Vanity Fea


(Seymour Chatman's question to the Narrative List:)

I've been looking for narratives that go backwards--not just as anachronies or flashbacks, but systematically through the entire text. I'm working on Amis's "Time's Arrow" and the film "Memento," as well as exemplars cited by Brian Richardson's "Beyond Story and Discourse: Narrative Time in Postmodern and Nonmimetic Fiction." If you know of any others, I'd very much appreciate hearing about them.

There's been a rain of suggestions, from Philip K. Dick's   Counter-Clock World to Jim Crace's Being Dead. My own contribution to the list today:

 The answers we have received in answer to the thread "Backwards" provide a fascinating collection—and I can't wait for Seymour Chatman's work on these backward-moving narratives. Maybe someone will develop this into a book some day. As to myself, I've been trying to move the time limit for backward-moving narratives to the classics, but for some reason I can't think of any really early instance. Is this something the Greeks didn't think of? –If we rule out the use of simple analepses such as Odysseus' intradiegetic narrative in the Odyssey. Any major missing link, anyone?

Also, I can't help mentioning something which is fairly obvious —that the development of ubiquitous video technology and the rewind button must have had some effect on the recent spell of backward-moving narratives.

More significant and interesting, perhaps, from a narratological viewpoint, is the contrast and interplay between prospective and retrospective elements in any narrative. The forward movement of narrative, based on the forward movement of time, and action, and discourse, is complemented by peripheral or parasitic prospective structures, such as character's desires, plotting, omens, prolepses... Backward-moving narratives would seem to develop as a logical outgrowth of the symmetrical backward-looking structures in narrative—such as the analepses I've mentioned, or the very stance provided by hindsight, which is perhaps the major foundation of narrative knowledge. That is, narrative being (genetically speaking) a looking back, a technique of representation which superposes the time's arrow of discourse and action with the inverted temporality of retrospection and hindsight, one could argue that backward-moving narratives will evolve with the evolution of narrative almost as inevitably as reverse gears or rear view mirrors with the evolution of cars. The creative generation and orchestration of complex forward-looking and backward-looking structures is one major aspect of narrative art.

Jose Angel Garcia Landa
Universidad de Zaragoza

PS: I should have noted one more obvious kind of backward-moving narrative... blogs! A blog has an inbuilt narrative structure, albeit in the weak sense of narrative, not being retrospective. But its readings are retrospective, and the structural appearance of a blog is that of a text which moves backwards in time, with the most recent entries at the beginning, and the origin as closure—as in Martin Amis's Time's Arrow.

Tecnologías de manipulación del tiempo

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