Vanity Fea

Innovative concepts or tools

A question, out of the blue, to all members of the Narrative List who care to answer:

—Which is the most productive, useful, or innovative concept in narrative analysis developed in recent years?—say (but be flexible) in the 21st century? One that you would like us narrativists/narratologists/labelless people to turn our attention to, because it might be an eye-opener, a new paradigm, a... useful idea in the analysis or understanding of narratives? A new one, mind, not the standard tools we may be supposed to be teaching to students of narrative structure.


That*s easy: sideshadowing.

One of the great mysteries in contemporary literary study is how THE
most interesting single work of *postclassical* narrative theory,
Gary Saul Morson*s NARRATIVE AND FREEDOM (1994), could have passed
without any notice (try looking him up in the ROUTLEDGE ENCYCLOPEDIA or
the BLACKWELL COMPANION). One hindrance, no doubt, was Morson*s
tendency to present his ideas as mere glosses on themes from Bakhtin.
They are not.

:David Gorman,
 Northern Illinois University

(A clarification: "Sideshadowing pertains to events that could have happened, but didn't."-  DG)

And a question:  

Given that definition, how does sideshadowing differ from the "disnarrated"? - Emma Kafalenos

My answer:
I'd say there is some common ground between sideshadowing and the disnarrated, but "sideshadowing" is a concept which is more fully articulated within an overall theory of temporal perspective (in Narrative and Freedom, or in Michael André Bernstein's Foregone Conclusions). It is, more specifically, a deliberate attempt to reconstruct a past perspective which preserves the openness of the present (a "past present") and thus avoids, or at least tries to counter, the fallacious element inherent in hindsight bias.
(I quite agree with David Gorman on the importance of Morson's Narrative and Freedom. That's 1994, though!)

More on sideshadowing here. There follow a few exchanges on sideshadowing, and by the end of March I insist—and get some answers which follow my re-question:

An assessment on "innovative concepts or tools"

Interestingly (or uninterestingly), this thread is running out its allotted span, and /nobody/ has pointed out an interesting, seminal, crucial or original critical concept for the analysis of narrative developed within the last.... say ten years? There has only been one candidate for the post: "sideshadowing", an interesting concept to be sure, but only one, and moreover it is a 1994 concept, deriving from a much earlier Bakhtinian background.

Surely there must be more to draw our attention to—certainly there must have been as many books on the theory of narrative published in the last ten years as in the previous twenty-five centuries.

Or, perhaps, are we working within a well-established paradigm which is no longer developing any significant new ideas or methods in recent years? I am sure many people in the list would appreciate some of these significant novelities being pointed out to them, perhaps as an exercise in revaluation. Myself, for one!

Jose Angel García Landa

Hi Jose - for myself - as i've replied on a number of threads previously to this list - have found Hilde Lindemann's 2001 Damaged Identities Narrative Repair a crucial development in narrative on the concept of counterstories.  While work has been done previously on the concept of narrative and identity, developments that critique the kinds of stories that ought to be told to resist oppressive master narratives pose interesting questions for analysis. the way in which Hilde Lindemann uses the counterstories concept is certainly an innovation that i have not seen in structural or socio-linguistic approaches to narrative analysis. Though she did begin the development of this concept in a 1997 journal publication in the first instance it is not full fleshed out until this publication. It is an interesting question you suggest in terms of the paradigm of narrative analysis and whether it's an established field because certainly when one attends narrative sessions or presentation!
 s there is not universal agreement on the kind of narrative analysis presented or discussed, and there is so much material and people using narrative now that you would think there'd be many more innovations and concepts from people.

that's my contribution vikki

Victoria Palmer
Research Fellow
Faculty of Arts and Social Science
University of Sunshine Coast

Jose's observation -- "Interestingly (or uninterestingly), this thread is running out its allotted span, and /nobody/ has pointed out an interesting, seminal, crucial or original critical concept for the analysis of narrative developed within the last.... say ten years?"  -- is really interesting to me. I wonder if people on the list feel it is too charged a question, given that many here are professional narratologists? Does the question produce the impulse to say, "My concept is better than yours." Or "Everyone thinks his idea is great, but I know her idea is best of all, but how can I say it here when he is waiting to pounce?", and then when that impulse is stifled (this is a self-aware and smart group after all), there seems to be less to say more generally? Does the question about "crucial contribution" produce a disincentive to rank ideas? Is it perhaps even seen as somewhat crass to do so on a generally friendly list? And is this disinclination more common in humanities than in sciences? Silences are always hard to read so perhaps the relative non-response is really about spring break and no time. Anyway: I am interested and would like to hear more both about the new crucial concepts and the (relative) silence.
Peggy Phelan

For most of us the most interesting and innovative concepts are those we have been recently working on, and it is a little bit embarrassing to promote one's own research. In my case it has been concepts coming from digital culture, interactivity, virtuality (the what-could-have-been), and  immersion (the last two very worth exploring in literary narrative), as well as the concept of transfictionality proposed by Richard StGelais. (A variant is the remediation of Bolter and Grusin).

