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A Sociostylistic Perspective on Negatives and the Disnarrated

Lahiri, Roy, Rushdie
Laura Karttunen

Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas, Volume
6, Number 2, June 2008, pp. 419-441 (Article)
Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press
DOI: 10.1353/pan.0.0015

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A Sociostylistic Perspective on Negatives and the Disnarrated:
Lahiri, Roy, Rushdie
Laura Karttunen
University of Tampere

In his 1988 article “The Disnarrated,” Gerald Prince formulated a new
narrative category that “covers all the events that do not happen but,
nonetheless, are referred to (in a negative or hypothetical mode) by the
narrative text” (2). According to Prince, the disnarrated is constituted by
terms, phrases, and passages that consider what does not happen, and it
can involve a character’s unrealized imaginings such as crushed hopes or
false calculations, a turn that the narrative does not take, or a narrative
strategy that the narrator does not adopt. It thus forces the reader to consider alternative possibilities: what could have taken place, how things
could have been.
According to Prince, the disnarrated is related to tellability. It suggests
that a narrative is worth telling because it could have been otherwise and
usually is otherwise. When the disnarrated concerns the narrating, it implies that the narrative is more interesting because it follows a different
narrative strategy. In the latter case, as Prince points out, the disnarrated
underscores the realities of representation rather than the representation
of realities (5). Despite this metarepresentational aspect, the disnarrated
as such is not radically anti-illusionistic — it appears in realist as well as
postmodern fiction.
Prince based his theory of the disnarrated on sources from both literary studies and studies in natural narratives. In the latter field, William
Labov (370–71) had recognized that narratives of personal experience
contain an evaluative section that answers the question why this story
is told. Labov regards an event as reportable if it involves violation of
an expected rule of behavior; if it is strange, uncommon, or unusual.
He treats negatives as comparators, devices that “draw upon a cognitive
background considerably richer than the set of events which were observed. They provide a way of evaluating events by placing them against
the background of other events which might have happened” (381).
I believe that negatives can have two functions. Either they name the
norm against which a particular event stands out: “The queen wasn’t
PARTIAL ANSWERS 6/2: 419–441 © 2008 The Johns Hopkins University Press

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2karttunen. people clarify or reinforce their own and other’s expectations of what should and could happen in life (154). with an eye on the social and cultural context.420 LAURA KARTTUNEN wearing a hat” or they hint at hypothetical and unrealized turns of events. the plane didn’t crash (but could have). in the latter. 10_6. Prince’s formulation “this could’ve happened but didn’t” (3) could in many cases be rephrased as “this should’ve happened but didn’t. Edward Said. which is mentioned by Prince.” Elinor Ochs and Lisa Capps point out that while very young children recount routine. This makes it a valuable analytical category for postcolonial and feminist criticism which sees the discursive context of a particular work as worth investigating in its own right. In the former case the event is reportable. too: [The disnarrated] insists upon the ability to conceive and manipulate hypothetical worlds or states of affairs and the freedom to reject various models of intelligibility. of coherence and significance. thus making the narrative richer: “In the end. various norms. is the former aspect — world-making. because it is exceptional. What interests me here. The disnarrated brings into focus the social norm that a person has failed to live up to. in the context of the literary canon. literary scholars have been occupied primarily with the latter. an airplane flight that ended well (a normative rather than an exceptional situation) is rendered tellable by considering the non-normative possibility of the plane crashing. scripted events. I have chosen three bicul1 A wonderfully illustrative visual representation of what constitutes a tellable story can be found in Marie-Laure Ryan 1991: 160.1 the fiction-making aspect. (6) By pointing to unrealized lines of development or rejecting a social or literary norm or convention. I attempt to integrate the disnarrated with Bakhtinian sociostylistics. the disnarrated makes these norms and conventions visible. also taking into account the pragmatic functions of negatives. or the Bakhtinian other voice that a text responds to. they soon learn to tell about exceptional events involving violations of social expectations. In this paper I explore how explicit denials direct the reader’s attention to the social norm or convention that is being discounted. Ochs and Capps conclude that narration “helps solidify socio-culturally sanctioned templates for living in the world” (78–79). conventions or codes for world.and fiction-making. among others.” Both cases involve a sense of what is possible or probable in the world. By narrating.indd 420 5/27/08 11:35:51 AM . For obvious reasons. though. rather than metaphorically (univocally). argues that (post)colonial literature should be read metonymically (contrapuntally).

I use Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things — a trauma fiction and a modern masterpiece — to show how the disnarrated allows authors not only to react to specific social expectations but also to engineer and disappoint those of the reader. likewise concentrate on questions of plot. For the latter purpose my test case is a short-story by Pulitzer-winning Jhumpa Lahiri that is set in India but betrays. I examine negatives as primarily responding to other discourses rather than describing an object.” There are also ways of conveying the unrealized dreams or hallucinations of characters that do not involve a specific set of linguistic markers.”2 Prince’s seminal article does not deal with linguistic surface phenomena such as negatives as much as it does with the unrealized. Should the two forms of expressing non-happening be treated as two separate categories or as two sides of the same coin? The 2 As Laura Hidalgo Downing’s 2003 article shows. in addition to negatives. we would be satisfied.indd 421 5/27/08 11:35:51 AM . Linguistic devices for expressing unactualized possibilities include. which makes it easy to gather a set of representative texts for further analysis. 10_6. Subsequent commentators. the boy in “Araby” does not buy what he intends) and voices qualms about whether such implicit forms of non-happening fit into Prince’s scheme. Like Harold F. Mosher Jr. I then relate negatives and the disnarrated to the old problem of the relationship between narrators and focalizers. I am thus attending to just a small portion of the wide spectrum of phenomena covered by the term “the disnarrated. such as Marie-Laure Ryan (1995) and Robyn Warhol (2005). counterfactuals such as “I wish we had won the game” and counterfactual conditionals such as “If we had won. Negatives among Linguistic Surface Representations of the Disnarrated There are different degrees of explicitness when it comes to representing the disnarrated. negatives. a problematic outsider perspective. (1993). Finally. hypothetical events themselves. I raise the question whether negatives — explicit forms of non-happening — qualify as disnarration. By focusing exclusively on negative constructions. who discusses mostly cases of the disnarrated that are not brought up explicitly but that can be inferred from the text (Joyce’s Eveline could have left but did not. as evaluating rather than narrating an event. being textually marked by words such as no and not or by affixes.A SOCIOSTYLISTIC PERSPECTIVE ON NEGATIVES AND THE DISNARRATED 421 tural literary texts that highlight various aspects of negatives. By contrast.2karttunen. I juxtapose the functions of negatives in non-literary texts and in Salman Rusdhdie’s Shame. can be easily retrieved from an electronic corpus. by its lexical choices.

