Notes on Narrative

I’m still learning how to teach online. The last lecture I don’t consider particularly effective and I think that from now on I’m going to post multiple, very short lectures instead of trying to adhere to a longer format which probably only works face to face in real time.

Ideally you’ll be learning the human geography of the Crusades, the dates of events, the names of the major figures, big picture stuff, etc. in addition to thinking about historiography as a form of narrative-making that shapes contemporary understanding of the present and the past.

We need to begin with a basic opposition that informs most people’s understanding of art and culture: Form and Content. Put simply, the Content is what you say, the Form is how you say it. It certainly gets more complicated than that (is form a kind of content?) but for our immediate purposes we need to think about narrative in Form/Content terms.

Genre, the category a narrative belongs to, can be a consequence of Form and/or Content.

A novel is a work of prose fiction of a certain length. (Form)

A historical novel is a novel based on events that transpired some time ago. (Content).

In the study of narrative the content/form, what/how pairing is called story/discourse. The story is what happened. The discourse is how you tell what happened. Story is chronological: the Franj left Constantinople and headed south in search of Jerusalem. Discourse (the part of it called plot) can be out of sequence, as when Maalouf opens his tale in Baghdad after Jerusalem’s fall then flashes back (analepsis) to the Crusaders’ entry into Seljuk territory.

Discourse includes plot and other aspects of the text. All of the formal elements that anybody who’s spent any time at all reading is familiar with: characterization, image, point of view, narrator, etc. These resources determine the WAY a story is told and thus shape the reception of its content.

Click on this it’s funny:

Historiography (literary or cinematic) uses these very resources. When you ‘re watching the Crusades documentaries try to be as alert as possible to the techniques the filmmakers use to convey their message. There is a whole film language in play here that concern cinematography (ex.slow zooms, pans, low angle shots) editing (ex. lap dissolve from a Crusader castle to a detail from an illuminated manuscript) sound (monastic chants accompanying shots of a cathedral, the ring of swords clashing) and mise-en-scène (literally anything in frame: actors, objects, scenery, lighting, color).

Written narratives and filmed narratives produce their effects by making formal choices, by attuning themselves to audiences’ degree of knowledge and their expectations, by meeting or violating narrative conventions. They craft arguments to convince or edify or move us. Aristotle’s Rhetoric identifies three major ways of pursuing an argument: ethos (appeal to authority) logos (appeal to reason) and pathos (appeal to emotion). Form, formal elements are the means by which these arguments are asserted.

That’s enough for now.