Any new narratological theory faces the test of being applicable to much-analyzed classics of prose fiction and of yielding new insights into narratives that have served as textbook examples of narrative strategies for decades. This essay is a constructed dialogue between imaginary narratologists who are paradigmatic proponents of two schools of thought in postclassical narratology: the cognitive and the unnatural. The two narratologists juxtapose their respective concepts and methodologies in an analysis of William Golding’s late modernist classic The Inheritors, especially the narrative dynamics of “alien” Neanderthal focalization versus “naturalizing” Homo sapiens narration. Ultimately, The Inheritors reminds the cognitivist of how language-bound the readerly effects of estrangement and integration in internal focalization can be. Conversely, the same novel serves as an example for the unnaturalist of the paradoxical necessity for perceptual and emotional familiarization in our attempts to understand fundamental alterity. The parameters of cognitive and unnatural narratology may seem divergent at the outset, but in this essay their representatives find a common ground in an estranging reading of the enactive immersion in The Inheritors. Here the extraordinary embodiedness of the Neanderthal focalization is a key to a literaryallegorical reading of the Neanderthal mind as imagined by Golding. This reading, accomplished through a constructed debate between two paradigms, reflects the actual positions of the authors of this essay: Mäkelä and Polvinen are both proponents of an approach that acknowledges the inherent syntheticity and linguistic overdeterminedness of a literary narrative as well as its “natural” enactivist pull toward bodily immersion.
Narration and Focalization: A Cognitivist and an Unnaturalist, Made Strange
Maria Mäkelä is senior lecturer in comparative literature and director of Narrare: Centre for Interdisciplinary Narrative Studies at the University of Tampere, Finland. She is a narratologist specializing in consciousness representation and voice, both in the history of modern fiction and across media. She is cofounder of the Unnatural Narratology Research Group. Currently she steers a project that aims at developing a new “story-critical” narrative theory.
Merja Polvinen is senior lecturer in English philology and docent in comparative literature at the University of Helsinki. Her dissertation on chaos theory and literature came out in 2008; recent chapters on cognitive approaches to literary self-reflection appear in the volumes The Cognitive Humanities (2016), Cognitive Literary Science (2017), and Narrative and Complex Systems (forthcoming).
Maria Mäkelä, Merja Polvinen; Narration and Focalization: A Cognitivist and an Unnaturalist, Made Strange. Poetics Today 1 September 2018; 39 (3): 495–521. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-7032718
Download citation file: