Scholarly article on topic 'Collapse of Narrative: A Study of Narrative Distance in the Confessional Narrative in Kazuo Ishiguro's Work'

Collapse of Narrative: A Study of Narrative Distance in the Confessional Narrative in Kazuo Ishiguro's Work Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Catherine Wong

Abstract This paper is a prelude to another forthcoming paper which applies H P Grice's conversation theory to the study of the narrative in the postcolonial writing of Kazuo Ishiguro in finding out the ‘source of unreliability’ of the narrator. This paper aims to set off with the building of a theoretical framework for such discussion of the unreliability hidden in the confessional narrative in postcolonial writings. The primary goal of this essay is to examine the role of the narrator within the narrative discourse and his/her position in the story discourse through a stylistic analysis of Ishiguro's linguistic choice in shaping his narrator and characters. The analysis firstly focuses on the examination of mood and mode at the syntactic level of the narrative of A Pale View of the Hills (1982) and differentiates, if any, the ways the character-narrator (Etsuko) constructs her ‘Japanese’ voice and reveals her experience and secrets. The analysis is then further going into the examination of the variation of the tone used in the narrative and story discourses. Harnessing the discovery of the similarity of the linguistic markers used, the study will lead to a better understanding of the process of the blurring of the boundary between the narrator-self and the narrated-self. The ultimate goal of this paper is to uncover the separation yet confusion between self, language and voice in a narrative which contributes to the diminishing distance between the two levels of discourse and subsequently to the collapse of narrative in the confessional narrative in Ishiguro's novel.

Academic research paper on topic "Collapse of Narrative: A Study of Narrative Distance in the Confessional Narrative in Kazuo Ishiguro's Work"

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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 158 (2014) 57 - 64

14th International Language, Literature and Stylistics Symposium

Collapse of narrative: a study of narrative distance in the confessional narrative in Kazuo Ishiguro's work

Catherine Wong*

Hang Seng Management College, Hong Kong

Abstract

This paper is a prelude to another forthcoming paper which applies H P Grice's conversation theory to the study of the narrative in the postcolonial writing of Kazuo Ishiguro in finding out the 'source of unreliability' of the narrator. This paper aims to set off with the building of a theoretical framework for such discussion of the unreliability hidden in the confessional narrative in postcolonial writings. The primary goal of this essay is to examine the role of the narrator within the narrative discourse and his/her position in the story discourse through a stylistic analysis of Ishiguro's linguistic choice in shaping his narrator and characters. The analysis firstly focuses on the examination of mood and mode at the syntactic level of the narrative of A Pale View of the Hills (1982) and differentiates, if any, the ways the character-narrator (Etsuko) constructs her 'Japanese' voice and reveals her experience and secrets. The analysis is then further going into the examination of the variation of the tone used in the narrative and story discourses. Harnessing the discovery of the similarity of the linguistic markers used, the study will lead to a better understanding of the process of the blurring of the boundary between the narrator-self and the narrated-self. The ultimate goal of this paper is to uncover the separation yet confusion between self, language and voice in a narrative which contributes to the diminishing distance between the two levels of discourse and subsequently to the collapse of narrative in the confessional narrative in Ishiguro's novel.

© 2014TheAuthors.PublishedbyElsevierLtd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of Dokuz Eylul University, Faculty of Education. Keywords: narrative distance; discourse analysis; cognitive linguistics

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +852-39635459 E-mail address: catherinewong@hsmc.edu.hk

1877-0428 © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of Dokuz Eylul University, Faculty of Education. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.12.033

