Synopses & Reviews
In Coincidence and Counterfactuality, a groundbreaking analysis of plot, Hilary P. Dannenberg sets out to answer the perennial question of how to tell a good story. While plot is among the most integral aspects of storytelling, it is perhaps the least studied aspect of narrative. Using plot theory to chart the development of narrative fiction from the Renaissance to the present, Dannenberg demonstrates how the novel has evolved over time and how writers have developed increasingly complex narrative strategies that tap into key cognitive parameters familiar to the reader from real-life experience.and#160;Dannenberg proposes a new, multidimensional theory for analyzing time and space in narrative fiction, then uses this theory to trace the historical evolution of narrative fiction by focusing on coincidence and counterfactuality. These two key plot strategiesand#160;are constructed around pivotal moments when charactersand#8217; life trajectories, or sometimes the paths of history, converge or diverge. The studyand#8217;s rich historical and textual scope reveals how narrative traditions and genres such as romance and realism or science fiction and historiographic metafiction, rather than being separated by clear boundaries are in fact in a continual process of interaction and cross-fertilization. In highlighting critical stages in the historical development of narrative fiction, the study produces new readings of works by pinpointing the innovative role played by particular authors in this evolutionary process. Dannenbergand#8217;s original investigation of plot patterns is interdisciplinary, incorporating research from narrative theory, cognitive approaches to literature, social psychology, possible worlds theory, and feminist approaches to narrative.
"I have no hesitation to call Patrick Hogan one of the most interesting scholars in literary theory."—Willie van Peer, Scientific Study of Literature
“The Storyworld Accord is ultimately a work of postcolonial literary study, and it very effectively grounds postcolonial work in an econarratology that reads stories and their worlds as opportunities to foster communication and understanding across diverse populations with differing social and environmental experiences.”—Eric Otto, author of Green Speculations: Science Fiction and Transformative Environmentalism
andldquo;The field of feminist narratology is growing, but none of these theory-driven books offers the kind of rich, in-depth study of one historical-geographical collocation of texts that Opening Acts does. Any teacher or student of literary theory, of the history of the novel, or of feminist and ethnic approaches to literature would find something of great interest in this book.andrdquo;andmdash;Margaret Homans, professor of English and womenandrsquo;s, gender, and sexuality studies at Yale University and author of Bearing the Word: Language and Female Experience in Nineteenth-Century Womenandrsquo;s Writing
andldquo;The subject of narrative beginnings is important to literary criticism in several different fields: national literary traditions as well as comparative literature. . . . Romagnolo seeks to right the course of the early studies in this area by emphasizing feminist and ethnic-studies-inflected readings. Opening Acts contributes an overview of the existing literature, an assessment of what is lacking in that corpus, and an extrapolation of concepts to include often-neglected subjects in this field . . . expanding the established theoretical frame for narrative beginnings.andrdquo;andmdash;Carlos Riobandoacute;, chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at the City College of New York and author of Cuban Intersection of Literary and Urban Spacesand#160;and#160;
"Rich in relevant allusions to scientific research and literary art, Austin's book demonstrates that the evolutionary utility of fiction, more than its truth or beauty, supports the universal attraction of humans to literature."and#8212;C.J. Bell, Choice
Stories engage our emotions. Weve known this at least since the days of Plato and Aristotle. What this book helps us to understand now is how our own emotions fundamentally organize and orient stories. In light of recent cognitive research and wide reading in different narrative traditions, Patrick Colm Hogan argues that the structure of stories is a systematic product of human emotion systems. Examining the ways in which incidents, events, episodes, plots, and genres are a function of emotional processes, he demonstrates that emotion systems are absolutely crucial for understanding stories.
Hogan also makes a case for the potentially integral role that stories play in the development of our emotional lives. He provides an in-depth account of the function of emotion within story—in widespread genres with romantic, heroic, and sacrificial structures, and more limited genres treating parent/child separation, sexual pursuit, criminality, and revenge—as these appear in a variety of cross-cultural traditions. In the course of the book Hogan develops interpretations of works ranging from Tolstoys Anna Karenina to African oral epics, from Sanskrit comedy to Shakespearean tragedy.
