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Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative

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A book which should appeal to both literary theorists and to readers of the novel, this study invites the reader to consider how the plot reflects the patterns of human destiny and seeks to impose a new meaning on life.
Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative
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Peter Brooks is Tripp Professor of Humanities at Yale University.
Preface 1. Reading for the Plot 2. Narrative Desire 3. The Novel and the Guillotine, or Fathers and Sons in Le Rouge et le noir 4. Freud's Masterplot: A Model for Narrative 5. Repetition, Repression, and Return: The Plotting of Great Expectations 6. The Mark of the Beast: Prostitution, Serialization, and Narrative 7. Retrospective Lust, or Flaubert's Perversities 8. Narrative Transaction and Transference 9. An Unreadable Report: Conrad's Heart of Darkness 10. Fictions of the Wolf Man: Freud and Narrative Understanding 11. Incredulous Narration: Absalom, Absalom! In Conclusion: Endgames and the Study of Plot Notes
A major book by a major critic. It will appeal both to literary theorists and to readers of the novel, and it is likely to be seen as an important point of reference for many years to come. -- Terence Cave Times Literary Supplement Peter Brooks has delivered a major contribution to narrative theory and critical practice in a book remarkable for its lucidity and theoretical adventurousness. -- Terry Eagleton Literature and History What is...gratifying about Brooks's approach is his insistence that plot elements must survive even the most radical postmodern consciousness...As he so eloquently confirms, so long as there is self-conscious life on earth, there will be narrative plotting in some form or another. To expect us to give it up would be like asking us to give up breathing. -- Christopher Lehmann-Haupt New York Times A brilliant study...The author goes beyond what he considers the too static approach of the structuralist literary critics to probe the dynamics of narrative and show how they answer our psychic needs...Reading for the Plot is a stimulating ground-breaking book that invites us to consider anew how plotting both reflects the patterns of human destiny and seeks to impose meaning on life. Publishers Weekly
If not quite the "erotics" of art that Susan Sontag called for in Against Interpretation, these richly reflective, often brilliant essays certainly open some promising post-structuralist paths in that direction. Brooks (French, Yale) wants to move beyond the static taxonomies of narratology (the types, conventions, and semantic bases of stories) to study "what impels [narrative's] movements of transformation, and thus its engagement with human memory and desire and its status as a form of thinking." What, in other words, drives the teller to shape his tale and the reader to pursue its meaning? The creation and the quest for plot, Brooks maintains, arise out of our desire to impose patterns of order on temporality. An obvious enough idea, but Brooks fuses it with some powerful speculative insights: Sartre's notion that all stories are fictions written backwards, Walter Benjamin's dictum that death is the sanction of everything the storyteller says, and above all Freud's exploration of Thanatos in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. According to Freud's "masterplot," narration is a repetition of events, through which the death instinct works in the text, pressing on toward the quiescence of the ending. But repetition also delays the final release, the love-death of the pleasure principle, by wandering off into all sorts of complex detours. Brooks balances this high-flying theory with some fine down-to-earth examples: close readings of Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, Conrad, Faulkner, etc. The rather narrow range of texts chosen makes sense, since Brooks' focus is almost exclusively modernist. Within that territory, his Freudian scheme works beautifully, but Brooks' students had better come to class prepared. (His chapter on Absalom, Absalom! is especially demanding.) Dense, difficult, and rewarding. (Kirkus Reviews)
Peter Brooks
Harvard University Press
Publication Date
Harvard University Press
Design and Intention in Narrative
Place of Publication
Cambridge, Mass
Country of Publication
United States
Branford, CT, US
Short Title
Edition Description

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