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Unconventional Storytellers in Modern East Asian Fiction and Film

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Organizer: Yun Lee

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This seminar discusses how, in modern East Asian fiction and film, atypical narrators add a dimension to the stories they tell. These unconventional narrators are often secondary, insignificant characters with minimal relevance to the main events. Sometimes, they exhibit noticeable inconsistency with the main characters’ emotions and intentions. In some extreme cases, even the events presented are beyond the scope of what they can reasonably see and hear. In other cases, although the narrators are important figures in the narratives, they are distant from the temporality and spatiality of the events and thus display a certain degree of emotional and cognitive detachment. These narrators add structural complexity by constituting a narrative frame outside the main narrative and/or cause instability in the narrative focus and uncertainty in the meaning conveyed.

Is their existence necessary? This is the fundamental question we seek to address. In some cases, they seem to be detrimental to the sense of unity in structure and meaning in the narrative. In other cases, they cause the audience’s doubt in the credibility of the narration and puzzlement about the authorial intent. In this regard, should we view them as an artistic flaw? Or, in fact, do these narrators fill the gaps in the narrative and imply the self-questioning of singular meaning, by which means the diversity and variability of viewpoints are highlighted?

The papers in this seminar will discuss the unique narrator phenomena in modern East Asian fiction and film to explore the multiple roles of narrators in literary and cinematic texts and argue whether these narrators create a meaningful tension between narration and interpretation.

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