H. Porter Abbott
What do we mean when we say ‘Narrative Literature’?
Looking for Answers across Disciplinary Borders
Style 34. 2 (summer 2000)


Both the difficulty and the reward of crossing disciplinary borders can be seen by applying a cognitive take to two familiar terms in literary discourse: narrative and literature. This perspective gives new and interesting life to these terms and at the same time reveals a wide conceptual gap between them. Briefly, narrative operates as a platform while literature operates as a set of toggle switches. Narrative appears to be a more deeply embedded human response that can be turned on and left running while other operations are performed on top of it. Literature, on the other hand, is made up of qualities, the perception of which can be turned on and off through suggestion or other cultural means. A final complication of this argument is that one of these cultural toggle switches – instrumentality/non-instrumentality – can, in one of its modes, operate as a platform. The reason for this is that, while non-instrumentality is a widely accepted literary trait, instrumentality is itself a narrative condition.


Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles