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Secondly, one good measure of the success of a technological revolution is to gauge
whether it has created not only new prestige forms but new discourse and narrative genres.
For example, during another revolutionary technological phase, the printing press created the
novel. The process of quick printing meant that you could read long tales in the privacy of
your bedroom. And now that we have an e-revolution, it once again signals a key moment for
narrative studies. We can now ask: Since narrative is an ancient and highly adaptable form,
how will it adapt to these new changes in technology? Will we have new narrative genres?
Will different ways of reflexive self-understanding be created through computers via all the
things we access electronically, like emails and chats?
Most crucially, as our patterns of social contact change and virtual contact rather than
face-to-face interaction becomes a characteristic of the species, will our emotional worlds
Human communities have traditionally monitored their emotions through sharing
stories, but are our foundational notions of shared intersubjectivity changing? I think these
are very interesting questions for narrative theorists. My belief is that we are confronting new
emotional landscapes, partly on account of the new virtual worlds we inhabit, and that this
change will give us fresh insights into the structure of narrative.
Aristotle privileged the great emotions of pity and awe, but if we look on Facebook
and the internet, what I call the postmodern emotions of boredom, anxiety, frustration, rage,
and resentment seem to figure much more prominently. These are our new narrative emotions
and we need much more research on them. Think of “trolling” today as a widespread,
anonymous pastime and you will see what I mean. Indeed, I would say that the journey in
narrative culture from Aristotle onward has been from the idea of catharsis to the idea of
crisis, from daydreams to depression dreams, and from mimesis to memes.
I have therefore added a third paradox with a cultural-cognitive angle to two famous
previous paradoxes of narrative:
Searle’s Paradox of Fictional Discourse: How do words in fiction both have and not have
their ordinary meanings?
Dennett’s Paradox of the Authorless Narrative: Can we have a story without a narrator?
My Paradox of the Indian Rope Trick: How do narratives succeed in making us believe
things that contradict beliefs for which we have very convincing evidence?
My question highlights the inalienable place of uncertainty and paradox in narrative accounts.
Perhaps it is just the Zeitgeist, but I find that people are paying attention to this aspect of my
work. For example, Michael S. Poulton (2005), writing on ethics and morality in business
organizations, refers to these narrative notions, as does James Hegarty, a fine Sanskritist, who
says that my arguments concerning narrative as theory helped him better understand the
structure of the Mahabharata. Dr. Ronald Pies, who does clinical medicine at Tufts, has
followed my general proposition that humans have a compulsive drive to generate narrative
in the context of depression narratives, suggesting that this generates a particular genre of
story, the sad and hopeless story. Others have used my work to suggest that the “law of
necessary incompleteness” in narrative can be applied quite directly to videogames. I should
emphasize that my point is not to say how important my work is – not at all! – but rather to