Much research has been done on Japanese British writer Kazuo Ishiguro's dubious narrators and even more have been done on the issues of cultures and identity explored his works; nevertheless, language, especially the use of it in relation to the conveying of mood and mediating the distance between the narrator and the audience as well as delaying audience understanding of the story, is rarely been studied. It is beyond a shadow of doubt that Kazuo Ishiguro's personal experience is one of the main sources of inspiration for his works. Growing up in a Japanese immigrate family in Britain, this diasporic experience has much an impact on the novelist's view on his identity. The dilemma between the choice of a romantic notion of nationhood and that of a more contemporary spectrum of transnational and cross-cultural identity is evident in his earlier works such as A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World. While Ishiguro is actively reconstructing his homeland - an imaginary Japanese landscape, coupled with its traditional cultures and virtues which he tries to reclaim, the first-person character-narrators of his novels are entrapped between the obligations to remain loyal to one's race and nation and the desire to progress and explore different options in life. The unsettled feelings of the sojourner has slowly transformed into a new kind of sentiment at the narrative as Ishiguro seems to have gained confidence in the British voice, his adopted, 'stepmother' tongue. Indeed, the mood of uncertainty and unreliability is exactly the result of the gap between the 'British' voice of the narrator and the 'Japanese' context and content this voice carries, or in other words, the negotiation of the distance between the narrative discourse and the story discourse. This paper sets off to examine this narrative distance through the analysis of the modals used in the narrative in relation to narrator's positioning in and layering of the narrative time. The ultimate goal of it is how the collapse of narrative, or, the intrusion of the narrative discourse into the story one, will adversely affect the reliability of the narrator.

Ronald W Langacker's model of current discourse space is adopted to help build a theoretical framework of how Ishiguro's character-narrator, Etsuko's narrative in A Pale View of Hills plays with the adjustment of the scope of focus and the viewing frame in misguiding her audience into viewing an event within the context of shared knowledge in a distorted way. Ishiguro's narrative style used in A Pale View of Hills can be clearly illustrated by this model - while Etsuko's confessional narrative of her life is both intricate and intriguing with a frame story of her daughter, Niki's visit triggering Etsuko's long forgotten, fragmented memories of her deserted life in Japan, and yet again, interrupted by the unwelcome recalling of the suicide of Keiko, the daughter of her first marriage in Japan. The scattered narrative structure may have disrupted the continuity of the story discourse (and divided it into at least three stories: the story of Etsuko's life in Japan and her encountering of Sachiko there, the story about the mother-daughter relationship between Etsuko and Keiko and, some recent episodes during Niki's visit), such discontinuity and shuffling of chronology has definitely weakened the level of credibility of the narrative and delayed the audience's realisation of the truth. It has pushed the supposed-to-be foregrounding, the focus of the story - Etsuko's confession of her guilty feelings towards the death of Keiko - to the background. Nevertheless, this episodic structure of the narrative, as illustrated in figure 1, offers much richness to the whole discourse as it allows the narrator to break away from a homogenous narrative pattern. It gives the flexibility of a variety of interplays between the narrator and the audience, the ground, the shared knowledge and the viewing frame and provides the narrator with the freedom to adjust and negotiate in each episode a different strategy in the revelation of the truth to her audience.

Etsuko's broken, episodic narrative structure enables her to switch the focus of her story and divert reader's attention away from her own mysterious past which is related to the death of Keiko. And as illustrated in figure 1.1, the consensual understanding between the narrator and the audience is that Etsuko is making a confession and through her narrative, she is revealing and guiding her audience to revisit her memory and her past. Yet, though the viewing frame, in most episodes of the confession, lies on the memory of Etsuko, especially on the memory of her life in Japan which seems to be significantly containing the secret and reason for Keiko's suicide; the focus of the narrative is always drifted away from Etsuko's personal life. Take Chapter 5 of the novel as an example, while the story time has moved back to post-war Japan when Etsuko was still living with her first husband, Jiro and was pregnant with her first child - readers are expecting to have a closer look into her personal life with the progression of the story, the focus of the story suddenly shifts to the observation of the life of Sachiko and Etsuko's own story becomes a mere sub-plot. The character-narrator is no more than an observer staying at the periphery of the viewing frame in the whole piece of the memory.

