chapter  28
12 Pages

NARRATIVE

ByPAISLEY LIVINGSTON

That such strong and contrasting claims are prominent in the literature motivates a careful look into basic conceptions of narrative. What sort of thing is a narrative? What does and does not fall within the term’s extension? If actual usage of the term is multifarious and contradictory, how can we construct some alternative, reasonably restricted notion of narrative, one

concerns the category to which narratives belong. In one tradition of research on narrative (beginning with French ‘narratology’), it is uncontroversial to use the term ‘discourse’ (or ‘text’) to mark this first definitional condition. All narratives are discourses, though there may be some discourses that are not narratives. ‘Discourse,’ however, is rarely given an explicit definition, nor does a cogent conception implicitly orient such theories. In the theoretical excesses of semiology and poststructuralism, every artifact, gesture and world-historical epoch is a discourse, and one wonders what is not. An alternative approach is to replace ‘discourse’ with a Grice-inspired usage of ‘utterance,’ construed broadly to designate any act or performance (or product thereof) expressive of thought or belief, where expression requires that the action be performed in order to indicate some attitude (Davis 1992, 2003). A motorist’s intentional flashing of the turn signal is thus an utterance, but sunsets, driftwood and entire civilizations are not. Yet for some theorists, thoughts can be narrative or non-narrative and if this is correct, public expression is not a necessary condition.