the various perceptions of the other person’s word and the various means of reacting to it” (202). describes as normative the kind of marriage the writer claims to have escaped. the surface letter . Negation in Natural Language: Refuting an Expectation or Claim Mikhail Bakhtin believed that for every utterance there must be a question to which it represents an answer. husbands are monstrous. each statement about the speaker’s good fortune implies a norm in which brides repent their marriages. arguing that the interpretative context of a narrative could be considered part of its text. Thus negatives can do more than just reflect their historical context. and this view stands in stark contrast to the dominant ideology of the time. negatives are emphatically interdiscursive. She discusses a letter by an unhappy bride that contains three voices. and women are ‘playthings’ or ‘slaves’” (12). Stylistics. And yet both can lead the reader to imagine an alternative state of affairs or course of events. While in Fictions of Authority (1992) Lanser does not mention Prince or the term disnarrated. It is worth noting that here it is the author herself who creates the conceptual backcloth (misery of married life) by means of negatives. as I shall show. The surface text praises marriage.indd 422 5/27/08 11:35:52 AM . David Herman (194–95) has envisioned a new sociological stylistics that pools together the resources of sociolinguistic.2karttunen. “an applied cultural narratology” that 10_6. But the surface text itself is doublevoiced.422 LAURA KARTTUNEN hypothetical and negative mode mentioned in Prince’s definition should perhaps be separated analytically for. discourse-analytic as well as literary and narratological research on style. and in the hidden one a bride laments her unhappy marriage. it paints an unfavorable picture of marriage itself: “In its negations. for by listing the cruelties that this particular bride’s husband is not guilty of. should study words not merely in the system of language or in the context of a single literary text but in the entire discursive sphere. . Prince aligns his new concept with what he calls “narrative pragmatics” (7). . Ansgar Nünning (2004) has likewise called for a context-sensitive approach to narrative. they can surreptitiously evoke contexts that would be unmentionable otherwise. in his opinion.3 Negatives and emphatic affirmatives are prime examples of 3 Following in Bakhtin’s footsteps. Bakhtin advocated a pragmatic. she does describe the functions that negatives can serve in fiction. contextual approach to both literary and non-literary texts that would address “[t]he orientation of the word among words. He specifically refers to the ground-breaking work of feminist narratologists Susan Sniader Lanser and Robyn Warhol.

according to Talmy Givón (103). it is not always possible to affirm what has happened. He lost control of his vehicle for reasons that could not be specified because he lost consciousness. which may be termed “frame knowledge. Since the representative could not narrate in the indicative the events leading to the accident. Negatives only make sense if an explicit (co-textual) or implicit (contextual) expectation or claim is being refuted — that is.A SOCIOSTYLISTIC PERSPECTIVE ON NEGATIVES AND THE DISNARRATED 423 such dialogicity in language. if the speaker has reason to suspect the listener of holding a particular belief. Since negative sentences require appropriate contexts in order to be processed with ease. or downright nonsensical. it is ambiguous and therefore uninformative.2karttunen. from a previous discussion. and the statement would have had a defamiliarizing effect. It would have been a denial out of the blue. While the court came to the conclusion that the collapse was due to some unexplained health reason. and general knowledge of the world or its reflection in dictionary knowledge. this context would have been lacking. we still do not know for certain what happened. Without such a context. His representative appeared on TV and stated that the MP was not using his cell phone and that he probably did not fall asleep while driving as he had had enough rest. Had he stressed that the male candidate was not applying make-up while driving. Due to the vagueness of negatives. in order to communicate successfully he had to have a good idea of the expectations and prejudices of the public concerning politicians and cars. a member of the Finnish Parliament was involved in a car accident.indd 423 5/27/08 11:35:52 AM . Building on the same pragmatic framework. to the questions and expectations of the reporter and the public.” even though this sentence is routinely included in reports of traffic ac- would bridge the gap between textual formalism and historical contextualism and take into account the ideological implications of narratives.” are culture specific. that take pragmatic linguistics as their starting point.4 Such expectations may arise. especially poetry. and the scenario is so unlikely that it would have practically incriminated the MP. he had to orient his words to the words of others. A negative sentence requires an appropriate discursive context in order to be understood. I focus on narratological issues and bicultural texts. However. the representative did not say “He was not driving under the influence. life experience. As far as I can remember. My research on Indian fiction falls within that category. new information is usually presented in the affirmative. To take a recent example. 2002) insightful and thoroughly documented articles on negatives in language and literature. 10_6. 4 I have benefited greatly from Sakari Katajamäki’s (2000. These expectations.

