I need to write a 2-3 page paper on the topic of "The Value of Narrative in the Representation of Reality" noting "the content of the form." It will be used for the class presentation of my...
I need to write a 2-3 page paper on the topic of "The Value of Narrative in the Representation of Reality" noting "the content of the form." It will be used for the class presentation of my doctoral course work. Could someone please help me outline and begin my essay?
White differentiates between a historical discourse that narrates and a discourse that narrativizes. The former is the attempt to make a copy of the events and the latter is the attempt to make a story out of it. One might consider this difference between the historical discourse and the narrative story (or narrativized discourse) as the difference between a documentary and a drama (in film). The documentary is clearly presented as a discourse on a certain subject, claiming an objective stance. The drama is a story whose events speak for themselves. And of course, with the narrative/drama, the form is different, having characters, motivations, human agency, certain ways of speaking, and so on.
White adds that a problem arises when these two genres overlap; in other words, when we try to take real events (as would be written in historical/documentary form, and try to put them in a narrative/story form:
Narrative becomes a problem only when we wish to give to real events the form of a story. It is because real events do not offer themselves as stories that their narrativization is so difficult.
White then discusses the problems with conflating the two genres (he does not use the word genre). White mentions different kinds of historical discourse. "Annals" suffer from only being a sequence of events. There is no sense of narrative structure, no sense of a beginning, middle, and end. With the chronicle, there is a sense of narrative structure, but it stops arbitrarily; for example, stopping at a certain time period or at the present moment.
White cites other thinkers who note that a history without a narrative is incomplete. White considers why and how narratives add something to historical discourse. In the second section of the article, he considers how annals and chronicles are more like supplements to narrative history rather than simply being cast aside as incomplete history.
White uses an 8th century history of Gaul, simply a list of events corresponding to a year as an example of the bare bones structure of annals form. The connections between events are not there. No "why's" are answered or even addressed. There is no indication when it was written (other than some past tense verbs which suggest the annals were written some? time after the fact). And the annals simply stops at a certain year; no sense of linear or narrative closure. However, White suggests that the annalist (of Gaul) who wrote this would not have the same anxiety about lack of narrative coherence that we have today. In fact, White says that the plot, subject, and meaning come from the years marking each event. He compares the years to signifieds and the events to signifiers (see Saussure). Therefore, the events tell the story of the years. Also, there is something to appreciate in the strict objectivity of the annals and the refusal to add any speculation about how these events are connected.
In the annals, there are even years where seemingly "nothing" happened. This is from our perspective since we insist on having a narrative/story in order to make sense of the events, to fill in those gaps. We effectively want the work done for us. Interestingly, the events in the annals have to do with life and death, not much more. Whereas we, narrative addicts, need these gaps filled in, the annalist is satisfied with the completeness of time: as indicated by the list of years (even though some list no significant events). It is also telling that the list of years adheres to the Christian calendar, so there is a larger, grand narrative of Christianity that fills the annalist's need for completion. Modern history is written more with moralizing a narrative from the point of view of culture, society, and the rule of law whereas Saint Gaul's annalist wrote the facts and the narrative is formed according to the years of Christ; thus those events are the mere facts of God's will. This is, to us, an incomplete narrative unless we consider the culture (mainly a religious doctrine) of the annalist.
The annalist's list of events, according to the year of our Lord, is, from our perspective, not so much historical as something out of time (being events according to a divine metaphysical plan, therefore needing no further explanations). White seems to suggest that the increasing interest in human affairs (as opposed to a divine plan) arose along with the increase of more historically conscious discourses and also along with an increasing need to apply a culture narrative to complete the "story" of history. The chronicle was a step in that process from annals - chronicle - narrative history or "history proper." As this progression occurred, the form changed from a mere list of events to a more complete story-like narrative. Each form (list of events and story of history) has pros and cons and these seem to be valued depending on the historical epoch. This is why we might see the annals and a chronicle as an attempt at objective history, but lacking a meaningful story of cause and effect.
This progression is also guided by a changing in the authority of any form of historical discourse. The annalist of Gaul had only to adhere to God's authority; no need to moralize or center the form or content on social issues. The annals seem to have a claim to objectivity. However, even though Modern histories use a narrative which can be perceived to stray from the objectivity of events listed, adhering to some cultural agenda, they do give an objective aspect of the "real" by including actual human desires, conflicts, motivations and so on. White's point is simply to show the comparison of these forms and the historical development of narrative (story) as the focus of human life shifted from religion to human affairs.