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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Complexity, Scale, Story: Narrative Models in Will Self and Enid Blyton

Abstract

Will Self and Enid Blyton are not often mentioned in the same sentence, but this essay reveals that they have an unexpected interest in common: scale. By a happy biographical accident, I am well qualified to expound upon the particular focus of this common interest, which is a rather eccentric model village called Bekonscot. But both writers are also, of course, interested in stories, and that is where my more academic interest as a narrative theorist comes in. Their negotiations with questions of scale in their stories provide a point of departure for my own concern with the distinctive qualities and limitations of narrative form. Narrative is itself a way of modelling, one specifically adapted to dealing with processes; it is highly privileged as such, both culturally and cognitively, yet it models some processes – specifically, complex systemic processes – rather poorly. Scale has a role to play in the context of complex systems, too, and my claim is that we can use it to mediate between complexity and story. By reflecting upon the way the notion of scale bears, respectively, upon complexity and upon narrative form, we can make some progress in understanding their problematic relation to each other.