Tuesday, July 24, 2012

H. Porter Abbott's The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative

Because I have to return this book to the library today and don't want to forget. Abbott introduces a useful term with no precise definition, narrativity.

Narrativity: A disputed term, used here to mean the degree to which a text generates the impression that it is a narrative. Prince coined the term "narrativehood" to refer to the bare minimum required for a narrative to be recognized as a narrative.
Also, this:

Do we need more than one event for there to be narrativity?
She ate lunch. Then she drove the car to work.
In this instance, the additional event does not help a great deal. . . . Narrativity is a matter of degree that does not correlate to the number of devices, qualities, or, for that matter, words that are employed in the narrative.
Brooding, she ate lunch. Then she drove the car to work.
The addition of that one simple word, "brooding," does much to augment narrativity -- that is, the feeling that now we are reading a story. And this may simply be because the word itself is more common to narrative than it is to ordinary discourse. Or it may be because the word gives depth to the character.

Another useful distinction that Abbott makes is between levels of interpretation. He defines three: 1) intentional readings -- that is, trying to recreate the work of the implied author. "The novelist Paul Auster put it simply: 'In a work of fiction, one assumes there is a conscious mind behind the words on the page.'" 2) symptomatic readings -- what does a text tell us about the implied author and the world in which he lived that the author didn't specifically mean to be in the text. A frame different from that with the intention of the implied author; a symptomatic reading can take psychological, feminist, cultural materialist, or any other theoretical lens. 3) adaptive readings. Probably a lot of this happens in writing workshops. I really admire that Abbott highlights the validity of this process -- this is what happens to any attentive and passionate reader. "There is a line one can cross in doing interpretation, on the other side of which one is no longer supporting a reading from an analysis of the evidence but creating a reading by adaptation. But since some degree of creation is a part of all interpretation, finding this line puts us in yet another gray area."

Lovely book. As always, with theoretical texts, I make the mistake of trying to read from the beginning to the end. Ran out of time and got only to Chapter 10. Now have to give this one back to the library -- I think next on my agenda is Umberto Eco's Interpretation and Overinterpretation.