Stretching the definition of narrative

September 14, 2010

I’d like to explore the idea of narrative not being limited to words or text. It makes sense really, as without either access to sound or sight, the narrative of life should still exist in other forms. As with every other intellectual foray I’ve made recently, there is a whole new language to learn, and my fondest wish is to at least understand the basics and avoid the major academic controversies until I find my feet.

Semiotics aside, some of the discussions I have stumbled upon suggest examples of tactile narrative to which you could add massage as an example. Chefs talk about a degustation menu, wine specialists describe in great detail the sequence of tastes on the palate, and I have heard a similar conversation on TV in Poh’s kitchen last week (an Australian cooking series) about the combination and sequencing of flavours on a particularly interesting dish, green paw paw salad. This was a dish which I very much enjoyed when living in Darwin. Thinking of narrative in this way makes recalling past experiences very much richer. Wood smoke always reminds me of camping. My first visit to Parap Market in Darwin in 2003 took me straight back to the markets of Asia as a twenty-something traveller. Rid (a mosquito repellant) immediately takes me to tropical evenings in 1981 in Queensland and the Northern Territory. Dimp (Rid’s Kiwi equivalent) melts plastic watches and immediately takes me to the end of the Milford Sound walk in NZ in 1987. Cycling up a very long hill suddenly reminds me of the Val de la Desoudre in France. Perhaps it is memory more than narrative that I am thinking about here. If so, it just seems that the two are closely related in an interesting way.

Some of these narratives can be quite obscure and deeply embedded. I was trying to explain to my daughter the other day why a parody of classical music we were listening to on the radio was funny. The piece presented again and again the final sections of a famous work of music, each time almost, but not quite finishing before rewinding to earlier in the finale sequence again. Rhiannon finally ‘got’ the joke that the composer was making fun of us by making us expect the musical narrative to end and then zipping back to earlier in the sequence. It was quite funny to see a teenager laugh at such an absurd and uncommon narrative (for her). It has made me think about humour in quite a different way as well as leading me to question what I think narrative is.

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