Professor: D. F. Felluga

Sample Syllabus for Eng 632: Seminar in Narrative Theory

The Truth of Narrative


running catHEAV 122, MWF 311:30-12:20

Office Hours: MWF 3:30-4:30

Office: HEAV 311B, 49-43727

This graduate seminar will introduce students to the utility of structural, especially narratological, models for the analysis of not only literature but also politics and ideology. Two competing although interdependent paradigms for narrative will be explored: the historical model and the fictional model. We will be particularly interested in those instances where the two models intersect and in the historical developments (from the Medieval period through the Postmodern) that led to their presumed and actual separation. The course aligns theoretical approaches with specific texts to illustrate and allow students to implement various critical approaches to literature. A continuing goal will be to find examples from contemporary society that make clear the applicability of the theoretical schools to cultural artifacts beyond literary texts. We will also be working throughout the semester to apply our theoretical readings to specific texts and films from Scott to Coppola and beyond.

Required Texts at Von's Books (in order of study)

Scott, Sir Walter. Ivanhoe .

Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights .

Barthes, Roland. S/Z .

Brooks, Peter. Reading for the Plot .

Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle .

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness . New York: Dover, 1990.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I and II

Note: there is also a Reader available at CopyMat

SECTION 1: History, Marxism, Form

Heuristic Text: Scott's Ivanhoe

Week One: The Tools of Narrative--
Story and Discourse

The basic narratological concepts of story and discourse will be discussed this week through heuristic examples from Star Trek and Citizen Kane. What constitutes a "good" narrative? To what extent can we say that a narrative always "stacks the deck" to some extent, imposing order on the uncertainty of the real? Though we may praise a narrative for its mimetic referentiality, inevitably it is the re-ordering of discourse that incessantly imposes meaning on the unrelated contiguous events of a diegetic world. Indeed, this fact of narrative form helps explain why humans feel the need to replay traumatic events until those events achieve a certain degree of meaning (Freud's repetition compulsion). Foucault and Benjamin represent two critics who question narrative's tendency to order reality; each critic attempts to open up historical narrative form to the heterogeneity of the historical real.

Week Two: The Evolution
of Narrative

In this second week, we will explore the very origins of narrative in an effort to understand the divergent uses to which narrative is put in the representation of historical and fictional "reality." In what ways is our understanding of time and space affected by the construction of our contemporary version of narrative reality? We will also follow Hayden White's lead and discuss how history may to some extent be indebted to genres and modes borrowed from fictional literature. On Friday with Lukács, we will then begin our discussion of Marxism and its influence on questions of narrative and historical representation.

Week Three: The Chronotope
of Medievalism

Having discussed narrative's relation to historical narrative, we will this week begin our discussion of one of the primary theoretical schools concerned with fiction's relationship to history: Marxism. We will also discuss "medievalism" as a pop cultural phenomenon, one that manages to appeal, in Raymond Williams' terms, to dominant, emergent, as well as residual aspects of Scott's society. Bakhtin will also offer to us yet another term, the chronotope, that can help us to understand narrative's manipulation of its time-space continuum, its diegetic world.

Week Four: The Historical Novel
and Dialectical Materialism

This week we will continue our exploration of an important concept in the understanding and emplotment of the historical real: dialectical materialism. The obvious question we will explore is: what is Scott's place in the dialectical changes occurring at the turn of the nineteenth century?

SECTION 2: Structure, Psychology, Ideology

Heuristic Text: Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights

Week Five: Romantic and Victorian,
Metaphor and Metonymy

Building on the discussions we have had so far, we will examine a text which self-consciously thematizes the transition from a Romantic concern with the transcendent to a Victorian concern with the domestic real. To what extent is the transition successful? How precisely does mimetic realism function? Is there a fundamental narrative distinction to be made between lyric poetry and the realist novel? Jakobsen will help us to begin our discussion of the two interrelated forces of narrative: a metonymic principle of deferral, dilation, and dispersal and a metaphoric principle of order, meaning, and closure.

Week Six: Truth Claims
of the Realist Novel

Building on our discussion of Jakobsen's distinction between metaphoric and metonymic poles, we will this week examine two prominent critics that have suggested how every narrative incorporates both a metonymic, dispersive dimension of contiguity and a metaphoric, repetitive dimension of substitution.

Week Seven: Hermeneutic and
Proairetic Codes

Roland Barthes offers us a different structural understanding of the workings of narrative. His work will be examined in its entirety, providing us not only with additional terminology but also a foreshadowing of the postmodern critics that we will read in the final weeks.

Week Eight: Structure
and Ideology--
Narrative's Secret Kernel

Yet one more structuralist critic, A. J. Greimas, will round out our understanding of narrative form, specifically the relationship of narrative structure to ideological contradiction. In this way, we can connect our new structural terminology to the Marxist readings of the course's first weeks.


Week Ten: The Psychodynamics
of the Reading Process

How does psychoanalysis provide us with a strong paradigm by which to understand the dynamic energies unleashed and controlled by narrative structure? Can a psychoanalytic approach help us to understand the social function of narrative form?

SECTION 3: Coming to Terms

Heuristic Text: Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

Week Eleven: Trauma
and Narrative

Building on last week's discussions about psychoanalysis, we will now apply our insights to Conrad's Heart of Darkness, yet another frame tale that circles around some apparently inexprimable core at the heart of the work's narratives and narrations. Zizek will also provide us with an explanation of the retroactive nature of meaning formation in both fictional and historical narrative, and will thus suggest how all meaning-formation might be seen as a sort of reaction formation, a response to the inherent trauma of the real (in the Lacanian sense).

Week Twelve: Narrating

After a showing of Coppola's Apocalypse Now, we will spend the week discussing student projects and the relationship of these projects to the theories we've examined so far this semester.

Week Thirteen: Film
and Narrative

After a showing of Citizen Kane, we will explore how the issues and terms we've examined so far change or remain the same when we enter the medium of film.

SECTION 4: Mauswitz

Heuristic Text: Art Spiegelman's Maus

Week Fourteen: What is

We will begin by defining the parameters of the postmodern revolution. What is postmodernism? How precisely does it question the assumptions of positivist history and realist fiction? What are its political goals? Benjamin (last Friday's reading) will provide us with a Marxist spin on these questions.

Week Fifteen: The Postmodern

This week we will take up the argument about postmodernism and its re-working of narrative conventions from the nineteenth century. To what extent should we praise or criticize the historical and critical work of what Hutcheon terms "historiographic metafiction"?

Week Sixteen: Trauma
and the Historical Real

We return to psychoanalysis this week as we explore its importance in the understanding of traumatic historical events like the Holocaust. To what extent does narrative conceal or heal such events in our past?

Last Revised: March 5, 1998

Moving ruler image courtesy of D Creelma
Running cat image courtesy of Media Builder

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If you have any comments or questions, feel free to e-mail me at or come by my office hours thissemester (M,W,F 3:30-4:30)