With the original purpose of the confession being pushed to the background, the seemingly irrelevant story of Etsuko's friend Sachiko, and her love-hate relationship with her daughter Maruko and her problematic love affairs with her American boyfriend, Frank slips in and become the main focus of the narrative. However, when the story is slowly unfolding itself and it is not difficult for readers to discern a parallelism shared by Etsuko's and Sachiko's stories and the alikeness of the experience of the two women. The fact that Sachiko, instead of being a friend of Etsuko, is in reality the altergo created by the character-narrator in distancing herself from her misconduct and, the shame and guilt accompanying it, gives a final blow to the credibility of her story. Still, Ishiguro, through his narrator, has adopted a high amount of modals in ostensibly heightening the persuasiveness of the narrative yet in actual practice further delaying the audience from reaching the truth.

According to Langacker's model of the discourse of usage events, the viewing frame of a narrative is shaped by both the conceptualisation and vocalisation channels. The content and details of Etsuko's stories (both the autobiographical and the imaginary ones) are part of the conceptualisation channels used in communicating information and influencing audience's perception of the event. Whether Etsuko is intentionally lying or highly selective and reserved when revealing the truth or ambiguous in her description of the events may be equivalent to the objective situation, information structure and speech management as referred in Langacker's model (2001, p. 145). Though how the narrator is obscuring the clarity and accuracy of her account of the events are not going to be the focus of discussion in this paper, they will be revisited in my next paper and be closely analysed with the use of HP Grice's conversation theory.

On the other hand, though the voice of the narrator does very little in directly changing the content of the story discourse, the mood as conveyed by the voice of the narrator, that is, the segmental content, as described in Figure 2, helps mould a certain discourse expectation of the audience. While A Pale View of Hills belongs to the genre of written, fictional narrative discourse in which intonation and gesture play very little role in supporting an actual vocalisation channelling of messages or functioning as an instrument of focusing attention in the viewing frame of the audience/readers, its special lexical choice and grammatical constructions do form a substantial linguistic pattern. This linguistic pattern creates a viewing frame which guides and directs both the expectation and understanding of the readers. And in this case, the large volume of modality (both in the forms of modal verbs and other grammatical constructions of mood) used in the narrative definitely has formed an attention framing which shapes and influences the audience's focus and perception of events. Indeed, with the analysis of the nature of modality used in the narrative of the novel, we can demystify the myth of why Ishiguro's narrators are always believed to be unclear, dubious and subsequently described as unreliable and can also explain how important a role played by the equivocal voice of Ishiguro's narrator in further supplementing and intensifying the peculiarity of the narrative and complexity of understanding and deciphering of the story.

In Langacker's discussion, the attention focus framed by the linguistic patterns of the narrator can be prospective or retrospective. But in the case of Etsuko's narration, though there is always the disgust of retrospection with Etsuko's reviewing her life and experience, the focus frame of the narrative, which is a mood-oriented one, is highly prospective - all moods are working towards the same goal of disengaging Etsuko's involvement in and responsible for the narrated events. While the use of epistemic use of modals such as 'would' is prominent in many episodes of the narrative, the use of hedges and harmonic modal expressions are very common throughout the whole confessional narrative discourse. Modal constructions such as 'it seemed' and 'now I realise' are used frequently to dilute the reliability of narrative: with the former, the narrator shift the focus frame to the past to share her audience her own uncertainty and lack of understanding in the situation, Example 1:

They exchanged what seemed an endless succession of bows, before Mrs. Fujiwara went to fetch us something to eat. (Ishiguro, 2005, p. 84)

And with the latter, the narrator is using retrospection as a disguise, pretending to look at the event from an outsider's point of view, to obliterate and distance herself from the responsibility of the consequence of the event she narrates,

Example 2:

Now I do not doubt that amongst those women I lived with, there were those who had suffered, those with sad and terrible memories (p. 5).