It is a professional guidance service for gay tourists. reply. Consider the following description of a tourist guidance service for gays: The service has been set up by entrepreneur Ilkka Veiström. denials and modifications may. To even mention alcohol might lead the public to associate the MP with drunk driving. companionship and reacts to it by using negatives. are used to explain the spread and persistence of political and social myths. say. In the latter case.” Here and below the italics are mine. they also make them visible: a negative construction makes explicit the cultural discourse that is usually taken for granted. it is all but impossible to uproot it. 6 “Special Guides. readers who subscribe to the stereotype of hypersexual gay people may not see anything peculiar about the article.5 Consequently. who stresses that the idea is definitely not to create an escort service. paradoxically. On the one hand.424 LAURA KARTTUNEN cidents. Since the text is clearly obsessed with this cultural discourse — oriented to another’s word rather than to the referential object — it ceases to be an affirmative description of the tourist guidance service. Also the clients who book a guide will be given the rules. if a reader does not accept this stereotype. That is. while denials like these may perpetuate cultural myths. thereby exposing the artificiality of this cultural discourse. it merely reinforces the stereotype. By repeating the stereotypical assumption. 10_6. The last sentence. the denials may seem so overt as to produce a defamiliarizing or even comical effect. end up perpetuating it. the shared context is lacking and the negatives seem to come out of the blue. The interviewee or the reporter suspects the audience of having the preconception that being gay is first and foremost about sex rather than. which is not explicitly attributed to the interviewee. This is an example of language that “cringes in the presence or the anticipation of someone else’s word. reiterates that the service is not about sex. allowing people to disagree with it and dispute it. the speaker is reacting to a prejudice. The firm will supply the guides with a two-day training course and pay for their work. once a particular discourse has taken root. 5 See Vedentam’s article where the findings on the processing of negatives presented in Mayo et al.indd 424 5/27/08 11:35:52 AM . with emphasis on normal tourist guidance — not on sex.6 The entrepreneur denies that the service has anything to do with prostitution. On the other hand. objection” (Bakhtin 196).2karttunen. Thus. It is easy to see where the denials are coming from.

negatives are sometimes used not innocently but self-consciously. the negative mode is useful for illustrating a focalizing agent’s norms and what s/he expects of others. Warhol (226) demonstrates this with examples from Victorian literature: events and conclusions that were unacceptable or. Third. they may also be misleading.indd 425 5/27/08 11:35:52 AM . negatives clue us in on the literary norms of the society or of a particular historical genre. Since these texts often address a dual or multiple audience. while negatives may convey useful knowledge of a particular society. the narrator of The God of Small Things states that there is no cure for the traumatized twins’ condition. It writes back to the imperial center and challenges the norms and conventions of Anglo-American (literary) texts in an attempt at cultural decolonization (see Tiffin). The disnarrated also can clue us in on the attitudes of the narrator. In Rushdie’s Shame. Raza is thought highly of by the women of his family because “he was a good man who did not beat his wife” (76). This is a common strategy of establishing facts as given without actually asserting them. Postcolonial literature is usually defined in terms of its political function. to whom it had never occurred that she might be beaten” (ibid). for instance. In reacting to previous texts (“This is what is usually written whether or not it happened like this”) and imagining alternative histories (what could have been). postcolonial authors are often in a position of having to read and translate their own culture for a foreign readership. to use her term. various kinds of despair competed for primacy” (19). and it makes little 10_6. Negatives and the disnarrated are an important resource in postcolonial and bicultural texts. postcolonial literature involves the disnarrated almost by definition. the implicit statement is that there should be one. whereas negatives are convenient for conveying presuppositional information — as in the following sentence from The God of Small Things: “He didn’t know that in some places. Thus. When. as when Rushdie continues: “This definition of goodness alarmed Bilquís.2karttunen.A SOCIOSTYLISTIC PERSPECTIVE ON NEGATIVES AND THE DISNARRATED 425 Negatives and the Disnarrated in Literature As in the above cases. Moreover. for instance. “paranarratable” at the time do however surface in passages presented in a hypothetical mode. Introducing chunks of cultural background information into a book can hamper the flow of the narrative. But in fiction. like the country that Rahel came from. negatives in literature clue us in on the social norms of the text’s setting. Lanser (137) draws attention to the negatives in Austen’s Northanger Abbey that differentiate the Morland family from “the heroic families of fictional fantasy” and thereby point to the generic norm.

as a mother is counting her new-born twins’ fingers and toes. Rushdie makes deft use of this feature of negatives in Shame.2karttunen. Here the negative is essential to preserving the illusion of realism. in sentences stating what was not said: “The name of Mengal was never mentioned between them. the story is picked up again: “Every night. eyes saw things. The ellipsis here is a sign of the unnarrated. The narrator recounts an incident where a man called Sindbal Mengal makes kissing noises at Bilquís. Bilquís sat in the brand-new cinema called Mengal Mahal. Nobody mentioned a fatmouthed boy called Sindbad Mengal. “And it is possible that Raza was delighted to be able to get rid of Good News. because she had developed. But Q was a small town.. to imagine the unnarrated reality.426 LAURA KARTTUNEN difference whether the presuppositional information is embedded in an affirmative or negative statement (cf. Chatman 1978: 210). In a similar way.” (100).. the narrator states: “She didn’t notice the single siamese soul” (41). foregrounding the narrator’s refusal to narrate” (Warhol 221). In a roundabout way Rushdie’s narrator suggests that Bilquís’s husband Raza murdered Mengal and that her baby was fathered by the latter. it subtly informs people of the beliefs they are supposed to hold and the expectations they are supposed to have of particular events and of particular kinds of people. but 10_6. one news report after another repeats that nothing points to terrorism. a married woman. and it could be replaced by “didn’t think about” or “did not say anything about” the siamese soul. six weeks early. When. The ellipsis also represents a gap for the reader to fill in. nearly always in the negative mode. or speculated on the parentage of the young Hyder girl” (119). “A second baby was born. A little later. presupposition can be exploited in fiction to establish facts that defy real-world parameters. Mengal and Bilquís’s affair. as she grew. not even when the town was buzzing with the murder story” (103). leaving her child in the care of a locally hired ayah. A negative has the capacity to communicate the sensus communis. something of the full-mouthed insouciance of the late Sindbad Mengal” (154). the antithesis of the disnarrated — it marks one of the passages that “explicitly do not tell what is supposed to have happened. even in the dark. Mengal repeatedly pops up in the book.indd 426 5/27/08 11:35:53 AM . “Some things did not get talked about. after a bridge collapse. In Roy’s novel. “The ghost of Sindbad Mengal was not mentioned. Thereafter. all audience members are asked to entertain the possibility of a terrorist attack even if this would not occur to them spontaneously. This way every story about an accident can be made to be about terrorism even in the absence of all evidence. but Raza has uttered no word of suspicion” (111).

