Rudrum, David (2006) On the Very Idea of a Definition of Narrative: A Reply to Marie-Laure Ryan. Narrative, 14 (2). pp. 197-204. ISSN 1063-3685
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David Rudrum - On the Very Idea of a Definition of Narrative: A Reply to Marie-Laure Ryan - Narrative 14:2 Narrative 14.2 (2006) 197-204 On the Very Idea of a Definition of Narrative: A Reply to Marie-Laure Ryan David Rudrum I "Quid est ergo tempus?", St. Augustine famously asked. "Si nemo ex me quaerat scio; si quaerenti explicare velim, nescio". These words, which strike me as some of the most deeply honest and self-aware of his Confessions, describe an experience that must surely be familiar to most narratologists: Augustine's philosophical musings on the nature of time lead him to conclude that when no-one is asking him what time is, he knows, but as soon as he attempts to explain it, it turns out that he doesn't know. So it is with narrative. Mutatis mutandis, we all know what a narrative is: we all recognise one when we see one. But when we try to commit our knowledge to paper, it inevitably turns out that for every generalisation there is an exception, for every taxonomy there is a misfit, and for every definition there is always room for further definition, as extraneous elements creep into our classifications. Such, no doubt, is life. The question then arises as to the consequences of a knowledge that is simultaneously present and absent. It would seem odd (or, better, wrong) to claim that we don't know what a narrative is if our definitions of it are unsatisfactory. Is anyone going to claim that Augustine didn't know what he was talking about...

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