And we have categorised the mood change into 8 main types: necessity, direct evidence, perception, indirect evidence, proposition, supposition, imagination, possibility (refer to Figure 3). And as shown in Figure 4 and Figure 5, the high amount of modals/modal constructions concentrates mainly in the category of indirect evidence. Whether the actual content in the story discourse is really just a sheer piece of opinion is just a secondary concern in this paper, but through this vocalisation channel, the narrator is actually undercutting the credibility of the content and guiding her audience to disbelieve the objectivity and reliability of her story. Another observation we have made in this analysis is that the vocal activity of the narrator is highly correlating with the use of first person pronoun in the narrative. In other words, the mood and the voice of the narrator shape the frame of expectation through the interplay between her positing various time space as well as the appearance of her narrator self in the story discourse.

The abovementioned analysis has proved the inseparable relationship between the narrator's mediation of the mood of the narrative and the audience's perception of the story - and in the case of Etsuko's confession in A Pale View of Hills, the conscious effort of Etsuko's manipulation of the focus and viewing frame of her narrative and interference of story discourse results in the diminishing of the distance between narrative space and story space, and that is, the collapse of narrative. Yet as consistent as such prominent use of the first person pronoun 'I' in the narrative to mediate the mood and reliability of the content of the story is the sudden absence of the narrator in four of the chapters. It is especially intriguing to see that the 'I-narrator' has disappeared in the story discourse completely in the final chapter when the truth about Etsuko herself is actually the negligent mother. The narrator is withdrawing herself from interfering and interrupting the story and melts into the background, that is, at the narrative discourse level. And Etsuko is playing the role of no more than an omniscient third person narrator. And as shown in Figure 6, mood of these chapters stabilises and the events are mostly perceived as the narrator's observations based on direct and indirect evidence.

To conclude, the strength of the narrative of Ishiguro resides in the unsettlement of the narrative and the unresolved tension. The examination of the role of language, the fluidity of language in terms of the passage of information provides us with a new answer to the old paradigm of the study of the confessional narrative. Through the character-narrator Etsuko, Ishiguro has created a textual space where he can exercise his subjectivity at the marginality of story and narrative, focus and shared knowledge, mood and perception. The power of transmission of language is in both the form of infiltration and diffusion.

Fig.1 (Langacker, 2001, p.145)

Narrative Discourse Space in A Pale View of Hills

Narrat

Etsuko's Past

(m Jepan)

N A Confession Etsuko's Past y Shared Knowledge

Fig. l.l

Viewing Frame

Speech Management

Information Structure

Objective Situation

Segmental Content

Intonation

Gesture

Conceptualisation Channels

Vocalisation Channels

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

Summary One

-•^CNapte« 1 HhOjfH' 2 -*-Chapte< 3 —— fhapriM 6 —ChiHM r

1 11 ^ 30

/ \ / \ / \ -*-C*»Btef8 / \ 1 \ 1 \ 1C

-Owall Total

N1 N2 N3 4 ©el I>2 PL P2 P3 M lei leZ 1e3 PH Pr2 Pr3 P A Sul SJ2 5U3 St. 4 Iro Pol Pol

Fig. 4 Summary Two

Fig. 5

Summary Three

Fig. 6

References

Ishiguro, K. (2001). An Artist of the Floating World. London: Faber & Faber.

--.(2005). A Pale View of Hills. London: Faber & Faber. Janik, D. I. (1995). No End of History: Evidence from the Contemporary English Novel. In Twentieth Century Literature. Vol. 41, No. 2

(Summer, 1995): 160-189. Langacker, R.W. (2001). Discourse in Cognitive Grammar. In Cognitive Linguistics. 12-2. 143-188.

Matthews, S. & Groes , S. (2009). "Your Worlds Open Windows for Me": The Art of Ishiguro. In S. Matthews & S. Groes (Eds.), Kazuo

Ishiguro: Contemporary Critical Perspectives.. London: Continuum International Publishing Group. 1-8. Shibata, M. & Sugano, M. (2009). Strange Reads: Kazuo Ishiguro's A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World in Japan' Kazuo Ishiguro: Contemporary Critical Perspectives. In S. Matthews & S. Groes (Eds.), Kazuo Ishiguro: Contemporary Critical Perspectives. London: Continuum International Publishing Group. 20-31. Print.