10_6. Instead of confidently narrating one course of events as actual.indd 427 5/27/08 11:35:53 AM . a European reader) not just the events but the way they are to be read. By thus keeping Mengal on the agenda.. the hypothetical status of the event is signaled by “it is possible. The sideshadows crowd out the actual event. Indeed. By reporting what the local gossips are saying and then making the reader a party to their speculation. Rushdie can convey to the reader (e. only the discourse.g. I suggest that Rushdie’s negative sentences discussed above may serve to standardize the responses of a very heterogeneous readership. Richardson’s term would not quite apply here.” and the insistent. and together they form a narrative (in the reader’s mind) that covers events that either do or do not happen. Gary Saul Morson writes of a similar strategy in Dostoevsky: “By depriving any version of undeniable actuality. Leaving ontology for the sake of pragmatics. he was there all right” (166). Strictly speaking. there will not be much recoverable story. The narration is hypothetical from the start. Brian Richardson (2001) takes up these issues in his article on what he terms denarration. or it is non-existent and therefore not mentioned. Even in the single affirmative sentence above.2karttunen. making the reader conscious of the maneuvers involved in producing or emplotting the actual. since Rushdie never narrates the illicit affair and so need not denarrate it either. Rushdie presents the field of hypotheticals.A SOCIOSTYLISTIC PERSPECTIVE ON NEGATIVES AND THE DISNARRATED 427 O. which effectively collapses the separation of the two. The effect on the reader would not differ significantly were it produced by a similar sequence of narrated events (“Raza wondered about the early delivery” or “The party guests speculated about Mengal and the Hyder girl”). in which case the sideshadows themselves are all there is” (122). tone of the last sentence draws attention to the rhetorical tricks of the narrator. the narrator reinforces the suggestion of the adulterous affair. Dostoevsky reveals the field itself. This raises questions about the scope of the term “disnarrated” — whether it is a discourse-level or story-level phenomenon and whether it applies to events whose ontological status is ambiguous or exclusively to ones where it is clearly negative. a narrative negation that denies or erases aspects of the narrative that had been presented as given: in narratives involving denarration. The individual sentences discussed consider what does not happen (“Mengal was not mentioned”). but the negatives render the ontological status of the affair ambiguous: either it exists and is not mentioned despite the fact that it occupies the minds of the characters. nothing may have happened. even taunting.

the disnarrated became impossible. Chatman 1978: 225) as signs of omniscience or narratorial presence. He explicitly mentions not thinking7 and not perceiving but actually discusses a sentence in Hemingway’s “Cat in the Rain” that states what a character is not doing: “George was not listening” to his wife. the section on presuppositional information above. The difficulty involved is illustrated nicely by this passage from Roy’s The God of Small Things where the seven-year old Rahel is attending a fu7 For an interesting discussion of sentences that consider what a character did not think. camera point of view. impossible to determine who provides the perceptual “filter” (2001: 220). He himself prefers to think about such phenomena in terms of telepathy. Seymour Chatman finds that it is often impossible to assign negatives unequivocally to one particular agent’s perception or cognition. negatives can only appear once a filmed scene is verbalized. it cannot be objective. That the disnarrated has survived and works well in “Cat in the Rain” is explained precisely by the problematic filter status mentioned by Chatman. is not slanted either way in this story. When trying to attribute the disnarrated to different narrative agents — characters and narrators — it is useful to consider the place of negatives on the continuum from visual perception to verbal reporting. No aesthetic restrictions seem to apply to the use of the disnarrated with respect to the story as long as it reflects a focalizing character’s and not the narrator’s expectations. a negative must be attributable to a narrative agent. In Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. he argues. Prince (6) points out that as the intrusive omniscient narrator lost its appeal and was substituted by the external. 10_6. The new aesthetic preferences ruled out evaluative commentary by the narrator. Chatman concludes that the negative could be tied to either the husband or the wife’s experience of the scene and that both of these blend with the narrator’s “slant” which. I tend to regard reports of what characters did not think as essentially similar to other negative sentences: they either reflect a collective understanding of how people should react in various situations or function as rhetorical tools. Royle suggests that the tendency to dismiss representations of what a character does not realize by appealing to the religious concept of omniscience derives from the critics’ discomfort with the idea of the unconscious. for example.2karttunen. Statements of what characters do not think or say have been regarded by previous commentators (e. once verbalized. see Royle (98). even in as unintrusive a form as negatives. the narrator gives the reader an interpretative clue in the negative mode: “During all this time it never occurred to him that he was delirious or drunk” (106) — cf. Conversely. Since it entails an evaluation and a focus.428 LAURA KARTTUNEN Are Negatives a Matter of Perception or Narration? Since the camera eye captures only things that are present.g.indd 428 5/27/08 11:35:53 AM .

reporting in connection with this passage and all those who kindly commented on my paper at the 3rd Tampere Conference on “Narrative Knowing. 10_6. The study involved showing the same short film to American and Greek people and having them verbalize the events in the film. and Telling” in June 2007.2karttunen. Straight candles are the norm or the ground against which the figure of the bent candles stands out. Roy illustrates the (idiosyncratic) network of expectations that orients an individual’s perception. A more suitable alternative is to view the passage as reflecting the child’s idiosyncratic way of perceiving her surroundings. verbalized by someone other than the child). The conventional way of describing this scene would be to mention the long. The same is true of the passage where Rahel witnesses a happy scene between her mother and uncle: “Chacko was so bursty. rising above the threshold of reportability. The sentences could then be read as if they were following the girl’s gaze as it focuses first on the bent candles and then on the straight ones. So she didn’t slap him back” (131). recording the small and ordinary as well as the big and extraordinary things.indd 429 5/27/08 11:35:53 AM . Living. I am also grateful to Matti Hyvärinen for referring me to studies on narratives of personal experience. By presenting not only what Rahel sees but what she expects to see. That we are dealing with an illusion of a child’s perspective is clear from the symmetry of the sentences: the echoing of the affirmative sentence by the negative one is possible only if the former has been verbalized — said aloud or written down. the criteria for reportability do not come into play. So very happy. bent candles only. The short candles would fall below that threshold. The short ones weren’t” (4). The contrast thus registered would then be conveyed by the negative (that is.A SOCIOSTYLISTIC PERSPECTIVE ON NEGATIVES AND THE DISNARRATED 429 neral: “The long candles on the altar were bent. especially Tannen 1993. Deborah Tannen’s ingenious 1993 study shows that a person’s expectations manifest themselves in the surface linguistic structure of a narrative. Choosing Your Words with Care — Perception is Not Universal The structures of expectation that determine how a person perceives events and objects are based on past experience and therefore dependent on one’s cultural background.8 If the scene is experienced rather than reported. Disappointment of expectations was often indicated by 8 I wish to thank Peggy Heller for raising the question of experience vs. Chacko didn’t slap her. even if it meant leaving the reader in the dark as regards the presence of shorter candles on that same altar.

