Beyond the Linear Narrative

Article

Fractured Narratives in Writing and Performance in the Postcolonial era.


The AHRC is funding a three-year research project which is being led by Professor Robert Gordon as Principal Investigator, Professor Helen Carr as Research Consultant, and Professor Blake Morrison and Dr Osita Okagbue as Co-Investigators. Research will be undertaken by a number of scholars and practitioners working in the departments of Drama and English and Comparative Literature, but there will be creative and critical input from a number of other disciplines. Taking Pinter's work as a starting point for, or symbol of, the fracturing of narrative across many art-forms in twentieth and twenty-first century work, this research project asks a series of questions about the links between inter-cultural and political change and the emergence, or re-emergence, of non-linear and fractured narrative. Focussing on literature and performance, particularly in postcolonial and diasporic contexts, it will ask why non-linear narrative has been such a feature of this period's artistic production. If these fractured and experimental forms are a response to the breakdown of the west's grand narratives of progress, what forms of resistance or revision do they provide? In what ways can they be seen to emerge from the increasing interaction of different cultures in the colonial, post-colonial and post-Cold War world? How do such fractured narratives work in postcolonial and diasporic writing and performance? How can these fractured forms explore our culturally diverse society's competing and conflicting narratives?

The project addresses the ways changing understandings of the self have contributed to the disruption of linear narrative, and in particular, how fractured narratives enable the move away from the Cartesian mind/body duality to an understanding of the embodied self, making the writing of the body such an important element in contemporary performance, fiction and life-writing. In addition, if non-linear narratives emerge from the destabilising of traditional hierarchies of power, what are the implications for issues of gender and sexuality in writing and performance? The project will not assume the distinct identity of traditional 'literary' genres, but will ask these questions of all forms of literature and performance as a continuum of work.

Up till now, most investigations of non-linear narrative have been limited to its digital development, seeing it in terms of technological change. While being alert to this research and its implications, the emphasis of this project is different, centring as it does on the relation between fractured narratives and cultural change in the late colonial and post-colonial period, and on intercultural and diasporic exchange in contemporary art practices. Our project is in no way formalistic: rather it will ask what profound social, political and conceptual changes are being mapped in these artistic practices, addressing questions fundamental to an understanding of the role the arts play in negotiating social change in today's culturally diverse society. The project will involve in-depth studies of three areas: African/African diasporic performance, Caribbean/Caribbean diasporic life writing, and gender and sexuality in contemporary British diasporic writing and performance.

The research methods employed will be varied, combining traditional academic means, such as conferences and seminars, with creative practice, plays, performances, readings, musical events, film, video and digital arts. Two doctoral students will be attached to the project, one working on African performance, the other in Caribbean life writing; there will be two artists-in-residence, each for three months. Goldsmiths' strengths in creative writing and innovative performance, in critical creative practice, community arts, urban studies and postcolonial theory, as well as its strong tradition of interdisciplinary research, make it an ideal place for this project. Dissemination will take a variety of forms, through conferences, seminars and creative events, as well as book and journal publication, and the videoing and archiving of events and performances. The outcomes of our research will be of interest both to scholars and to creative artists. It will contribute to the understanding of postcolonial and diasporic literature and performance and to the assessment of the nature and impact of contemporary creative practices.