Coincidence and Counterfactuality: Plotting Time and Space by Hilary P. Dannenberg

By Hilary P. Dannenberg

In Coincidence and Counterfactuality, a groundbreaking research of plot, Hilary P. Dannenberg units out to reply to the perennial query of the way to inform an exceptional tale. whereas plot is likely one of the so much fundamental features of storytelling, it really is might be the least studied element of narrative. utilizing plot idea to chart the advance of narrative fiction from the Renaissance to the current, Dannenberg demonstrates how the radical has advanced over the years and the way writers have constructed more and more complicated narrative suggestions that faucet into key cognitive parameters standard to the reader from real-life experience.
Dannenberg proposes a brand new, multidimensional conception for interpreting time and house in narrative fiction, then makes use of this conception to track the historic evolution of narrative fiction through concentrating on twist of fate and counterfactuality. those key plot strategies are developed round pivotal moments while characters’ lifestyles trajectories, or occasionally the trails of heritage, converge or diverge. The study’s wealthy old and textual scope finds how narrative traditions and genres reminiscent of romance and realism or technological know-how fiction and historiographic metafiction, instead of being separated by way of transparent limitations are in reality in a continuing means of interplay and cross-fertilization. In highlighting severe levels within the ancient improvement of narrative fiction, the learn produces new readings of works by means of pinpointing the cutting edge function performed through specific authors during this evolutionary technique. Dannenberg’s unique research of plot styles is interdisciplinary, incorporating learn from narrative idea, cognitive techniques to literature, social psychology, attainable worlds thought, and feminist methods to narrative.

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Nevertheless, despite this potential for individual readings of narrative texts, this study works on the assumption that “audiences share many things—conceptual systems, social practices, commonplace knowledge, discourse genres” (Turner 1987, 4)—so that “one can study narrative structure not only in terms of concrete textual features but also in terms of the shared interpretative strategies by which readers make sense of them” (Rabinowitz 1987, 1). Such an approach presupposes a broad consensual area of readerly reaction to the plots of narrative fiction—a discourse form that over the past centuries has evolved into the dominant literary genre and can thus be seen as a major system of human communication.

What were the emotions of my soul, when I beheld Narcissa, almost sinking beneath the brutal force of this satyr! I flew like lightening [sic] to her rescue” (Smollett 1981, 229). This narrative explanation substitutes a different causal agent—God (“heaven”)—for the real one—the author—but retains the basic causation type—manipulation. The explanation is not particularly convincing (certainly not for a modern reader), since it is offered in a trite nutshell by Roderick simultaneously with the narration of the event itself.

In the latter part of the twentieth century, the vectors of coincidence and counterfactuality meet again in the genre of historiographic metafiction. Historiographic metafiction capitalizes on the implausibility of the coincidence plot by employing it in antirealistic narrative constructions in which the author leaves his or her fingerprints on the text in the form of unlikely similarities and correspondences. This postmodern form of self-reflexive convergence is sometimes combined with the counterfactual, manifested in an array of diverging representations and interpretations of historical figures and events that deconstruct the narrative authority of history.

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