Kapasi watched as Mrs.430 LAURA KARTTUNEN negatives (37). the two angles of perception may easily diverge. In the rearview mirror Mr. Expressing the negatives in the passage quoted in a filmic medium would require a fair amount of maneuvering. I go against Chatman’s claim that narrators cannot be focalizers. Tannen concludes that the fact that a man has a goat is less remarkable to (less urban) Greek people and therefore need not be mentioned specifically. Mr. cannot report a coherent sequence of events without also revealing not just a set of attitudes (or slant) but also his or her angle of perception” (115). In Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story “Interpreter of Maladies” (1999). . Tannen found that the two groups’ expectations concerning films. Kapasi drives an Indian-American family to the Konarak temple. the narrator is not quite as objective as Hemingway’s narrators but rather possesses her own angle of perception. In Lahiri’s story. Mr. The story begins as follows: At the tea stall Mr. Das relented when Mr. During the drive he becomes infatuated with the mother. dragging her shaved. as testified by the iconic image from The Bicycle Thief (1948) where father and son finally hold hands after having been shown to stand apart at several 10_6.indd 430 5/27/08 11:35:54 AM . . She did not hold the little girl’s hand as they walked to the rest room. events. highlighted cultural differences: whereas some of the Greek informants mentioned only a passing man. I side with James Phelan who maintains that narrators can be focalizers since “a human narrator . though. Kapasi). we infer. is American) differs from that of a character (an Indian. where the cultural background of the narrator (who. (43) Negation is emphatically a feature of language: a camera-eye could not capture what is here expressed through negation. In a bicultural text like Lahiri’s. Das bickered about who should take Tina to the toilet. Das emerged slowly from his bulky white Ambassador. and Mrs. for instance. Eventually Mrs. The recording would just show a mother and a child walking side by side. largely bare legs across the back seat. The built-in focus of negatives can be explained by the fact that there is an infinite number of non-events at a given time: naming just one of them implies a focus. Das pointed out that he had given the girl her bath the night before.2karttunen. Her article illustrates how objects and events in the world are necessarily perceived from an angle. while the linguistic medium allows or forces one to focus on the hands or on something in the mood or relationship that not linking them represents. It can be done. and objects in the world differed somewhat and that omissions. all Americans referred to him as a man with a goat. Equipped with Tannen’s findings.

Das said nothing to stop the child. not offering her puffed rice to anyone.” To represent on film the negative sentence quoted above. Das who does). it would be just as appropriate to say that Mr. She sat a bit slouched at one end of the back seat. A negative of the type “He never takes out the trash” is. Das 9 The word just that I use here expresses the disappointment of expectations (cf. Affirmative sentences in a narrative are not genuinely descriptive either.2karttunen.” we can see that it could be paraphrased as “Mrs. and offers her rice to everyone. Compared to the hand-holding sentence. What is disnarrated is a desired alternative: the loving but firm mother who holds her child’s hand. but that it should have happened. gently stops her from fiddling with the lock. Mrs. a negative sentence is not an instance of the disnarrated if it can be paraphrased by a positive sentence that yields an actual event. but Mrs. (47) According to Prince (qtd. clicking it with some effort forward and backward. If we look at the sentence “Mrs. The negatives and the alternative possibilities that they bring up alert the reader to other similarly charged words. The sentence does not just state that hand-holding is what could have happened and often does.indd 431 5/27/08 11:35:54 AM . enabling one to describe them as “father and son not holding hands. Das falls short of it. But since the negatives do not record a neutrally observable reality. Kapasi reached back to make sure the cranklike locks on the inside of each of the back doors were secured. there would have to be at least one image of a mother and child holding hands. I think. and Mrs. the most common construction in everyday (evaluative) narratives of this kind. but taken together these negatives do create such an image. There is a theme developing here. Tannen 37). for they too reflect cultural discourses and expectations.”9 But the evaluation that the negative implies would be at least partially lost. it does not create quite as vivid an image of the disnarrated reality. It also surfaces in Mr. Kapasi’s (unuttered) thoughts about his wife who never asks him about his work (as opposed to Mrs. in Ryan 1995: 281). Das said nothing to stop her. What the film would still not capture is the evaluative aspect of the negative sentence. As soon as the car began to move the little girl began to play with the lock on her side. 10_6. This final image turns the earlier ones into negatives. On its own. This is the norm. Das just sat there silently. this particular sentence may not evoke an alternative where a mother forbids her child to play with the lock. and the following passage is very similar to the one quoted above: Before starting the ignition. Das said nothing to stop her. To return to the first paragraph. Mr.A SOCIOSTYLISTIC PERSPECTIVE ON NEGATIVES AND THE DISNARRATED 431 points in the film.

