Elise Nykänen, University of Helsinki
My research Broken Narratives. Discontinuity and Perceiving Minds in Marja-Liisa Vartio’s Prose Fiction is devoted to the study of narrative discontinuity and the presentation of fictional minds in the prose fiction of the Finnish modernist author Marja-Liisa Vartio (1924-1966). The aim of my dissertation is to examine the ways in which Vartio’s novels challenge the traditional forms of plot-oriented narrativity by exploiting the non-narrative, static modes beside actual narration – literary description, dialogue and argumentation. How do the fragmented, discontinuous elements of modernist fiction challenge the notions of plot, causality, progression, time and space in narrative?
The aim of my study is to scrutinize the forms and functions of narrative modes as they are realized in the modernist novel, and to explore the literary conventions related to their use. While examining the discontinuous narratives of Vartio’s prose fiction, I will deal with the following research questions: What kind of functions does each narrative mode – the actual narration, description, dialogue and argumentation – serve in the composition of Vartio’s novels? What kind of “types” of narration, description, dialogue and argumentation do the novels use and how are these linked to the literary conventions of modernist poetics? I will concentrate on one of these conventions in particular: the preference for narrating mental activity over physical events (the plot in a traditional sense). How does the presentation of fictional minds disrupt the continuous flow of narration?
While investigating the forms and functions of non-narrative modes and their discontinuous aspects in Vartio’s fiction, I will employ concepts from three different theoretical frameworks. First, I will benefit from the classical typology of narrative modes deriving from the discipline of rhetoric (the concept of ‘mode’ referring here to the different types of representation within a narrative text). Second, I will exploit the field of research focusing on narrative dynamics, causality and discontinuity (Dannenberg 2008, Kafalenos 2006, Richardson 2002). As a third framework, I will use the ideas of intersubjectivity and “mind reading” established within cognitive narratology (Zunshine 2006, Palmer 2004, Butte 2004). As opposed to the well-researched issues of inner speech and the privacy of mind, my study is concerned with intersubjectivity, the processes of mind reading that are actualized when characters negotiate their own reports of how they feel, others’ guesses of what they might feel and the other’s guesses of how they feel about how others think they feel. These embedded structures of consciousness reflect the characters’ ability to explain other characters’ thoughts, feelings and beliefs in terms of their behavior and body language.
In my dissertation ”Language-games and Literature – Towards a Poetics of Interpretation” I seek to study the limits of interpretation in experimental literature. Literature tends to push towards its limits and beyond by experimenting with different forms and styles. By way of pushing its own limits, literature also pushes the limits of interpretation. One of the most prominent experimental forms of literature is nowadays digital. Digital forms of literature e.g. hyper novel (cf. Michael Joyce) and kinetic poetry (cf. Robert Kendall) are often seen as the fulfillment of postmodern concepts of indeterminacy and derridean différance. But do they question our traditional views of literary interpretation? Do they question the grounds of interpretation? And if so, how do we have to change our game?
As my main theoretical framework I will use the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1953) and his concepts of language-game, grammar and rule-following, which I feel to be well adapt in describing how literary interpretation happens. I argue that a literary work can be seen as a language-game that has its own “grammar” i.e. its own, possibly unique uses of words. Thus, it is the interpreter’s task to create this “grammar”, which will form a basis for an interpretation. Furthermore, Wittgenstein’s thoughts on rule-following can be brilliantly enlightening when studying the underlying conventions of interpretive practice. What are the essential rules in literary interpretation and (how) can they be changed or reformulated? In the many forms of digital literature these questions are already implicit.
I will consider existing theories of literary interpretation such as new criticism, new historicism, deconstruction and pragmatism, and by way of doing so try to fit (and contrast) Wittgenstein’s thinking to already existing frameworks. There is also interesting research done in the field of digital literature by for example Los Pequeño Glazier (2002), Marie-Laure Ryan (2001, 2009) and Markku Eskelinen (2009), which will come useful for my study.