By Hilary P. Dannenberg
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Additional info for Coincidence and Counterfactuality: Plotting Time and Space in Narrative Fiction
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.