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Being a Description of the World

By Eli Siegel
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Narrative

Narrative is the presentation of things as happening, as being in motion, and as being cause and effect.

Narrative belongs to the world seen as moving. Description belongs to the world seen as rest. However, narrative can be called a description of action: action is then given a rest quality. Description given in words has a time, or process, or motion quality; and so the description of a city or a landscape, in so far as the description takes up time and the details follow in time, is narrative, too.

Narrative, seen literarily, is a kind of classification. For if the writer of a story chose many things to tell for one effect—that effect or general purpose of the story can be seen as a "feeling heading" under which all the details fall. The details are different; the sentences are; the paragraphs are; the impressions are; but the details have the purpose of the story in common, the general effect: and this effect, which all the details serve, is something in common the details have. The title of a story, particularly if accurate, can be seen as an emotional classification of all the things in the story. It is a classification of differences; but where differences have one purpose, they can be seen as alike. All literature is "feeling-classification."

Narrative can be used, however, like other nouns or terms, for a more obvious kind of classification. We could have a chronological narrative list of all the battles fought for religion. Or a person could give a list chronologically of Times and Causes for Personal Chagrin; or he could give a narrative list of times he had made up his mind and hadn't.—The purpose of the preceding words, like the purpose of some others, is to show that everything can be classified.

Chronology itself is narrative as classification. All the events, for example, in the year 1444, listed under the heading 1444, would be classified.

In narrative seen as literature, there is both the "rigid" kind of classification and the classification of feelings organized. When a person begins a narrative and is ready to do so, in some way he has already classified or put together the words, sentences, paragraphs that will make the narrative effective. For a narrative, in the true sense, always tells of one thing by means of things "under" it; forms of it; parts of it; details of it. The successful narrative is narrative neatly and wholly: for if the narrative of one thing includes something not necessary, or excludes something necessary, it would be like a machine with something in it interfering with it, or like a machine lacking a part; or like a tabulation including details irrelevant to the condition dealt with by the tabulation, or not including facts necessary for a complete presentation of the condition.

Narrative, like logic, aims at the complete inclusion of the necessary and the complete exclusion of the unnecessary. Feelings, emotions, impulses, are after the same thing as concepts, inferences, syllogisms.

Purpose in a narrative is a classifier; desire in the unconscious is a classifier. The knowing of desire is a narration and description of it.

© 1945 by Eli Siegel


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