August 5, 2017

Teleology in Fiction

Attention: Narratology Grad Students! This topic is so fresh it brings up only one google result: the titles of two papers presented at a conference in 2010, although searching the authors' names - Philip Ajouri and Rosinka Chaudhuri - beside "teleology" brings up more interesting results. I hope to lay hold of their presented papers, and other work, as soon as possible. Stay tuned, or get in touch...

Teleological bias has long been a narratological issue for historians but after researching similarities between fiction and nonfiction I believe novels and films can also be structured teleologically. The plot of To Kill a Mockingbird seems somewhat arbitrary until Boo Radley kills Bob Ewell, at which point the entire novel finds its strongest coherence. A more mundane example is a favorite film of mine (and the most logically well constructed time travel plot ever on film), Harry Potter [3] and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The movie in particular introduces various elements enjoyably enough until they're all in place, at which point they all come together for a dramatic finale. Thanks to Rowling and Cuarón, Azkaban is brilliantly done, but I call this example "mundane" because the strategic aspect of their storytelling that I'm highlighting here is something that happens so often in movies that it gets mocked and parodied. As that moment in Wayne's World when they slyly teased (something like, as best I recall): "I wonder if this random meeting will turn out to be important later on." with hammy winks to the camera.

What has not been at all common is the recognition that this kind of fictional storytelling is teleological.

I'm sure there is FAR more to be researched and written, but this is one of many projects I won't get to pursue - except just to touch on these ideas in my upcoming post on teleologically structured remembering of particular storylines. What I will do is update this post when I learn more from Adjouri and Chaudhuri, and I'll leave this floating online until it inspires someone else to dig in. One of my mottos here is "new ideas, free to good homes." This one hasn't had all its shots, but it's friendly, cuddly, and fun! (I also suggest Googling: _Kosselleck teleology_.)

We need to do more work on the similarities between fiction and nonfiction.

Teleology is an excellent project to pick up, in that regard... especially if you're in the market.


Update: my use of "teleology" here stems from the common criticism of historical narratives which display biased selectivity in retrospect. On the narrative-L, Simon Grennan has drawn my attention to Larry Wright's classic Teleological Explanations (1976), which focuses on the "telos" of personal or political goals. There are fascinating aspects of philosophical overlap here, but obviously goals are projections, not retrospections. Incidentally, however, Grennan has just published a VERY intriguing new book of his own called A Theory of Narrative Drawing, which appears to discuss several topics related to part three of my Time in Memory project, about visualization and representation; so that's just delightfully serendipitous! But still, I would argue that etiology doesn't really include "teleology" in the same sense that I'm talking about here.

1 comment:

José Angel García Landa said...

Hi, Bill; I just added your blog to my online bibliography,
It includes a list on retrospection in narrative which might be interest to people following this topic.

And I also edit a blog on narrative theory and hindsight, RETROSPECTION, which touches on many issues related to teleology, foregone conclusions, destiny, etc. and their narrative implications. It can be foun here:

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