Saturday, October 23, 2010

Harold, James. Review of Gregory Currie's NARRATIVES AND NARRATORS. NDPR (October 2010).

Currie, Gregory.   Narratives and Narrators: a Philosophy of Stories.  Oxford: OUP, 2010.

I expect Gregory Currie's new book, Narratives and Narrators, to attain the same importance and influence in philosophical thinking about narrative that his earlier books The Nature of Fiction and Image and Mind have had in the philosophy of fiction and film, respectively. It is an ambitious, careful, and philosophically rich work containing a number of novel and important arguments. The book is not driven by a single overarching thesis; it is, rather, a wide-ranging discussion of a variety of topics associated with narrative. Currie will sometimes move from one topic to examine a loosely related issue before returning to the central thread. For example, several chapters end with appendices that offer evolutionary hypotheses which, if proven, would lend modest auxiliary support to the main argument of the chapter. Although these and other asides sometimes seem unnecessary, they are never uninteresting.

The book begins with an account of what narratives are and then moves to examine a series of philosophical problems about narrators and narratives, for example: the relationship between narrators and authors; the ubiquity of narrators thesis; the nature of point of view and how it is conveyed; the puzzle of imaginative resistance; the nature of irony and pretence; and, perhaps most surprisingly, skepticism about the notion of character, which has heretofore mostly been discussed in connection with virtue ethics and meta-ethics. An "analytical contents" section immediately following the traditional Table of Contents does an excellent job of distilling the essential argumentative pieces of the book; this is an especially helpful device for readers who may be looking to jump into the middle of the book to see what Currie has to say about one of these particular questions.

Some of the standout sections of the book include Currie's careful and moderate treatment of the nature of narrative, his refutation of the "ubiquity of narrators" thesis, and his subtle and compelling account of point of view. In each of these cases, Currie is fair to his critics and cautious in his conclusions. He builds on his conclusions in sometimes surprising ways. His theory of point of view is used as a basis for a theory of irony, which in turn leads him to a detailed reading of Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) in Chapter 9.

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