What constitutes a narrative?

MetaCognition | Member
 
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Thought I'd inaugurate my return to Serious with a topic related to my PhD thesis.

So the question is, what is a narrative? Is a sequence of events sufficient to be a narrative? If not, what else must be added to this recorded sequence of events in order to make it a narrative?

Candidates I can think of would be something like: causal determination between events, intentionality, internally guiding teloi, some kind of overall thematic structure (e.g. monomythical), authorial pretense, fictionalisation etc.

A corollary question would be what relation does narrative structure have with dialogue; are things like polyphonic novels different in kind in their narrative structure from 'regular' forms of literature, or do they operate with the same notion of narrativity?

Would be interested to hear some thoughts.


Mordo | Mythic Invincible!
 
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emigrate or degenerate. the choice is yours
Gonna be the first brainlet here to fess up and admit I did not understand a good 60% of what you just wrote.


 
Verbatim
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Is a sequence of events sufficient to be a narrative? If not, what else must be added to this recorded sequence of events in order to make it a narrative?

Candidates I can think of would be something like: causal determination between events, intentionality, internally guiding teloi, some kind of overall thematic structure (e.g. monomythical), authorial pretense, fictionalisation etc.
these things might be necessary for an engaging narrative, but whoever said narratives had to be engaging?

i do think you could essentially reduce a narrative down to "any sequence of events" told with the purpose of relaying some kind of ontological experience—or hell, even just one event, like in that famous six-word story:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

only one event is described in this story—and if you've never seen it before, yes, that's the entire story—and the idea is that other events can be inferred from the terse descriptions, but not necessarily; it's all up to the reader

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A corollary question would be what relation does narrative structure have with dialogue; are things like polyphonic novels different in kind in their narrative structure from 'regular' forms of literature, or do they operate with the same notion of narrativity?
it certainly complicates the story insofar as there are now multiple voices telling it, but i think the same general theory applies


MetaCognition | Member
 
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i do think you could essentially reduce a narrative down to "any sequence of events" told with the purpose of relaying some kind of ontological experience—or hell, even just one event, like in that famous six-word story:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

only one event is described in this story—and if you've never seen it before, yes, that's the entire story—and the idea is that other events can be inferred from the terse descriptions, but not necessarily; it's all up to the reader

I don't think this constitutes a reduction of the narrative down to an event. Narratologically the sentence doesn't qualify; the content of whatever the reader infers may constitute a narrative, but this is a different object to the sentence.


 
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I don't think this constitutes a reduction of the narrative down to an event. Narratologically the sentence doesn't qualify; the content of whatever the reader infers may constitute a narrative, but this is a different object to the sentence.
i'm not so sure about that—i for one could not propose any additional information to that sentence which could further qualify its narrative status more than it already has; i think it has virtually everything you need, and if not, i'm not sure what it lacks

is it the lack of telos? the problem with this is that, if you were to be a nihilist, then all of teleology is a myth anyway; so you could argue that there's no point to any story beyond that which you can infer for yourself

so to that end, drawing inferences—parsing meaning from a narrative—is the whole raison d'être of storytelling, even if discovering that meaning is an arduous pursuit

the other items you proposed, again, just kinda seem like personal preferences to me—you would naturally prefer that a story possess these qualities, as i would, because it makes them more entertaining, cohesive, or immediately meaningful, but given the subjective nature of these—what resonates with you may not resonate with me—i'm not so quick to co-opt those suggestions
Last Edit: May 26, 2020, 09:04:16 PM by Verbatim


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is it the lack of telos? the problem with this is that, if you were to be a nihilist, then all of teleology is a myth anyway; so you could argue that there's no point to any story beyond that which you can infer for yourself
This doesn't seem particularly pertinent to me. A narrative can have a self-contained teleological orientation without any affirmation of some metaphysical telos. All this would entail is that there is some mythopoeic element to narrativity (depending on how expansively you want to define myth)--if we think a telos is necessary--and that's a bullet I'd probably be willing to bite. Some literary theorists (viz. Hayden White) and philosophers (Ricoeur) are more than happy to concede that in representation the use of narratives adds something that isn't contained in a mere sequential account of events, or a chronicle, and I think we can think about this broadly as a process of fictionalisation. And, I mean, some people bite like Dennett bite this bullet completely when it comes to personal identity, affirming both the narrative account and its fictional status.