Das is contrasted to Indian women in general but also to Mr. In either case. In this alternative reading. her selfishness is obvious from the start. Kapasi’s wife who. Yet.indd 432 5/27/08 11:35:54 AM . but his infatuation makes him block it out for a while until she shatters his romantic dreams at the end. Moreover. Kapasi found it strange that Mr. however. by virtue of its indefiniteness. Kapasi. has never revealed as much skin as Mrs. the reader later learns. The disnarrated norm is also deceptively similar to the western ideal of motherhood to which the Indian Mr. Kapasi heard one of the shirtless men sing a phrase from a popular Hindi love song as Mrs. do not reflect his perspective. he cannot be conscious of it at this point and therefore cannot be regarded as the source of the negative evaluation.” Nor would he need to characterize the locks he deals with every day as “cranklike” — a word which. In this sense. a norm: hairylegged women who cover their bodies. since at the end of the journey he is surprised by the American woman’s self-centeredness. for this very reason. The negations spell out that Mrs. indicates an angle of perception that does not belong to the character who is supposed to be focalizing. largely bare” legs (cf. Unless. or embarrassment. Mr. Das was purchasing something from one of the shirtless men who worked at the tea stall. Mrs.g. an ideal object of desire. he finds Mrs. Tannen’s goat). Das an inattentive mother and. for she did not express irritation. “heard”) and the angle of perception inhering in lexical choices: Mr. Das does here. (45–46) The first sentence records the Indian tourist guide’s thoughts. the qualifiers suggest an alternative. Kapasi may not even subscribe. The words used. or react in any other way to the man’s declarations. Das’s legs stand out is here provided by Mr. so one would expect the following one to maintain his viewpoint — to follow his gaze as it traverses from Tina to her mother whom she is watching. Das walked back to the car. Das is a selfish person and a bad mother. for he would hardly think of his car as “a bulky white” one or refer to the bathroom facilities by the American term “rest room. To an American these features of her legs would go without saying. Kapasi watched” and “Mr. There seems to be a recurring discrepancy between the focus implied by contextual markers (e. Tina pointed to where Mrs. the norm against which Mrs.432 LAURA KARTTUNEN is said to drag her “shaved. to 10_6. Kapasi reached back to make sure” seem to attach the focus to him. But according to whose standards? The phrases “Mr. but she did not appear to understand the words of the song. Like the negatives above. Das should refer to his wife by her first name when speaking to the little girl. that is.2karttunen.

. In yet another alternative reading. Or. especially when appearing in de10 Several counter-arguments are possible. Kapasi may pay attention to the shirtlessness of the men because he is sexually attracted to the woman himself and detests their advances. this need not be the case in India. too. been subject not just to ridicule but to ideological critique. notes that a sentence such as “A woman with two arms came into my office and . “reached into her straw bag and handed him a small square wrapped in green-and-white-striped paper” (50). . the proximity of the Das family makes Mr. since they represent the (taken-for-granted) ground and not the exceptional figure. ” is pragmatically bizarre in our world where people as a rule have two arms. 10_6. so by noting the men’s scanty dress he is perhaps reflecting credit on himself. Mr. but he would not necessarily perceive them as specifically lacking an item of clothing. Kapasi is very particular about his clothing. On the other hand. The American tourists eat “onions and potatoes deep-fried in graham-flour batter” (54). potentially pragmatically bizarre in the situational and cultural context in which they are embedded. then. shirtless. he might notice the men’s shirtlessness precisely because of what it implies about their caste status. Kapasi see his environment — including the locks of his car and the appearance of the vendors — in a new light. In Tannen’s corpus (40). though it would seem more likely for him to register that they are untouchables immediately rather than through this detour. Mr. The word shirtless thus exposes the cultural framework governing the narration here. Mr. This kind of detail-ridden style has. Givón.indd 433 5/27/08 11:35:54 AM . but they become so when used indiscriminately. their caste status. The same style is used to describe the Indian setting and the American tourists. for instance.10 The style of the short story seems to parody anthropological writing with its penchant for detailed descriptions of everyday items and over-use of attributives. of course. dirt road was used by urban Americans whereas the Greek informants were happy with road. I thank my colleagues at the University of Tampere for calling my attention to the multiplicity of possible readings. The bare legs would then also have a sexual connotation. While in a colder climate wearing a shirt would be the norm. this attribute is redundant and must stem from an outsider’s perspective. The attributives used by Lahiri are not suspect per se. Mrs Das. the distinguishing feature might be. since it fails to distinguish the figure from the ground (136). I would argue that it is a Western one and must be attributed to the narrator.A SOCIOSTYLISTIC PERSPECTIVE ON NEGATIVES AND THE DISNARRATED 433 perceive the men in terms of their shirtlessness requires that the perceiver conceive of this fact as unusual. regardless of the attribution of the focus. after asking the tour guide whether he wanted some gum. Cranklike. For him. Since graham-flour is the flour of choice in India. Kapasi does see some vendors. and graham-flour are.2karttunen.

Peter J.434 LAURA KARTTUNEN scriptions of the Orient. the reader begins to make hypotheses about how the story will evolve. The Disnarrated and the Reader’s Expectations — The God of Small Things Whether the conceptual backcloth required for understanding negative sentences is provided by cultural discourses or by a particular narrative genre. this perspective disturbingly borders on Orientalism. The corrective cannot be provided by the infatuated Mr. and these initial hypotheses make her pay attention to some details and neglect others. but the perspective is never truly his. the word choices in the story betray the narrator’s perspective as an outsider. moreover. it materializes in the actual readers’ expectations and hypotheses concerning the events of a story. Instead of simply illustrating and reflecting cultural and generic expectations. their knees wrapped eternally around their lovers’ thighs” (57). Rabinowitz outlines several rules of configuration that novels generally conform to and that readers have learned to recognize. I would tend to regard both features as stylistic failures arising from an assumption of the universality of perception and reportability which is refuted by Tannen’s findings. Rather than being unique to each reader. This kind of de-contextualized description of erotic artwork tends to be viewed as politically suspect — something only an unenlightened tourist character would produce and an enlightened narrator would subject to ethical scrutiny. Das reads a passage from his guide book that deals with the ceremonial role of the sun temple and the symbolism of the carvings. In Before Reading. Das while herself adopting a viewpoint restricted to surface appearances of a culture different from her own.2karttunen. the narrator steps in to correct his statement and inform the reader: “What he referred to were the countless friezes of entwined naked bodies. on her fellow tourist Mrs.indd 434 5/27/08 11:35:55 AM . The two important metarules pertain to 10_6. since at this point he has not yet realized the sexual connotations of the carvings. in the form of negatives. Lahiri seems to have created a tourist narrator who overtly passes judgment. In the passages quoted Mr. a literary text can weave its own backcloth and institute its own norms by means of negatives — in the unhappy bride’s letter and in Shame negatives not only reflect a reality but constitute one. Kapasi. these hypotheses tend to be shared by a large group of people. As we have seen. Starting from the very first sentence. women clinging to the necks of men. Kapasi is constantly on the verge of becoming a focalizer. When the American Mr. making love in various positions.

