Negative Narrative

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Author: Warren Motte
Editor: Jennifer Stock
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,468 words

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[(essay date 2013) In the following essay, Motte explores examples of how NDiaye constructs plots around events that remain unknowable to the reader because they are never directly mentioned or discussed in the narrative.]

Critics generally agree that a closely cultivated strangeness of mood constitutes one of the hallmarks of Marie NDiaye’s fiction, though they frame that effect in different ways. Dominique Rabaté remarks, for instance, “Le lecteur qui entre dans l’œuvre de Marie NDiaye est immédiatement saisi par un sentiment d’étrangeté. Le monde où il pénètre est soumis à des règles dont les lois lui échappent, mais dont la logique s’avère implacable.”1 Ambroise Teko-Agbo suggests that NDiaye “valorizes […] the problem of the strange and invites us to reflect on the place of the strange and the stranger in our societies.”2 Nora Cottille-Foley argues that “Dès son premier roman, Quant au riche avenir, Marie NDiaye donne à entrevoir l’expérience de cette étrangeté propre au processus de la perception.”3 Shirley Jordan takes a broader view still when she invokes “la panoplie ndiayïenne de générateurs d’instabilité,”4 seeking a manner of understanding the phenomenon of strangeness in NDiaye’s work that allows for more multiplicity and more diversity of conception and execution. For my part, I would like to draw the focus a bit closer, in order to concentrate on one technique among the several that Marie NDiaye typically deploys in an effort to persuade us that things are not quite what we might have imagined them to be.

In each of NDiaye’s fictions, there are moments that leave us nonplussed, that flaunt the norms of narrative logic or causality that the rest of the text puts in place, unexplained and apparently unexplainable things that distinguish themselves dramatically from the narrative landscape upon which they are staged. Those moments are relatively easy to identify, since NDiaye offers them to us with playful obviousness,5 but they are difficult to theorize in a satisfactory fashion. Many of them fall somewhere between what Gerald Prince has called the unnarratable and the unnarrated,6 verging more or less on one of those categories, depending upon the case, yet never wholly reducible thereto. Some of them cannot be described in those terms however, since they are not ‘events,’ properly speaking. Rather, they can be conceived as textual lacunas: moments when explanation lacks, for instance, or moments that seem to be predicated upon something else that has not been furnished to us. For lack of a better way to designate them, I would like to think of those phenomena as instances of “negative narrative,” imagining them as negative images of telling, ones wherein what is left unsaid is promoted to a crucial role in the process of literary signification. In what follows, I would like to examine a few such instances in Marie NDiaye’s work, quite briefly and in a very pragmatic manner, regarding each of them as exemplary of a broader strategy of subversion of narrative convention.

In the early pages of...

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100125380