The construction of narrative has been debated by a full range of intellectuals, including philosophers of language, semioticians, narratologists, and neuropsychologists. Some of the questions raised about the structure of narrative occur in modernist writers who intentionally violated received narrative structure, presented deliberately cryptic and fragmented texts, recast what constitutes ordered and organized thought. At one end, we may seem to have familiar and traditional stories with clear beginnings, middles and endings, though this is a much debated issue. At another end, we might ask, what is a narrative? Or, how befuddling can a text or experience be, and still be construed as ordered sequence, as narrative?
My essay looks at three famous modernist moments to examine their relation to narrative: the opening line of Finnegans Wake, the first "Object" in Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons, and William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow." These texts challenge notions of connectedness central to traditional narrative and indicate identity as it is coming to be understood by contemporary neuroscience. The role of narrative in the construction identity may well be both necessary and false. These modernist texts suggest both. By making challenging demands on readers, these texts insist on the construction meaning, and its tenuousness. As such, identity as form or understanding or conclusion rests on connection and alienation.
Dennis Leavens, American University of Armenia, Armenia
Stream: Arts & Humanities
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