and Roy’s novel abounds in ominous imagery such as insects rushing to their untimely death. The impending disaster is referred to by the vague expression “the Terror. which suggests a connection. The first chapter is dominated by two scenes taking place in 1969: the English girl Sophie’s funeral and the twins’ mother Ammu’s visit to the police station. Sophie and Velutha are often mentioned in close proximity to one another. It was always there” (16). 10_6.” The sentence featuring both Sophie and Velutha is preceded by a comment that the era was characterized by disorder and breaches of the Love Laws: “They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how” (31). An event with such serious consequences must be a terrible one. This implicit buildup. the author can criticize both the conventions and the ideological assumptions underlying them. The fact that these scenes are placed at the beginning. like the heroine of Forster’s A Passage to India. The ideological and ethical dimensions of narrative ordering have been explored in more detail by Meir Sternberg (1985) and Leona Toker (1993). As Rabinowitz points out (132). points to the centrality of the storylines that they initiate.2karttunen. The impression of Sophie’s centrality is enhanced by the narrator’s comment that her death played a huge part in the twins’ lives: “The loss of Sophie Mol grew robust and alive. the reader is accustomed to expect certain kinds of events and conclusions.indd 435 5/27/08 11:35:55 AM . Thanks to the rules of configuration. makes the reader suspect that Sophie was raped and murdered by Velutha. Like this victim of an alleged rape. “the Welcome Home. Rabinowitz (160–61) argues that by shattering the reader’s expectations. Our Sophie Mol Play. the reader tends to believe that they will eventually intersect. a privileged position. enhanced when Estha is molested by a soft drinks salesman. These scenes present the reader with two mysteries: how Sophie died and why the untouchable Velutha is in jail. The hypothesis gains force from the fact that. The two major events in Roy’s The God of Small Things are presented in the negative mode which indicates that disappointing the reader’s expectations is central to the novel’s narrative strategy. Sophie is presented as the centre of a spectacle. In the first chapter. Sophie is “an English girl fresh from England” (154). So something must have happened that kills Sophie and lands Velutha in jail.A SOCIOSTYLISTIC PERSPECTIVE ON NEGATIVES AND THE DISNARRATED 435 tellability: it is appropriate to expect that something will happen and that not anything can happen (117). if two storylines are presented at the beginning of a novel.” The fact that the rape hypothesis is so readily available is indicative of the strength of the stereotype of the dark skinned rapist.

an overwhelming event is not experienced fully at the time but only belatedly. which makes the reader anxious for more details. It is not until the latter half of the book that we are informed of Velutha’s innocence. Roy’s narrator uses disnarration. Sophie’s death constitutes a gap in the twins’ experience: she was there one minute and gone the next. Her choice of this category over the supranarratable or “that which is not susceptible to narration” seems to me questionable. though. the novel questions the literary convention that (the death of) an Englishwoman is a spectacle around which all stories revolve.11 11 Warhol includes trauma in the category of the antinarratable or what cannot be narrated because of social convention (224–25). The reader expects storm music and dramatic events. most of them not involving any English people at all. The case of the attack on Velutha is not as clear-cut since the twins were in fact present. In the light of Caruth’s theory. it resulted in trauma. Non-Experienced Trauma and Violence The negatives in the two central passages of the novel may also be motivated by the fact that the events were not witnessed by the characters. The words orient themselves not to an object but to discourse. As in the car accident discussed above. because the (narrative) memory of the beating is not available to the traumatized twins. 10_6. But since the event was so overwhelmingly brutal. It is also true. The negatives react to the reader’s expectations and emphasize the non-novelistic nature of the events: Sophie dies not like a tragic heroine but like a real little girl. Sophie’s death is not the kind of spectacle the reader has been led to expect: “There was no storm-music. No whirlpool spun up from the inky depths of the Meenachal. trauma seems a clear case of the supranarratable. there is no chain of events that could be narrated in the indicative. the reader is able to see a plethora of stories. According to theorists of trauma such as Cathy Caruth (1995). it is actually reinforced by unveiling the circumstances of her death little by little. though.indd 436 5/27/08 11:35:55 AM . However. in non-chronological order. just like the ones in the film Chemmeen that is mentioned in the novel. Trauma thus constitutes a void or a gap in consciousness and remains inaccessible to voluntary recall and narrative memory. By disappointing the reader’s expectations. Just a quiet handing over ceremony” (293). since there were no witnesses (not even a shark!).436 LAURA KARTTUNEN The references to the Terror are so vague in the first half of Roy’s novel that the reader has no reason to abandon her initial hypothesis.2karttunen. Once the hypothesis has been disproved. No shark supervised the tragedy. Sophie’s centrality is not questioned.