Integrating the latest research in affective science with narratology, this book provides a powerful explanatory account of narrative organization.
“Storyworlds,” mental models of context and environment within which characters function, is a concept used to describe what happens in narrative. Narratologists agree that the concept of storyworlds best captures the ecology of narrative interpretation by allowing a fuller appreciation of the organization of both space and time, by recognizing reading as a process that encourages readers to compare the world of a text to other possible worlds, and by highlighting the power of narrative to immerse readers in new and unfamiliar environments.
Focusing on the work of writers from Trinidad and Nigeria, such as Sam Selvon and Ben Okri, The Storyworld Accord investigates and compares the storyworlds of nonrealist and postmodern postcolonial texts to show how such narratives grapple with the often-collapsed concerns of subjectivity, representation, and environment, bringing together these narratological and ecocritical concerns via a mode that Erin James calls econarratology. Arguing that postcolonial ecocriticism, like ecocritical studies, has tended to neglect imaginative representations of the environment in postcolonial literatures, James suggests that readings of storyworlds in postcolonial texts helps narrative theorists and ecocritics better consider the ways in which culture, ideologies, and social and environmental issues are articulated in narrative forms and structures, while also helping postcolonial scholars more fully consider the environment alongside issues of political subjectivity and sovereignty.
In the beginning there was . . . the beginning. And with the beginning came the power to tell a story. Few book-length studies of narrative beginnings exist, and not one takes a feminist perspective. Opening Acts reveals the important role of beginnings as moments of discursive authority with power and agency that have been appropriated by writers from historically marginalized groups. Catherine Romagnolo argues for a critical awareness of how social identity plays a role in the strategic use and critical interpretation of narrative beginnings.
The twentieth-century U.S. women writers whom Romagnolo studiesandmdash;Edith Wharton, H.D., Toni Morrison, Julia Alvarez, and Amy Tanandmdash;have seized the power to disrupt conventional structures of authority and undermine historical master narratives of marriage, motherhood, U.S. nationhood, race, and citizenship. Using six of their novels as points of entry, Romagnolo illuminates the ways in which beginnings are potentially subversive, thereby disrupting the reinscription of hierarchically gendered and racialized conceptions of authorship and agency.
and#8220;We tell ourselves stories in order to live,and#8221; Joan Didion observed in The White Album. Why is this? Michael Austin asks, in Useful Fictions. Why, in particular, are human beings, whose very survival depends on obtaining true information, so drawn to fictional narratives? After all, virtually every human culture reveres some form of storytelling. Might there be an evolutionary reason behind our speciesand#8217; need for stories?and#160;Drawing on evolutionary biology, anthropology, narrative theory, cognitive psychology, game theory, and evolutionary aesthetics, Austin develops the concept of a and#8220;useful fiction,and#8221; a simple narrative that serves an adaptive function unrelated to its factual one. In his work we see how these useful fictions play a key role in neutralizing the overwhelming anxiety that humans can experience as their minds gather and process information. Rudimentary narratives constructed for this purpose, Austin suggests, provided a cognitive scaffold that might have become the basis for our well-documented love of fictional stories. Written in clear, jargon-free prose and employing abundant literary examplesand#8212;from the Bible to One Thousand and One Arabian Nights and Don Quixote to No Exitand#8212;Austinand#8217;s work offers a new way of understanding the relationship between fiction and evolutionary processesand#8212;and, perhaps, the very origins of literature.
About the Author
Catherine Romagnolo is an associate professor of English and chair of the Department of English at Lebanon Valley College. Her work has appeared in Studies in the Novel and Analyzing World Fiction: New Horizons in Narrative Theory and has been anthologized in Narrative Beginnings: Theories and Practices (Nebraska, 2009).