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Chapter 1 - Narrative and life

H. Porter Abbott
Affiliation:
University of California, Santa Barbara
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Summary

The universality of narrative

When we think of narrative, we usually think of it as art, however modest. We think of it as novels or sagas or folk tales or, at the least, as anecdotes. We speak of a gift for telling stories. But as true as it is that narrative can be an art and that art thrives on narrative, narrative is also something we all engage in, artists and non-artists alike. We make narratives many times a day, every day of our lives. And we start doing so almost from the moment we begin putting words together. As soon as we follow a subject with a verb, there is a good chance we are engaged in narrative discourse. “I fell down,” the child cries, and in the process tells her mother a little narrative, just as I have told in this still unfinished sentence a different, somewhat longer narrative that includes the action of the child's telling (“‘I fell down,’ the child cries”).

Given the presence of narrative in almost all human discourse, there is little wonder that there are theorists who place it next to language itself as the distinctive human trait. Fredric Jameson, for example, writes about the “all-informing process of narrative,” which he describes as “the central function or instance of the human mind.” Jean-François Lyotard calls narration “the quintessential form of customary knowledge.”

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2008

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  • Narrative and life
  • H. Porter Abbott, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Book: The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
  • Online publication: 05 June 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511816932.003
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  • Narrative and life
  • H. Porter Abbott, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Book: The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
  • Online publication: 05 June 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511816932.003
Available formats
×

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Narrative and life
  • H. Porter Abbott, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Book: The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
  • Online publication: 05 June 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511816932.003
Available formats
×