2 minute read


E. M. Forster's King And Queen And Narrative Across The Disciplines

"The king died and then the queen" is a story. "The king died and then the queen died of grief" is a plot. Thus spake E. M. Forster, who also points out that the difference between the two is causality. Theorists have debated the validity of the distinction since Forster proposed it in the 1927, arguing, for example, that the very temporality of "and then" entails causality (or at least invites the reader to supply it) so that the only difference between the two versions is the explicit naming of the cause in the second. The debate also includes objections to defining plot solely in terms of causality, since many narrative artists build plots on other principles. Nevertheless the debate itself shows that Forster identified four elements of narrative—character (or agent), event, temporality, and causality—that are essential to the contemporary interest in "narrative across the disciplines." Because narrative spells out the specific relations among agents, events, time, and causality, it is capable of explaining phenomena that escape more abstract analyses such as those based on science-oriented ideas of general laws. In twenty-first-century culture, with its widespread abandonment of a belief in eternal verities, this capability is of great importance for many disciplines.

Many legal cases, for example, involve disputes about the relation among the agents involved, the temporal order of events, and the causes of those events; judges and juries often render their verdicts according to which side constructs the most convincing narrative about that relation. In medicine, the narrative of an onset of an illness with its particular relation of what the patient did when and for what reason can provide clues to both to the nature of the illness and the appropriate treatment. Furthermore many patients find the opportunity of relating their "illness narrative" to a sympathetic medical professional to be salutary in itself. The talking cure of psychoanalysis is a narrative cure: an analysand comes to recognize how the relation among agents, including herself, events of her past, and their causality are still affecting her and, thus, how she can break the grip of that narrative and write another one for her life. More generally, narrative's interest in character, event, temporality, and causality provides the basis for claims that people's identities are constituted by the narratives they tell about their lives. The queen died, in other words, because the event of the king's death made her own passing the inevitable next event in her narrative of her life.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Mysticism to Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotideNarrative - From Novel To Narrative, Contemporary Narrative Theory: Contextual And Interdisciplinary Models, E. M. Forster's King And Queen And Narrative Across The Disciplines