Branigan on Narrative & Narration

Some questions Branigan asks:

  • What effect does Griffith’s choice have on our comprehension of the story? (63)
  • More generally, how is narrative comprehension affected by the particular way we imagine we are seeing events? How is it possible for us to possess the knowledge we come to possess in a narrative? (64-65)
  • Applying this distinction to the study of narrative, we may say that narration addresses issues of procedure: how are we acquiring knowledge about what is happening in the story? To what degree are various procedures incompatible? Do conflicting interpretations of a text suggest conflicting procedures or points of view at work? (65-66)
  • Do we need to hear what B is saying, or do we learn more by watching A’s behavior, or seeing S’s reaction? What is the proper camera distance or angle to represent an object? (71)
  • Also, an implicit narrator who is not directly seen or heard, such as an implied author, raises a theoretical problem about narration: Is a narrator to be thought of as a real person, or instead as merely the personification of an abstract textual process? (75)
  • What is the status of “style”? In what ways do the stylistic devices of a given medium open up or constrain our abilities to acquire knowledge? What “abilities” of the spectator are to be included in deciding how the spectator is “able to know” something? How sensitive to context is seeing? Or, for that matter, hearing, prior knowledge, memory, anticipation, desire, gender, and social class? (76)
  • How has the spectator been encouraged and constrained moment by moment in achieving a large-scale structure with which to represent the 16 panels as a single narrative event? (77)

Metz on “spectacle”
When crosscutting first appeared, it was “a kind of phantasy of ‘all-seeingness,’ of being everywhere at once, having eyes in the back of your head” (64).

Two fundamental concepts of narration
1. “narration is concerned with how an event is presented, how it happens, rather than what is presented or what happens” (65).

Narrative–construed narrowly as what happens in the story–is then seen as the object or end result of some mechanism or process–narration” (65).

“knowing how” (procedural knowledge) vs. “knowing what” (declarative knowledge)

2. “disparity of knowledge. Narration comes into being when knowledge is unevenly distributed–when there is a disturbance or disruption in the field of knowledge” (66).

“the most basic situation which gives rise to narration will be comprised of three elements: a subject in an asymmetrical relationship with an object” (66).

Again on 82: “two crucial facts . . . . First, narration involves concealing information as much as revealing it. Secondly, the function of narration–what it conceals and reveals–cannot be fully determined in advance by bottom-up processing, or by comparing it against formal criteria (e.g., shot or camera position).”

Narration defined
“Narration is the overall regulation and distribution of knowledge which determines how and when the spectator acquires knowledge, that is, how the spectator is able to know what he or she comes to know in a narrative” (76).

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About Kevin L. Ferguson

Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing at Queens
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