Narratives of Resistance, Resistance to Narrative: The Tragic Picaro as an Alternative Model for Life Stories

Sjoerd-Jeroen Moenandar*

*Corresponding author for this work

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    A specific narrative form implies a specific ethics. While the plot of the Bildungsroman values personal growth and fruitful dialogue with the outside world leading to a meaningful whole, the plot of the picaresque – its direct opposite – values episodic fragmentation and a nonchalant or even hostile relation with our surroundings. Not for nothing, picaresques often deploy unnatural narrative, a narrative form that constructs a reality that blatantly reveals itself to be fictional and constructed. In this paper, I will analyse three novels by Günter Grass, Salman Rushdie and Abdelkader Benali (The Tin Drum, Midnight’s Children and The Long Awaited), in which this picaresque tradition is modified for a narrative of transition. There is strong, deliberate intertextuality between these texts, with each novel building on its predecessor to come up with a narrative form that can solve the trauma of transition (from the life of the German minority in Poland to post war West Germany, from colonial rule to independence and from village life in Morocco to city life in the Netherlands, respectively). Oscillating between the nonchalance of the picaroon and the need for belonging that drives the plot of the Bildungsroman and between the ethics and values each of these imply, the novels establish a tradition of ‘tragic picaroons’ that show both the necessity and futility of resisting nationalism and history through narrative. Narrative works towards an end point and the end point is always oppressive as it subordinates all events prior to it, so any resistance of oppression through narrative ends up being oppressive itself. The unnatural narrative deployed in these novels foregrounds this and facilitates a continuing resistance, not only to the narratives of nationalism and history but, ultimately, to all narrative. As such, the narrative tradition established between these three novels has a use-value as an alternative to dominant stories in the neoliberal realm.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-14
    Number of pages15
    JournalGlobal Media Journal – Australian Edition
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2017

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