Thomas Pavel

Thomas Pavel
  • Thomas Pavel, University of Chicago

Keynote session 2 (Chair: Elizabeth Amann, Ghent University)

4/16/2015 17:00:00 AM

Prof. Thomas Pavel (University of Chicago)

Narratives, the day after

Starting from John McTaggart’s classical distinction between the A-temporal series built on past, present, and future and the B-series which emphasizes earlier vs. later moments in time, the paper reflects on the difference between narrative unfolding, usually taking place in accordance with the A-series, and narrative conclusion, based on the B-series. Concerning narrative unfolding, I will examine the ways in which divergences between the story-line and its actual presentation, by redistributing narrative information, have crucial pragmatic and empathic consequences. Concerning the narrative conclusion, I will submit that by switching from the A- to the B-temporal series, it helps stabilizing the axiological frame of the story. The examples will come from Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prevost, Great Expectations by Dickens, and Anna Karenina by Tolstoy.


Thomas Pavel is the Gordon J. Laing Distinguished Service Professor in Romance Languages and Literature, Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago. Born in Romania, he was educated in his native country and in France and pursued an academic career in Canada (University of Ottawa and Université du Québec à Montréal) and the U.S. (University of California, Santa Cruz, Princeton University). Trained in literature and linguistics, he became interested in the then fashionable structuralist methods, which applied linguistic notions to literary studies.  His early work – a book on Pierre Corneille and one on English Renaissance tragedy – examined the structure of dramatic plots with the help of notions developed by Noam Chomsky’s transformational grammar.  He soon realized, however, that linguistics provides only a limited amount of help and in The Spell of Language:  Post-structuralism and speculation (1988, revised edition, 2001), he analyzed and criticized the hasty application of linguistic concepts in the humanities.  Pavel then initiated the postclassical turn in narratology by turning away from formal structures to questions of imaginary worlds projected by fiction – the topic of the book Fictional Worlds (1986).  In L’Art de l’éloignement: Essai sur l’imagination classique (“Art as distance, essay on the neo-classical imagination”, 1996), he described the fictional worlds of a single period – that of French neo-classicism – and in La Pensée du roman (“The Thinking Novel”, 2003) he studied the evolution of fictional representation in a single genre: the novel, from the Ancient Greek romances to the end of the 20th century.  


About US

ENN4 is organised under the auspices of Narratology@UGent, the Ghent Centre for Digital Humanities, and the Department of Literary Studies at Ghent University. We acknowledge the financial support of the Flemish Research Foundation (FWO-Vlaanderen) and of the Doctoral School Arts, Humanities and Law (Ghent University).