10_6. The anticipations convey the atmosphere of threat associated with the event. in defeating that expectation. the negatives. that morning in the Heart of Darkness the posse of Touchable Policemen acted with economy. Both traumatizing events are supranarratable but only the latter is antinarratable. she ensures that the passage will stand out from the rest of the narrative (cf. the death of an English girl is a legitimate cause for grief but the death of an untouchable at the hands of the police is not. ‘What’s this?’ one had said. not anarchy. Or behead him. not hysteria. Roy’s strategy is more effective rhetorically. represent a sudden rise in informativeness. They didn’t hack off his genitals and stuff them in his mouth.2karttunen. the seven-year-old twins will that social norms dictate the legitimate causes for mourning. and the final one hints at extreme brutality: Three days before the Terror. each successive foreshadowing containing a little more information. The reader’s expectations are thus geared towards a lynching scene and the savage sight of a mutilated black body. for by suspending the action at this climactic juncture and switching to evaluation.indd 437 5/27/08 11:35:55 AM . Efficiency. Responsibility. the disparaging remark about the painted nails and the lifting of the boot suggest that ruthless violence is to follow. The scene as a whole taps into the reader’s emotions and narrative desire in a complicated way. he had let them paint his nails with red Cutex that Ammu had discarded. (190) The sadistic laughter of the policemen. In The God of Small Things. not frenzy. (309) Since the reader is expecting a violent spectacle. A carpenter with gaudy nails. If the reader wants to see a violent scene. the reader would grow numb. It is as if the grown-up Rahel is able to remember more and more as she walks around her childhood neighborhood. ‘AC-DC?’ Another lifted his boot with a millipede curled into the ridges of its sole. If the violence were presented incrementally. They didn’t tear out his hair or burn him alive. However. starting from something small and ending up in a beheading. the most brutal acts of violence are disnarrated: Unlike the custom of rampaging religious mobs or conquering armies running riot. That’s the way he was the day History visited them in the back verandah.A SOCIOSTYLISTIC PERSPECTIVE ON NEGATIVES AND THE DISNARRATED 437 The violent scene at the heart of the novel is anticipated on several occasions. and each event would only confirm her expectation. They didn’t rape him. Labov 374). The posse of Touchable Policemen had looked at them and laughed.

The assault on Velutha is narrated (in the indicative) in medical terms that evoke Enlightenment ideas of order: “A clinical demonstration in controlled conditions (this was not war after all. The scope of the negation in the passage quoted does not necessarily extend to all kinds of violence. See also Toker’s analysis of A Passage to India where the reader’s tendency to suspect the Indian guide or a Pathan of attempted rape is seen as a case of narrative entrapment rather than of xenophobia (140–41). but also opens our incredulous eyes to the bitter discovery that in essence there is little to choose between us and the mob of lynchers who are out for Christmas’s blood. but the anticipations have fuelled her desire to know the cause of the trauma. plays with the reader’s generic expectations in Sanctuary by presenting a rape narrative that does not culminate in the lynching of a black man. suggest that in uni-polar cases such as this one. and the trap has been so elaborately devised that it is difficult to avoid falling into it. Processing such a negative may facilitate negation-incongruent associations. . religious 12 The kind of violent spectacle that is disnarrated here would fall into Labov’s category of events that are always reportable. Therefore the former are more likely to stick in the reader’s mind despite being presented in the negative mode. or genocide). The reader knows that the twins were traumatized by the event. Black-hearted Nigger.” This also happens to be an accurate description of the ethical implications of Roy’s rhetorical strategy. .13 In other words. which makes the ordinary.indd 438 5/27/08 11:35:56 AM .438 LAURA KARTTUNEN have to see it too. for instance. However. and the negation tag may fall off entirely in time. the message is encoded as a core supposition and a negation tag. these concepts are abstract and not visually evocative. such violence is to be expected. particularly the racial ones. where the primacy effect is shattered by the delayed exposition: “[Faulkner] has thus brought to life some of the most primitive and contemptible instincts and prejudices that lie dormant within us. . Sternberg (1978: 101) calls attention to a similar rhetorical strategy in Light in August. . Katajamäki (2000) uses the term “paradoxical imagining” to refer to the strong mental images conjured by negative sentences. 10_6. Rushdie’s negatives discussed above trigger such paradoxical imagining. routine violence exercised by the police the more reportable option. Faulkner. in the context of fiction and in the co-text of Roy’s narrative. . The construction “unlike . She experiences the pull of two conflicting impulses: the ethical and the epistemic. 13 See also Hasson and Glucksberg for similar findings.12 The mental images of a lynching mob tearing out hair or hacking off genitals are so strong that they eclipse the negation altogether. . They were merely inoculating a community against an outbreak” (309). where the negation does not involve a pair of antonyms such as lazy/hard-working.2karttunen. The recency effect not only blows to pieces the Myth of the Murderous. . The findings of Mayo et al. . Compared to the brutalities disnarrated. a sentence such as “The scarf was not blue” can make the reader see blue initially which may eventually lead her to forget the negation altogether. for they are the only eye-witnesses.

negatives urge the reader to go beyond the boundaries of the individual text.” Roy underlines the systematic and institutional aspect of (post-)colonial violence. hysterical religious mobs.” and the hypothetical deeds of frenzied. By calling the crime scene “Heart of Darkness. This highlights the irony of the text’s suggestion that there may be different kinds of violence: the brutal kind and the civilized kind. The policemen’s attack on the untouchable man is obviously brutal. the passage may be read as a corrective to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. mesmerized by something they sensed but didn’t understand: the absence of caprice in what the policemen did. The fact that the worst kinds of violence are denied in this particular case suggests that they are in fact the norm. The abyss where anger should have been” (308). The ironic use of medical terminology discussed above exposes the idea of civilized violence as untenable. anarchic. and The God of Small Things has been read (erroneously) as an apolitical story of illicit love. the scene concludes with a list of his multiple injuries including a fractured skull.indd 439 5/27/08 11:35:56 AM . *** Novels as a rule deal with individual experience. the disnarrated brings into focus all those other untouchables who have suffered at the hands of the police. Instances of the disnarrated encourage us to read metonymically rather than metaphorically. By pointing to the conceptual backcloth or cultural frame of reference against which individual utterances can be understood. Kurtz. for police violence against untouchables is a fact. To mention one untouchable who was not hanged draws attention to the background consisting of a number of untouchable victims of police brutality. is sometimes held responsible for the atrocities in that novella while postcolonial readings tend to see them as symptoms of colonialist rule. 10_6. In this case the negatives do not so much create as reflect the social context. She uses negatives to contest the view of violence as a symptom of individual pathology: “[The twins] watched. the intertextual one. or “guardians of the state. Interpreted against one possible frame of reference. a pathological individual.2karttunen. Rather than drawing attention to the fate of one particular untouchable. to look for signs of the (postcolonial) context in the literary text.A SOCIOSTYLISTIC PERSPECTIVE ON NEGATIVES AND THE DISNARRATED 439 mobs” suggests a contrast between the actual deeds of the policemen.

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