Friday Program
Imagination and the Adapted Mind 
Saturday Program
 

The Bonding of Narrative and the Literature Effect

Porter Abbot
Professor of English
UC Santa Barbara

This paper has taken quite a different course from the one I promised in my first abstract. Almost immediately after I set to work, I found that there was a major problem in defining the terms in my title: "narrative" and "literature."  But further, I found that this  was an interesting problem and one, moreover, that echoes problems that will continue to plague us as we try to find ways of connecting across the disciplines.  So what I then set out to do was to take these two terms as my subject and to address them, as best I could, from a cognitive psychological standpoint, all the while keeping the literary senses of these terms in view. But my work quickly became dominated by a powerful distinction that can be expressed metaphorically like this: where narrative is a platform, literature is a set of toggle switches (in the age of computers, I believe this is not a mixed metaphor). Most of my presentation will be focussed on showing how this distinction works.  It is interesting and provocative in itself, but it also has implications for the issue I begin with: the problem of achieving pan-disciplinary exchange at the level of concepts and terms.
 

First Abstract
 
The capacity to produce and to receive narrative is a universal human trait, one that gave us wonderful advantages in describing both the world and ourselves in terms of events happening in time. It is not hard to think of ways in which narrative has been, and continues to be, directly useful for our survival. "If you donít deliver the cash by 3:00 this afternoon, Mac and the boys are going to break your kneecaps." If I hear this without understanding narrative, I am in danger of serious damage. In fact (projecting the narrative into the future), it probably will not be long before I lose the capacity to reproduce. This is the kind of purely instrumental narrative that we use daily, if less sensationally, and with extraordinary flexibility. Even with immediately practical narratives like the one above, we discriminate different narrative worlds (my example is in the conditional; its world is possible; its reality with any luck will be restricted to the imaginations of those involved). But there comes a point when we become aware of what some call the "narrativity" of narrative. We see how it is constructed, sometimes with great pleasure. As such, narrative begins to acquire the literature effect, a quality that has been discussed in different ways and in different terms by a number of scholars, among them Richard Gerrig, Paul Hernadi, and David Miall. This effect is not restricted to fiction, yet even with so-called true stories, when we are aware of it, our relationship to the narrative changes. My paper will be about this interesting transit from forgetfulness to awareness, from immediate practicality to the indirect practicality of narrative in a "space off."
 
  
Porter Abbott is Professor of English at UC Santa Barbara. The following books and articles are particularly relevant to his presentation: Beckett writing Beckett: The Author in the Autograph (1996), Diary Fiction: Writing as Action (1984), "Extratextual Intelligence," New Literary History (1997), "Old Virginia and the Night Writer: The Origins of Woolf's Narrative Meander," in Inscribing the Daily: Critical Essays on Women's Diaries (1996), "Beginning Again: The Post-Narrative Art of Texts for Nothing and How It Is," in The Cambridge Companion to Beckett (1994), and "Writing and Conversion: Conrad's Modernist Autography," The Yale Journal of Criticism (1992)  He is currently finishing an introduction to narrative and hopes after that to complete another book in progress tentatively titled Darwinian Conversions.
 
Personal web page: http://www.english.ucsb.edu/faculty/abbott.htm
 
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Friday Program
Imagination and the Adapted Mind 
Saturday Program