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Disnarration in fact and fiction

Disnarration in fact and fiction: tellability and characterisation in an analysis of Tobias Wolff’s short story, Bullet in the Brain.

Why are stories where something almost happened, where, for example, near misses, deaths, or events that could or might have happened, seen as reportable as much as those events that actually occurred? This dimension of storytelling, called disnarration (Prince (1988, 2003) is defined as ‘The elements in a narrative that explicitly consider and refer to what does not take place i.e.. ‘X didn’t happen’; ‘Y could have happened but didn’t’ (Prince, 2003: 22). Here, the focus would still be on the unfolding events or complicating action even if the resolution is not what would be expected (Labov and Waletzky, 1967). If we understand that telling and exchanging personal narratives are a means for individuals to represent and shape their lives through their experiences, then the alternative, hypothetical scenario of what might have been, communicates what could have been serious and even life changing. For individuals who tell these types of experiences, they are also able to construct and reconstruct their identity using a number of linguistic devices, such as ‘self–aggrandizement’, which is ‘designed to place the narrator in the most favorable possible light’ (Labov and Waletzky,1967. In media stories, disnarration would still fulfil the criteria of newsworthiness (Bell, 1991; Galtung and Ruge, 1965, 1973) because the emphasis is on tellability and the possible consequences e.g. ‘Near miss reported between passenger jet, airplane’ (Star-Telegram, 28.5.2014). What of fictional accounts of disnarration where the emphasis is not on what happens but on what does not, specifically, what the protagonist, Anders does not remember at a critical moment. This paper explores these questions with an analysis of Tobias Wolff’s short story, Bullet in the Brain, to understand the device of disnarration in fiction and its effects on plot and characterisation. It also looks at identifying the linguistic devices that signal disnarration.


Dr. Marina Lambrou | talks | www


Date and Time:

2 December 2014 at 1:30 pm


1 hour 30 minutes



English, Middlesex University
The Burroughs
+44 20 84 11 65 55

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