So I don't really see the bite of this concern when it comes to narrative structure. And, sure, we're perspectivally trapped when it comes to matters of interpretation; there are still better and worse ways of reading Shakespeare that arise from the form and content of the text. You could even say that about your one-sentence (hind-)narrative, that there is some normative force behind the fact that the form of the sentence is clearly trying to get you to engage imaginatively, such that engaging with it imaginatively constitutes a more 'faithful' interpretation of the 'narrative'--at least at the level of the reader's comportment.

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the other items you proposed, again, just kinda seem like personal preferences to me—you would naturally prefer that a story possess these qualities, as i would, because it makes them more entertaining, cohesive, or immediately meaningful, but given the subjective nature of these—what resonates with you may not resonate with me—i'm not so quick to co-opt those suggestions
I think they're all deeply problematic. Just less problematic than the equivalence of narratives with mere sequences or singular events. And these problems take on an ethical actuality if we think they have relevance for matters of personal identity, as I do.

EDIT: There is something interesting about your 'narrative' however, namely the diachronicity implied by the word "never". It intimates the reader into thinking both backwards and forwards, such that a sequence of events can be envisioned that have meaning in relation to one another. I wouldn't call it a narrative, however, but would certainly concede that it leads one to easily infer a narrative. But the interesting thing about this is that it points to a possible condition of narrative structure beyond mere sequence: a diachronically-extended set of events, the meanings of which are understood in relation to the whole, and vice versa.
Last Edit: May 26, 2020, 09:26:05 PM by MetaCognition


 
Verbatim
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This doesn't seem particularly pertinent to me. A narrative can have a self-contained teleological orientation without any affirmation of some metaphysical telos. All this would entail is that there is some mythopoeic element to narrativity (depending on how expansively you want to define myth)--if we think a telos is necessary--and that's a bullet I'd probably be willing to bite.
okay, so before i respond properly, do you have a specific example in mind?


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This doesn't seem particularly pertinent to me. A narrative can have a self-contained teleological orientation without any affirmation of some metaphysical telos. All this would entail is that there is some mythopoeic element to narrativity (depending on how expansively you want to define myth)--if we think a telos is necessary--and that's a bullet I'd probably be willing to bite.
okay, so before i respond properly, do you have a specific example in mind?
An example of what, exactly?


 
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This doesn't seem particularly pertinent to me. A narrative can have a self-contained teleological orientation without any affirmation of some metaphysical telos. All this would entail is that there is some mythopoeic element to narrativity (depending on how expansively you want to define myth)--if we think a telos is necessary--and that's a bullet I'd probably be willing to bite.
okay, so before i respond properly, do you have a specific example in mind?
An example of what, exactly?
a story with this "self-contained teleological orientation" that you described—an element that is innate to the story, and is not merely inferred—such that its removal would cede its narrative status by reducing it to a mere sequence of events

anything you'd consider a story, basically—the simpler, the better

as a matter of fact, what's the simplest story that you know, or could come up with, that would appear to satisfy all the criteria that you deem necessary? if you'd like, you could even take the six-word example i gave and add to it
Last Edit: May 26, 2020, 11:41:50 PM by Verbatim


MetaCognition | Member
 
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]a story with this "self-contained teleological orientation" that you described—an element that is innate to the story, and is not merely inferred—such that its removal would cede its narrative status by reducing it to a mere sequence of events
I'm not convinced that a telos is the relevant criterion for determining narrative status. At the very least, to think narratives are monadically teleological, in that just adding a telos to a mere sequence produces a narrative, is reductive. Many narratives are teleological, in that they are prospective with some core normative orientation ('redemption'), and this is particularly relevant in identity accounts ('the good life').

