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Journal Article

Death and Vocation: Narrativizing Narrative Theory

Bruce Robbins
PMLA
Vol. 107, No. 1 (Jan., 1992), pp. 38-50
DOI: 10.2307/462799
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/462799
Page Count: 13
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Death and Vocation: Narrativizing Narrative Theory
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Abstract

Literary critics mistrust periodization, that basic act of literary history, because they are suspicious of narrative. Where does this suspicion come from? And why has it arisen, paradoxically, together with the growing authority of the concept of narrative itself? This essay places the rise of narrative theory in the contexts of professionalism, decolonization, and the nineteenth-century novel. Gérard Genette's account of the triumph of "discourse" over "story" parallels the upward mobility of many nineteenth-century novelistic protagonists. Even denying that narrative theory can be narrativized, as Jonathan Culler does, has similarities to the vocational crisis in George Eliot's Daniel Deronda. Each of these narratives functions as a rhetoric of professional legitimation, leading outward from some account of "the 'storiness' of the story"-the role, for example, of death for Walter Benjamin and Frank Kermode-to a sense of vocation anchored in the concerns of an extraprofessional public.

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