Sarah Link


Sarah Link (Freiburg)
“Narrative and Scientific Logic in Detective Fiction”

This presentation was given as part of the "Beyond Narrative" conference on October 11, 2019.

Abstract: Though the form of the list is a remarkable constant throughout the centuries, it does not commonly come into view in narratological analysis and is indeed often referred to as 'non-narrative'. Lists in literary narratives, however, frequently develop a narrative dimension. To investigate the narrative potential of lists, I will use Caroline Levine’s concept of “affordances” to analyse the numerous lists that populate the detective fiction of Agatha Christie and Dennis Wheatley.

I do not wish to ascribe an a priori narrative quality to lists; rather, this paper will focus on the areas of overlap between narrative and scientific logic and investigate the double function lists play in regard to those two dimensions. Lists, which often appear in key moments in these stories, on the one hand can serve as representation of a character’s cognition and thus narrate processes of consciousness or rationalization. On the other hand, these lists also function to direct the reader’s attention and evoke extratextual reference frames of objectivity and the cognitive patterns of positivist science. Lists thus actively contribute to the negotiation of meaning on both a narrative, intratextual level and a non-narrative and referential extratextual level, and thus challenge our understanding of how storytelling works.