Thursday, July 23, 2015

13 Essential Points to Consider When Reading Narrative

This just in from Swarthyface:
1. Who/what is the narrator? Is he/she/it first person, third person, neither?  
2. Is the narrator a “reliable” or “unreliable” narrator? Can we trust what she says? Or is she trying to justify/vindicate herself to her readers/the world (as in Ōgai’s Vita Sexualis)?
 3. If third person, is she omniscient? Limited omniscient? Where is the focalization point? On what character(s)? 
4. Does the narrator primarily “show” (via mimesis, dialogue, free indirect discourse, interior monologue, etc.) or “tell” (narrate, describe from the narrator’s perspective)? How does the preferred narrative strategy affect the presentation of the story and the arrangement of plot? (Example to consider: Akutagawa’s “Yabu no naka,” which is all “show” and no “tell.”) 
5. What is the relationship between (a) the narrator and (b) the events/characters that he describes? How close are they emotionally/temporally/spatially? Is there any ironic distance? Is dramatic irony created? If it is a first-person narration, is there an “epistemological gap” between the narrator at present and his past self?
 6. Always keep in mind the era/historical context/literary context in which a work was written. Is the work a reaction/response to certain events or forces of history, or to certain literary trends at the time (e.g. Ōgai’s Vita Sexualis)? 
7. Consider the style of the work. (You will usually have to consult the original for this.) Is the style more literary/poetic/metaphoric/symbolic/figurative or more representational/realistic/transparent?
 8. What sort of symbols/images/metaphors/extended metaphors are found in the work? What is their effect? Do these images/metaphors/symbols carry specific meanings that are culturally prescribed? Or are they universal? (Note: in general, the more recent the work is, the more “universal” these symbols and metaphors are.) 
9. Always make a clear distinction between the author and the narrator. Don’t fall into the trap of the 私小説 mode of reading. Narrator and author are not the same, even if there is biographical overlap (as in Ōgai’s Vita Sexualis).
 10. Note the (implied) relationship between narrator and reader/audience. Does the narrator address a specific audience? Is she confiding in this implied reader? Trying to convince the reader of something? How does the presence of this implied reader affect the narrator’s behavior/narrative? (Note: an implied reader/audience often makes the narrator more conscious of his act of narration, as seen in the “self-conscious” narrators of early- and pre-modern Japanese fiction, Akutagawa’s “Negi,” Dazai Osamu’s fiction, Ishikawa Jun’s fiction, and much contemporary fiction.) 
11. Always note the form(s) of the work (e.g. bildungsroman, künstlerroman, confession, quest story, picaresque novel, dream narrative, prose poem, ghost story (hyaku monogatari), diary, monogatari, uta monogatari, setsuwa, etc.). How is the content shaped by the form(s) in which it appears? How is the form affected/changed/altered by the content it contains? 
12. How is “desire” depicted in the work? Who desires what? What is the nature of that desire? How are desire and narrative related? (Note: Criticism that focuses on these questions usually falls into the category of psychoanalytic criticism.) 
13. Do the characters correspond to certain archetypes? Are these character types particular (i.e. national) or universal or both? (Example: Botchan=Edokko, but he is also recognizable to non-Japanese readers who know nothing of Edo.)

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