Sylvie Patron – The Narrator

Describe your book

My book is entitled The Narrator: A Problem in Narrative Theory. It is the English translation of Le Narrateur: Introduction à la théorie narrative (subtitle chosen by the first publisher), reprinted as Le Narrateur: Un problème de théorie narrative (author’s subtitle restored by the second publisher). This subtitle better reflects the problematological approach to the issue than the previous one. The translation, done by Catherine Porter, is based on the second edition.

The issue is as follows: Is there a fictional narrator in all fictional narratives or only in some of them?

My book differs from most studies in the field of narratology:

• in its object, the narrator (narratology cannot study the narrator to the extent that it takes it as axiomatic);

• in its method, an historical and epistemological approach to different theories focused on the opposition between communicational and non-communicational theories of fictional narratives;

• and finally in its conclusions, which call into question the dominance of the communicational paradigm in the theory and analysis of fictional narratives.

Why did you decide to publish it with a university press?

The Narrator is not my first book published with University of Nebraska Press (UNP). The first one was a collection of essays, Optional-Narrator Theory: Principles, Perspectives, Propositions (2021), which was welcomed enthusiastically by Jesse Matz, the director of the “Frontiers of Narrative” series. I was lucky enough that The Narrator also interested Jesse Matz and other people from the UNP team. I think the “Frontiers of Narrative” series is the best series in the field of narratology/narrative theory today.

Do you enjoy the writing process?

The writing process concerns the original version of the book in French, therefore I will not dwell on it. I enjoyed very much the translation and publishing processes. I learned a lot from Catherine Porter, who became a friend, and from the copyeditor, Wayne Larsen, who was the copyeditor for my two books with UNP. I take this opportunity to thank both of them, as well as Jesse Matz and Heather Stauffer, Acquisitions Editor at UNP, again.

What is the last thing you read not for research/work?

We literary scholars rarely separate pleasure readings and research/work readings. I could give many examples in my readings of the last months. The last thing I read that was really decoupled from any research/work agenda is that of the catalogue of the exhibition Nicolas de Staël at the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris that has just ended.

What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given to you?

As I pondered this somewhat unexpected question, I recalled a recommendation by my thesis supervisor, Francis Marmande, at the very beginning of my work, in the mid-1990s. It was humorously formulated as follows: “ne faites pas de la spéléologie, faites du western” (“do not speleology, make western”). It was a good piece of advice in his mind. I wonder if I really followed it—not in all my books and articles in narrative theory in any case, many of which would surely be called “speleological” by my supervisor! But he is probably not the best reader for them. It must have happened to me to do what he called “western,” in some passages of my thesis and in articles or lectures intended for a wider audience.

What piece of advice might you give to young academics looking to follow in your footsteps? Who inspires you?

I could tell them: “Always historicize!,” taking up Fredric Jameson’s formula. However, I feel less inspired by Jameson than by the French school of history and epistemology of linguistic theories whose guiding figure is Sylvain Auroux and whose representatives are for example Christian Puech or Jean-Louis Chiss. My work shows the importance of historicizing narrative theory: dissipating the illusion of natural concepts (the theories and the concepts they employ, the terms used, etc. are not natural entities, but historical ideas); fighting presentism and potentially re-opening debates which were thought to be closed; conversely, helping history become truly cumulative, rather than cyclical, by avoiding questions being asked repeatedly in the same or synonymous terms.

What’s next? 

The history of narrative theory thus conceived can provide the conditions for an informed study of the epistemology of narrative theory, which still remains largely to be developed.

Sylvie Patron is a professor at Université Paris Cité. She is the author or editor of several books on narrative theory, including Optional-Narrator Theory: Principles, Perspectives, Proposals (Nebraska University Press, 2021).