Afterlife and Narrative in Contemporary Fiction by Alice Bennett

By Alice Bennett

Afterlife and Narrative explores why lifestyles after demise is this sort of effective cultural notion at the present time, and why it truly is such an enticing prospect for contemporary fiction. The ebook mines a wealthy vein of imagined afterlives, from the temporal experiments of Martin Amis's Time's Arrow to narration from heaven in Alice Sebold's the stunning Bones .

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Royle examines the difficulties in reading the phrase ‘memento mori’, and among the ‘strangeness’ he identifies is the question of the consequences for action there could be in remembering our deaths: ‘How can you remember what has not happened and indeed never will be something that you could verify as having happened to you? As if it would be possible to say: Look, I have died! It’s a good job I remembered’ (197). In the time covered by Spark’s novel the benefits of remembering you must die are limited to responding with unruffled calm to prank calls, but she does also gesture towards an afterlife in which it would be possible to look back on life lived with and improved by the awareness of death, in the repetition of the catechism’s four last things.

Has fiction therefore degraded to the status of myth, even as the afterlife has moved from a myth to a critical fiction? And are centuries of focusing attention on the promise of future eternal life partly responsible, providing practice in the depresentification of experience? 12 Richard Klein, in ‘The Future of Nuclear Criticism’ (1990), identifies a similar time-sense in contemporary thought, but links it to a concern with an apocalyptic future, bringing this discussion into another circle. Taking up Derrida’s point on the unsettling consequences of apocalypse for discourse Klein asks, like Derrida, what pleasure or profit, ‘what bonus of seduction or intimidation’ there is in the apocalyptic aesthetic.

Mark Currie has examined the idea of the reordering of experience according to the reading experience of narrative in About Time (2007). Part of Currie’s central thesis is that the anticipation of retrospection which forms such a vital part of reading narrative fiction has seeped back into life, with the self-contained fictional ‘temporal loop’ of anticipation/retrospection becoming part of the ordinary experience of time. Currie describes the ‘hermeneutic circle between presentification and depresentification that makes us live life as if it wasn’t present and read fictional narrative as if it were’ (86): life, even as it is being lived, is imagined through the lens of a narrated past, and viewed from the perspective of the end.

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