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"The Relative Merits of Goodness and Originality": The Ethics of Storytelling in Peter Carey’s Novels
Uppsala University, Humanistisk-samhällsvetenskapliga vetenskapsområdet, Faculty of Languages, Department of English.
2001 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The aim of this study is to demonstrate that recurrent formal and thematic patterns in Peter Carey’s novels suggest an interrelation between the works, and that an analysis which takes that interrelation into account can extract an argument concerning the ethics of storytelling from the texts. The issue of the status of fictional discourse receives prominent and complex consideration in Carey’s novels, and this study argues that Carey presents storytelling as an intentional mode of social interaction, defined and governed by extra-linguistic conventions. For the discourse to be meaningfully described as fictional, storytellers as well as their audiences have to observe the rules that apply to their activity.

The first step of the analysis, focusing on the formal level of the texts, discusses fictionality as an activity separate from nonfictional discourse and demonstrates that Carey’s novels emphasize how closure has to be seen as a crucial part of this activity. The formal features of Carey’s novels – e.g. his frequent use of first-person narrators, the constantly questioned reliability of these narrators, the disruption of chronology – have been viewed as exposing the relativity of any narrative. Seeking to extricate Carey’s novels from the postmodern and post-colonial discussions of them, this analysis argues, by contrast, that Carey separates fictional discourse from nonfictional by refusing to resist closure.

Chapter two, the second step of the analysis, concentrates on the thematic level and reinforces the assumption that a distinction between fictionality and nonfictionality is essential. Whereas paradox on the formal level produces the liberating effect of suspending truth value, indicating the fictional status of the discourse, its thematic significance is nearly the opposite. Their attraction to paradox traps characters in impossible double positions, where they find themselves completely powerless, while decisions are made for them by necessity rather than by their own volition. Finally, John R. Searle’s version of speech act theory is employed to explain how a largely formalistic analysis of literature can be said to have ethical implications, and how a formal description of the storytelling situation can be realized.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis , 2001. , 173 p.
Studia Anglistica Upsaliensia, ISSN 0562-2719 ; 116
Keyword [en]
English language, Peter Carey, Speech Acts, Closure, Ethics and Literature
Keyword [sv]
National Category
Specific Languages
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-1542ISBN: 91-554-5158-6OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-1542DiVA: diva2:161131
Public defence
2001-12-08, Ihresalen, SVC, Villavägen 4, Uppsala, 10:15
Available from: 2001-11-16 Created: 2001-11-16Bibliographically approved

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