Saturday, December 03, 2005

Memories and expectations

A.V. Ashok
We cannot read all the pages of a novel at once and at no point in the novel can the reader command an instantaneous and total view of the entire novel. The reader has to turn the pages and it takes time to read. As though taking cue from the ancient and classical Indian theorists of the role of memory in the sequence of a sentence, Israeli critics like Meir Sternberg (1978) and Menakhem Perry (1979) have examined the role of memory in narrative sequence. The order of arrangement of events in a text generates a narrative movement that exploits the reader's memory of earlier episodes or "primary effect" (Rimmon-Kenan 120 ) and also subsequently subverts the memory of the text in a "recency effect" ( Rimmom-Kenan 120 ). At any given page in the reading of a novel that Wolfgang Iser calls "theme" (97) which offers only a limited view of the text that he calls "horizon" (97), the reader is supported by a selective memory of the text and filled with anticipation of what lies ahead in the text. But any page has the power to alter the reader's memory of prior events and also belie the reader's earlier anticipation. A "wandering viewpoint" (118), the reader passes through a succession of different "themes" and "horizons" with a constant teasing readjustment of memories and expectations.
Of all literary forms, narrative fiction achieves the most imaginative and complex negotiation with sequence. The extraordinary aesthetic freedom of the narrative imagination in its use and representation of linearity makes the novel the supreme art of sequence and time. Russian Formalism of the early twentieth-century speaks of how the narrative imagination redesigns the bare and chronological sequence of the "fabula" ("story") through innovative techniques of narration into the visionary enchantment of the "sjuzet" ("narrative discourse"). The higher kinds of literary narratives excel in an esoteric defamiliarization of sequence into metaphors of time and epiphanies of human fate. Quite apart from the structure of a novel, even a sentence in a novel can in a marvelous aesthetics of narrative syntax dramatize a complex philosophy of sequence and time.

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