Monday, January 23, 2012

The Inward Turn of the Narrative

Erich Kahler

1970 (German), 1973 (English trans: Richard and Clara Winston, Princeton U. Press)

“Erich Kahler’s view of the modern world is “the steady evolution of consciousness in the direction of the demythification and secularization of wider and wider areas of human life”.

-Joseph Frank in the forward, p ix-x

[…he continues…]

The part of mankind living in advanced industrial society “has thus become detached from the ancient certainties provided by religion and cultural tradition; it lives mentally and physically in a universe it has not yet learned how to assimilate emotionally. The spiritual crisis of the modern era is precisely this gap between the mind of the human species and its psyche”.

Literary history as the history of consciousness (preface, p3):

“The evolution of artistic forms of expression is one of the most important evidences we have for the changes in man’s consciousness and the changes in the structure of his world.”

The Denaturing of Nature (preface, p6):

The individual, by conscious objectification of reality, denatures nature.

The Nature of Narrative

from the very first sentence of ‘Part One’

Initially, the process of internalization of narrative consists in gradually bringing the narrated material down to earth and breathing into it a human soul. Narrative begins with cosmogonies and theogonies. Slowly, then, the themes descend to the level of annals and chronicles, to the recording of earthly events.


Early Occidental Epics (Homer)

-representing “complex elaborations and reshapings of real happenings”

-mingling myth and history, not mere fictions, i.e. not pure invention

-reproducing believed realities

-mythic, heroic human

“The biblical kings and prophets are not invented fictional characters; they are historical figures, though somewhat distorted by the narrative, for narrative always distorts.” (p54) [ref: Big Fish film]

“[They] are not fictional characters…they were not created for the sake of symbolizing, for the sake of meaning; they are the actors in real events, or events believed to be real…If we feel that they represent certain universal human attitudes, we are responding to a naïve symbolism which the authors were unconscious.” (p55)

Christian Influence

-deliberate, imposed meaning

Renaissance Influence

-collapse of Holy Roman Empire and feudal hierarchy/Roman Catholic Church/Christian Cosmos:

“Emperor, Pope, and Divine Ruler of the Universe as single unified power lost their claims to unlimited hegemony. God was displaced by human reason; knowledge derived from faith shattered by empiricism…Men began themselves to observe nature directly… This was the beginning of natural science” (p35)

[The displacement of God by human reason is a getting-rid-of the Great Middleman. He is disregarded; change is affected directly, by the individual.]

Renaissance Influence

-dawning of individual consciousness

“When the acceptance of supernatural authority is shaken and each individual begins to act entirely on his own responsibility, the secretiveness, caution, and a close watch on the conduct and character of other individuals becomes essential.” (p21)

“One’s fellow man, as well as one’s own inner life, become objects of conscious observation.” (p21)

Fiction at Last

-Don Quixote, first modern novel

-(new) ascending symbolism vs. (old) descending symbolism

“[^]…proceeds not from a supernatural, extrahuman, or prehuman event whose reality is assumed, but because it rises from below, from a purely human natural world, from individual characters and events which from the outset possess only a representative, not an actual reality. In fact, then have been invented by the artists for the sake of this representation.” (p57)

“To the creators of the new symbolism there is no pre-existence, no premise outside the work itself. The whole symbolic structure is built up by the artist; it is entirely integrated. This complete integration is internalization. ” Nothing more is imposed, “The whole world is now inside the artist.” (p58)

1700’s: Reciprocal Creation of Consciousness and Reality

From the 1700’s on, “A new intertwining of inner and outer life began, within the onset of a more developed consciousness. … The interpenetration of consciousness and reality, and the accelerating interaction between the two, have greatly complicated the two.” (p75)

“For the first time, then, then actual process of change is drenched with ideas, permeated by the products of consciousness.” (p69)

“Conditions become far more important than actions; dealing with them in a practical way demands abstraction. … The stuff which becomes the object of the artistic consciousness, and thus of the narrator’s consciousness – the sheer raw material of reality – is no longer a merely physical or even psychological primal substance.” (p70)

“Nature for the first time becomes an independent object of reality” (p75)

[footnote] “As was the case with the development of perspective, the graphic arts took the lead here. During the Renaissance, Altodorfer and Durer painted the first landscapes devoid of human figures.”

-technology as “the systematization and practical application of scientific results”, “strews abstractions throughout the whole field of reality”

The First Description of a Thunderstorm

--“Die auf ein starkes Ungewitter erfolgte Stille”, or “The Silence After a Thunderstorm”, by Brockes, 1735, translated in Winston’s Narrative

“…Apogee of the transfer from mystical imbuement of nature to cold, analytical, categorical description.” (p84)

“The creator was inadvertently removed from creation, his presence remained, however, as the guardian of morality.” (p89)

The ‘New English Novel’

-began in 1719 with Daniel DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe, he describes it himself as “homely, plain writing”

-first use of naturalistic language in the history of the narrative

-“Defoe’s naturalistic exactitude is mean to reinforce the credibility of the story.” (p93)

Kahler lists a “variety of fresh motives” introduced in this phase:

-scientific empiricism

-puritan moral scruples

-bourgeoisie’s attentiveness to material things

-overseas exploration w accompanying emphasis on description

-middle class hunger for ‘true history’, in the light of which the narrator must strive harder to achieve credibility

-The development of science in the 1600-1700, the telescope and the microscope, brought about a metaphysical insecurity (later Kahler references Gulliver’s Travels in this context)


Gulliver’s Travels, Marivaux’s Vie de Marianne, Rousseau’s Confessions

-satire served as an expression of revolt or a vehicle of moralistic intention and conversely [DeFoe’s] didactic intention sometimes served as a pretext for dwelling upon prohibited subjects

-first-person narrative becomes semi-autobiographical

-the modern dilemma of the artist

-transformation of readership and narrator and the relationship between the two

-the audience becomes less easily satisfired and a new strategy is required to hold the reader

-the new inwardly coherent narrative demanded concentrated attention. This develops a more intimate relationship (btw narrator and reader).

[I am not sure what Kahler is saying anymore; here are a couple snippets.]

-an artificial aloofness where the real narrator interposes a fictional intermediary between narrator and subject [and in footnote 29, p175] making the story more convincing by objectifying it

-Broch on “The Death of Virgil”: “It’s really no longer readable”

-The narrator is now addressing an imaginary recipient.

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