Narrative Bodies – Punday

Punday, Daniel. Narrative Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Narratology. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003. Print.

In Narrative Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Narratology, Daniel Punday argues that the way we currently understand and use narratology is inseparably linked to modern conceptions of the body that originate in the Renaissance and continue today.  In Chapter 1, Punday suggests that just as embryology struggled against the concept of a single source for fetal identity in the 18th century, narrative also struggled “toward a definition of the hypothetical identity that likewise was organized around a combination of real and imagined events” (11). In other words, Punday believes that the ability to conceive of narratives as capable of creating fiction worlds is dependent on a specific human biological identity that emerged in the 18th century and that, as such, applying concepts of narratology to texts written before that time reveal anachronisms. In Chapter 2, Punday analyzes how the body is used to craft character in narratives. For a body to be a meaningful object with character in a narrative, Punday argues that body must be distinguished from other objects, must be sorted into types, must be defined in relation to the world outside it, and must be granted a degree of embodiment.

Additionally, in Chapter 2, Punday provides a metaphor of the body that works to link reader and text. Punday states, “our encounter with text is always mediated by the corporeality of bodies, which provides an inevitable model for textual hermeneutics” (12). In Chapter 3, Punday examines the duality of the body in regard to plot by arguing that while the body represents brute physical events, it also provides the order that the narrative gives to events. Punday goes on to state that this duality is a way of thinking about the differences between interior consciousness and external actions. For Punday the difference is, importantly, a temporal one as there is a temporal distention between body and mind. Punday states, “I argue that we can read the transformation of the convention narrative patterns into modernist studies of consciousness as a shift in the role given to the unruly body within thinking about narrative events. This transformation of the unruly body from raw material to vehicle for desire into the outside world to which the mind responds occurs whenever modern and contemporary thinkers describe the relationship between the individual and the world” (13).

Next, in Chapter 4, Punday discusses the body in relation to space and setting. Punday notes that settings are always references as places to which characters (and thus character bodies) can go either physically, imaginatively, or perceptually. This quality, Punday argues, allows for a kinetic theory of narrative-based “on the instability of space as the constant movement of time. Just as the body in narrative temporality challenges patterns and creates ‘distention’ within the story, so too the body is what makes setting unstable and forces constant movement” (14). Given this, Punday suggests narrative might be better thought of as a matter of spatial movement rather than temporal change.

Finally, in Chapter 5, examines narrative authority. Punday observes that authority in narrative is established by manipulating embodiment wherein central characters are disembodied and peripheral characters are more embodied. The disembodied protagonist is, as a result, easier for the reader to identify with.  Punday states, “authority is a matter of negotiating the embodiment of characters. The central issue of embodiment reflects the fundamentally corporeal nature of narrative. Narrative is corporeal not simply because it needs to use character bodies as a natural part of the stories that it tells, but also because the very ways in which we think about narrative reflect the paradoxes of the body – it’s ability to give rise to and resist pattern, its position in the world and outside of it, and so on.” (15).

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