But I don't think the rescission of a telos makes something not a narrative; I don't think Dostoevsky's polyphonic novels are teleological, nor Capote's In Cold Blood, but I would consider them both narrative works.

If you're asking me what I think makes a narrative? I'm not entirely sure. I'd probably say something like the syntagmatic coherence of a representation of a set of events, where the representation (the narrative) is constituted by a structure of diachronic (fictive) emplotment which renders heterogenous agents, events and objects intelligible in the context of the whole.
Last Edit: May 27, 2020, 12:37:47 AM by MetaCognition


 
Verbatim
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If you're asking me what I think makes a narrative? I'm not entirely sure. I'd probably say something like the syntagmatic coherence of a representation of a set of events, where the representation (the narrative) is constituted by a structure of diachronic (fictive) emplotment which renders heterogenous agents, events and objects intelligible in the context of the whole.
and the six-word example doesn't fit this framework?

you have a representation of a set of events which syntactically cohere—there are baby shoes for sale (1), and they have never been worn (2); you've already conceded the diachronic nature of these events, so i won't go over that

as for "heterogeneous agents," you have the seller of the shoes (which also serve as an object, including the sign/placard/whatever the text is clearly intradiegetically written on), the baby that they would've belonged to, and (most nebulously) the people to whom the shoes are being offered—these agents are vague, sure, but not unintelligible

am i forgetting something?


MetaCognition | Member
 
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If you're asking me what I think makes a narrative? I'm not entirely sure. I'd probably say something like the syntagmatic coherence of a representation of a set of events, where the representation (the narrative) is constituted by a structure of diachronic (fictive) emplotment which renders heterogenous agents, events and objects intelligible in the context of the whole.
and the six-word example doesn't fit this framework?

you have a representation of a set of events which syntactically cohere—there are baby shoes for sale (1), and they have never been worn (2); you've already conceded the diachronic nature of these events, so i won't go over that

as for "heterogeneous agents," you have the seller of the shoes (which also serve as an object, including the sign/placard/whatever the text is clearly intradiegetically written on), the baby that they would've belonged to, and (most nebulously) the people to whom the shoes are being offered—these agents are vague, sure, but not unintelligible

am i forgetting something?
My point is that these are not present in the text itself. Narrative is textual; we may engage hermeneutically in a narrative-like way with given pieces of text, but I don't think this makes the text itself narrative.

Perhaps I am just clutching, though; if it properly fits my criteria, then yes, it's a narrative.


 
Verbatim
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My point is that these are not present in the text itself. Narrative is textual; we may engage hermeneutically in a narrative-like way with given pieces of text, but I don't think this makes the text itself narrative.

Perhaps I am just clutching, though; if it properly fits my criteria, then yes, it's a narrative.
narrative is textual, but a major part of any text is subtext

it's not invalid to interpret stories at face value alone, but if we're trying to define what a story is, i just think it's needlessly restrictive to write off all subtext, because stories will often contain much more information than can be interpreted literally

this becomes especially important when you consider stories told without the use of lexemes, such as cave paintings, hieroglyphics, silent films with no dialogue, or this story from the SCP Foundation that only uses images to form its narrative (which is a very fun read, by the way)
Last Edit: May 27, 2020, 03:27:35 AM by Verbatim


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Gambatte!
神の愛は忍える。
It’s like attorneys in a court case
Each are asserting competing narratives
Draw attention to and emphasize the facts, ideas, questions, timeline, etc that promote the validity of your story.
Ignore and downplay those that contradict or conflict with the story you’re promoting.


MetaCognition | Member
 
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It’s like attorneys in a court case
Each are asserting competing narratives
Draw attention to and emphasize the facts, ideas, questions, timeline, etc that promote the validity of your story.
Ignore and downplay those that contradict or conflict with the story you’re promoting.

What?