Whoever heard of Narratology?

I've got a couple of complaints about my graduate education, but I suppose that's normal. Still, you gotta wonder when you spend 4 years studying fiction, and you never once encounter the word narratology.

Since I've been teaching fiction, I've discovered that I seem to have an interest in aspects of the genre that other people take for granted (the plot for example); since most of my fellow instructors have advanced degrees in Literature rather than fiction or poetry or drama, this doesn't surprise me. The study of Literature is a wholly different thing from the study of creative writing. The word Literature sounds a bit like Scripture, and the treatment of the subject is similar, if sometimes with the antagonism that comes with reading someone else's scripture, instead of one's own. Works are treated as inevitable, and authors as either characters or stars, personages, not persons. Theme is held up over all else, because that's what you can write papers about. "Details" (like characterization or symbolism) are important only inasmuch as they help support an argument about the theme. This is the study of literature, and it's a worthy pursuit.

But the study of fiction, or any genre, has to be interested in other areas. After all, very few good plots have been built while the author obesessed over his theme. Very few convincing characters have been born from a theme's loins. (Best case, you'll get piggies ala Animal Farm.) There is the foremost question of choice: every story is a sequence of decisions made by someone, and his number of possibilities was more or less determined by him, based on the rules of the world he invented. There is the manipulation of interest: I once asked my class, if we know from the first sentence how this story will end, why do we keep reading? To which a helpful student replied, because you're making us. But his flippancy represents something real: how much of the study of literature is done under duress? And is that why we ignore enitrely that aspect of fiction which snares us so that we cannot put down the story or book until completion? I mean, why should a made-up story interest us at all?

I'd assumed that only creative writers consider these subjects, and that it was a vague and unarticulated field of thought. And then, rambling through some wikis, I came across the word "narratology," which sounds like one of those stone-age psuedo-sciences, like phrenology, or astrology, or psychology, but is actually the study of the structure of storytelling, and not just in fiction, either.

About 2/3 of what I've read in the field so far (online) is bullshit, but it's interesting bullshit. And it's clear and well-articulated bullshit, on a subject that interests me. So I'm hooked, and I feel like I may actually begin to make quicker progress in a field of thought that I'd been groping through on my own, reinventing the spoon and the loom if you will, now that I have some other people's ideas to bounce around, some terminology to consider.

But I still want to know why I'm knee-deep in debt after four years of graduate school that included courses (obstensibly) on "form and theory" (which were sort of group grope-in-the-dark experiments, I think), and I never once so much as heard the word "narratology"?


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