(Marie-Laure Ryan)
OK, you've drawn me out--at least to the point that I can share a few  thoughts.
1. The form of the question--what is the most useful, productive, or innovative concept?--with its implicit call for a single answer means that answering it with confidence and conviction involves making a large claim to knowledge of the field: "I not only single out this concept but I'm comfortable proclaiming it to be more innovative than those anyone else on this list of knowledgeable and thoughtful people might advance."  That's a lot to take on, though I imagine that Jose did not intend the question to carry that weight. [–no, of course not! I think no one is supposed to be claiming, just because they find a given notion is useful or innovative, that their knowledge of the field is superior to that of anyone else! - J.A.G.L.]
2. Most individual concepts function within larger projects so it's hard to separate the identification of "crucial concept" from the question of "crucial project," and it seems to me that we are happily in a situation in which many people are carrying out valuable projects and generating valuable concepts.  David Gorman, Victoria Palmer, and Marie-Laure have named a few.
3. I can easily name several more concepts I've found valuable, and I'm sure that many others on the list could as well.  But, in doing so, we would shift Jose's original question from "what is the?" to "what are some?" and thus lower the stakes of an answer. At the same time, shifting the question in this way means that there's no clear place to stop.  For example, among the many concepts I'd want to list, are both Sue Lanser's specific distinctions among attached, detached, and equivocal texts because I think they advance our ability to think about the fiction/nonfiction distinction and Harry Shaw's meta-analysis of why our terms won't stay put because I think it inspires a healthy skepticism that can keep us from mistaking our terms for The Truth.  If the range of candidates for inclusion goes from specific distinctions to meta-analyses, and, if, as I suggest in #2, there are multiple valuable concepts in multiple valuable projects, my answer to "what are some?" can go on for quite a long time.
P.S. More details about Lanser's distinctions and Shaw's meta-analysis can be found in their essays in the Blackwell Companion to Narrative Theory (2005).

an interesting and thought provoking reflection, thank you, Jim. I was struck by your insight into how the question posed a singular answer and note that my response reads as if i see nelson's counterstories and THE most crucial development in narrative analysis. also, the 'crucial' lends itself, as people have suggested in discussions, to proposing some scale or at least need for the concept which is invariably driven by the purpose for which one engages with it; i guess.  but i do hold overall, as you are succinctly drawing out, that there are probably many concepts, perspectives and modes of analysis within narrative that are both crucial and have developed over recent years - perhaps another reading of our silence on these is that there are so many that we may not even know where to begin!

(There is much exchange on transmediality and transfictionality; some relevant references go to my bibliographical page. And then, on April 1...)

Dear Professor Garcia Landa,

As both Peggy Phelan and Jim Phelan have pointed out, there are many of us who wouldn't be doing the work we are doing if we didn't think it was innovative, creative, and important.

But I wonder whether, when you raised this question to the list, you yourself had one or more concepts in mind that you thought we might name? Would you tell us which new directions in narrative theory you are finding interesting and valuable?

With best wishes,

Emma Kafalenos
Washington University in St. Louis

Dear Emma:

Er– well, no; it was just a question. The list had been somewhat dormant for some days and I just thought this type of question might enliven it. And it was a real question, I mean, I am genuinely interested in knowing what other people working in narrative have found especially helpful, illuminating, break-through-ing, etc.—in the hope that I (and we) might get to read interesting responses, which we have, although not many concepts or tools or research areas have been actually proposed, as most of the exchanges have focused first on "sideshadowing" and hindsight-bias-related phenomena, and then on "transfictionality"/"intermediality". I  know that I would learn much about concepts people find useful etc. by reading their own papers, and I try to do that as well within my limitations, but I thought that having people address the subject explicitly would be helpful; and in a way it is. As to any suggestions of my own, well, since you ask I suppose I would point generally in the direction of the "new media ecology" and the way it reshuffles the cards in narrative theory as in anything else. Come to think of it, the interface between the phenomena pointed out here, "hindsight bias" and "intermediality", or "sideshadowing" and "transfictionality" would be fruitful and challenging.

But you know, "the questioner who sits so sly will never know how to reply"...

All best wishes and thanks to all members for their answers (and questions) to this thread.

Jose Angel García Landa
University of Saragossa

Memes e intertextualidad

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