Friday, 6 December 2013

ABC blog: N

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N is for narrative. No way I can omit it. I did not discover narrative theory until I had finished my doctorate. When I tried to use Propp's sequence of functions in my thesis I had to ditch a whole chapter because it didn't really lead to anything beyond stating that fairy-tale character functions were also present in fantasy. So I used a different branch of structuralism. Some time after I was finished I became a co-founder of the Swedish Semiotic Society (which, as far as I know, has died a quiet death), and some of the members were more interested in narratology than in pure semiotics, and this is how I stumbled upon Genette and other narratology prophets. When I look at my guest lectures, conference papers and publications from the 1990s most of them were on narrative theory. What I got most fascinated by was how many narrative devices acquired a different form and different significance in children's literature as opposed to the mainstream, all because of the discrepancy between the adult author, adult voice, child point of view, implied child reader – we all know that now, but it wasn't universally known when I started. In fact, there were just a handful of children's literature scholars at the time who were interested in narratology.

I wrote a textbook on narrative theory and children's literature, Barnbokens byggklossar (“The bulding blocks of children's literature”) in 1998, revised in 2004 and never out of print. It is used in all courses in children's literature in Sweden and Denmark, and, I am pleased to know, in many courses in comparative literature because there isn't anything quite like it. It's high time to revise it again, but I have enough to keep me busy.

So N is for narration and narrators: omniscient narrators, objective narrators, introspective narrators, retrospective narrators, intrusive narrators, unreliable narrators, witness narrators, metanarrators and hyponarrators, and I have written on them all, but there are still many narrators to explore, because there is no limit to authors' inventiveness.

N is also for narratee, the receiver of the narrator's discourse within the story. Not to be confused with the implied reader (anyway, not the way I interpret it). At one of the first meetings of the Swedish Semiotic Society we discussed what the Swedish would be for narratee and agreed there and then on the term which has been used ever since. 

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