respect to Kantian anti-metaphysics is no coincidence since Kant basically “founds cognitive science as we know it today” (Dunham, Grant, and Watson 98). In this vein, narrative is taken to be fundamentally grounded in human experience and consciousness dealing in mental representations only. Narrative is thus always correlated to human consciousness. It is this “nexus of narrative and mind” (Herman, Basic 137) that is deeply troublesome and unsatisfactory. There are two reasons for this: one has to do with Kantianism’s intrinsic deficiency, the other with actual literary narratives’ anti-Kantian performance. As to Kantianism’s intrinsic deficiency, it goes by the name of Quentin Meillassoux’s recent coinage of “correlationism” (5). Correlationism precisely names the essentially Kantian operation of turning things into the correlate of consciousness. In a recent essay, Ray Brassier formulates an exceptionally clear characterization of the correlationist argument. In the words of Brassier, correlationism is “that form of argumentation that slides from the true claim that we need a concept of mind-independent reality in order to make claims about the latter to the false claim that the very concept of mind-independent reality suffices to convert the latter into a concept, which is by definition mind-dependent. This is the fatal non-sequitur at the root of every variant of correlationism” (64). With respect to narrative, we could then say that while a concept of narrative is necessarily mind-dependent, narrative in-itself is not. The question, of course, is whether there is any good reason to think that narrative is extra-mental. Indeed, such a claim seems to be absurd. How could human consciousness not be decisive for the being of narrative? In narratives, surely, some consciousness is telling something to some other consciousness. How not to speak of consciousness? Yet narrative cannot be limited to the workings...