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Disputable Core Concepts of Narrative Theory

Göran Rossholm and Christer Johansson

The present volume is a contribution to the theory of narrative by scholars from various disciplines, mainly scholars from Comparative Literature but also contributors from Philosophy, Psychology and the languages. The essays focus on central terms and concepts in narrative theory over the last forty years. Established narratological concepts, such as narrative, narrator, story, fiction, character, narrative (un)reliability and point of view, but also relational concepts motivated by the expansion of narratology, such as narrative and non-verbal media, narrative and personal identity and narrative and literary genre, are themes dealt with.
In addition to presenting a critical examination of the core concepts of narrative theory, the volume is a demonstration of the vigour of contemporary Nordic narrative theory. The authors work at universities in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Norway and Sweden, and they all belong to the Nordic Network of Narrative Studies.

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PER KROGH HANSEN - Formalizing the Study of Character: Traits, Profiles, Possibilities 99

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99 PER KROGH HANSEN Formalizing the Study of Character: Traits, Profiles, Possibilities I It is a truth universally acknowledged that the concept of character has received very little attention in narrative theory. Some claim it is because it has no interest to narratology. Gérard Genette, for in- stance, meets the critique raised against him for not accomodating character in Narrative Discourse by claiming that his study “bears on narrative discourse and not its objects” (Genette 1988, 135). Character is, according to Genette, only of interest to narratology as a matter of “characterization”, that is “the technique of constituting charac- ters with narrative texts” (136). Not everyone in narrative theory has rejected character as con- sistently as Genette. But the view that the focus should be on tech- nique, language and narrative is shared, and the argument is in most cases identical to the one raised under the headline “How Many Chil- dren had Lady MacBeth?” by L. C. Knights back in 1933. Knights taunts his fellow critics for having a naive-mimetic conception of character that mistakes literary creations for being flesh-and-blood human beings, and thereby not acknowledging that “ ‘character’ – like ‘plot’, ‘rhythm’, ‘construction’ and all our other critical counters – is merely an abstraction from the total response in the mind of the reader or spectator, brought into being by written or spoken words; that the critic therefore – however far he may ultimately range – begins with the words of which a play is composed” (Knights 1951, 4). 100 This focus...

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