The Reluctant Narrator
The Reluctant Narrator
Narrative Practices Across Media
There is no such thing as a real story. Stories are not lived, they are told; to paraphrase American historian Hayden White, a real story is an oxymoron. Likewise, history is a problem, not a puzzle whose pieces only need
proper grouping. History — as Roland Barthes famously said — is hysterical; it is constituted only if we look at it, which is not to say historical events never happened or are devoid of reality, but rather that the very notion of history is a distinctive discursive practice, a particular modality of representation, predicated on narrative.
Though modernist critics berated narration, the end of the twentieth century witnessed an explosion of interest in narrative practices. Often referred to as “the narrative turn,” this new field of inquiry originated in French structuralism’s general approach to language, and more explicitly from Tzvetan Todorov’s passion for what he termed “a science of narrative,” la narratologie, premised on the notion that life is inherently storied, or — as French philosopher Jacques Rancière put it — that the real must be fictionalized in order to be thought. Postmodernism itself was described as a narrative impulse, in which a rekindled interest in the ctive, the chronicle, and the anecdotal upstaged the symbolic unity of high modernism.
As Susan Buck-Morss noted, however, modernism and postmodernism are not historical moments, but political positions: two poles of a recurring movement, expressing the contradictions inherent to the industrial mode of production in the identity and non-identity between social function and aesthetic form. Rather than opposing a myriad of micro-narratives to the grand narrative of modernism, The Reluctant Narrator maps the migration of narrative modes across several media, bringing together works that intertwine personal biography with collective history, or that deal with stories that have fallen through the crevices of history. The exhibition’s title refers to the literary trope of the unreliable narrator, a compromised or otherwise deluded storyteller.
This figure is juxtaposed against what is known as the aporia of narration — the stories which most need telling are the ones that can never be told — in order to point out that narrative doesn’t merely mean continuity in
change or change in continuity but is, instead, a constant negotiation between partial truths, able to sustain an agonistic unity and to express the irreducibility of the social.
Ana Teixeira Pinto
Armando Andrade Tudela