October 6, 2014

Memory & Narrative, Spoiler Alert

My anticipated series' conclusion, in a mere 150 364 words:

When short-term memories imply transition, and when long-term memories retain such implications even in their most irreducible form, it is the nature of those remembered transitions to order the contents of mnemonic past. Further, supposing the ability to recall personal experience in temporal sequence was the origin of human storytelling, we may be able to redefine Narrative as a function of "remembering time", henceforth "Mnemonic Temporality". As it turns out, the most deeply rooted of temporal memories run closely in parallel to the concepts of Plot, Character, Setting, and Conflict:

  • To remember causality implies sequence. Retaining a temporal sequence of narrated events is the mnemonic function of plot (the division of "Story/Discourse", or "Fabula/Sjuzhet").
  • To remember persons implies mortality, growth, decay, and genealogy. The passing of epochs is defined and recalled by the lifespans and logical succession of related historical characters.
  • To remember locations implies travel, along with changes in natural environments. A great deal of chronology is defined by the seasons, or by "the time when [someone/thing] was in [place]".
  • To remember conflict implies the contradiction of expectations. The disruption of perceived equilibrium is a traumatic irony, associating an absence after (-) with a presence before (+).

Since the basic function of Stories is to represent Temporality, and because "making sense of the past" involves sorting the order of things, it seems unsurprising that Mnemonic Temporality - that these fundamental methods of remembering time - are able to find definition so easily in the basic aspects of narrative structure.

However, if Mnemonic Temporality fundamentally precedes and undergirds all Narrativity, then these categories are not to be seen as mere literary conventions or structuralist paradigms. Rather, they appear to be cognitive patterns of logical truncation and/or visual memory compression, in which perceived continuities both minimize and self-sequence within human memory, due to the logical necessity of their remembered origins - or sometimes due to their presumed and/or reconstructed origins. Although human memory distorts for the sake of efficient remembering, and whether memories being sorted are entirely accurate, it is the logical contingencies implied by these types of memories which are required by cognitive function as the basis of narrativizing and chronologizing the past.

Update 11-30-14

The previous version was 150 words: 

There are certain aspects of reality, as perceived and remembered, which still retain in their most irreducible form the implication of transition, and *that* is the basis of our ability to construct stories. The memory of "time itself", or what we may call Mnemonic Temporality, is deeply rooted in the most prominent among these implicit transitions, which, being categorized, may be called Plot (causality & sequence), Character (biology & lineage), Conflict (intention & trauma), and Location (environment & travel). Though familiar of course as the basic aspects of narrative structure, these categories of Mnemonic Temporality are not fundamentally to be seen as structuralist or literary conventions. Rather, they are cognitive patterns of truncating (or "compressing") perceived continuities, which become self-ordered through the logical necessity of their presumed and/or remembered contingencies. All together, it is these roots of Mnemonic Temporality which comprise the cognitive basis of all narrativity.


This theory may have applications for building towards a rhetoric of "historical narrative"; that is, for understanding how writers and readers collaboratively recognize whether or not fiction and non-fiction stories have been set within the recognizably (ie, mnemonically) "historical" past.


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