Wednesday, August 15, 2007

On the Distance Between Literary and Real-Life Narratives

One serious danger in modelling real-life narratives on literary ones is that a kind of mysticism is encouraged which assigns meanings to facts in the world. A misplaced functionality might encourage this but also, and worse, a misplaced teleology. The Teleology Principle in literature seeks explanations of literary events in their contribution to artistic structure. When real-life narratives take on the appearance of artistic structures - and again biographies and autobiographies sometimes aspire to this - they can easily foster the illusion of seeing lives themselves as works of art. Narratives are dangerous and distorting when they appear to offer false explanations: 'that first meeting was no coincidence, it was meant to happen', 'the seeds of a tragic life were there from the beginning', and so on. Narratives find patterns in people's lives and give structure. There is nothing wrong with that. But the literary model, where patterns are deliberately created and can determine (and thus explain) fictional content, is entirely inappropriate for narratives of real lives. Explanations for non-fictional events must stay in the realm of causes and reasons. Nothing in the real world happens because some structured design determines that it must happen.

"On the Distance Between Literary and Real-Life Narratives," Peter Lamarque

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