Dr Simon James
Charles Dickens: Mental Time Travelling and the Future Self
Narrative theory, as adumbrated by Peter Brooks, explains the pleasure we take from reading stories as 'the anticipation of retrospection' - we read or experience a story because we are already looking forward to having finished it, and reflecting back on what we have just read. Reading itself, therefore, constitutes an experience of future possibility, bred from the desire 'to find out what happens next'; as the narrative progresses, the range of future possibilities reduces, since in language the choice of one possibility necessitates the destruction or refusal of another. This project will draw on perspectives from philosophy, psychology, neuroscience and other disciplines besides literary criticism to theorise how narrative imagines its own possible futures, taking as its data Victorian fiction, in particular the first-person narratives of Charles Dickens. In such novels, the first person who is conducting the narration is older and wiser than the first person whose experience is narrated; thus there is always latently present a character who, like God or a prophet, is capable of seeing into the future. Storytelling proceeds in the foreknowledge of its own future, inevitably structured by prolepsis, or 'flash forwards'.