"In this passionate, erudite, and far-ranging book, Kroeber renews for our multi-cultural age a fundamental argument: the stories we tell, hear, read, and see make a difference to the lives we read."--Jonathan Arac, University of Pittsburgh
In this highly readable and thoroughly original book, Karl Kroeber questions the assumptions about storytelling we have inherited from the exponents of modernism and postmodernism. These assumptions have led to overly formalistic and universalizing conceptions of narrative that mystify the social functions of storytelling. Even "politically correct" critics have Eurocentrically defined story as too "primitive" to be taken seriously as art. Kroeber reminds us that the fundamental value of storytelling lies in retelling, this paradoxical remaking anew that constitutes story's role as one of the essential modes of discourse. His work develops some recent anthropological and feminist criticism to delineate the participative function of audience in narrative performances.
In depicting how audiences contribute to storytelling transactions, Kroeber carries us into a surprising array of examples, ranging from a Mesopotamian sculpture to Derek Walcott's Omeros; startling juxtapositions, such as Cervantes to Vermeer; and innovative readings of familiar novels and paintings. Tom Wolfe's comparison of his Bonfire of the Vanities to Vanity Fair is critically analyzed, as are the differences between Thackeray's novel and Joyce's Ulysses and Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Other discussions focus on traditional Native American stories, Henry James's The Ambassadors, Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler, and narrative paintings of Giotto, Holman Hunt, and Roy Lichtenstein. Kroeber deploys the ideas of Ricoeur and Bakhtin to reassess dramatically the field of narrative theory, demonstrating why contemporary narratologists overrate plot and undervalue story's capacity to give meaning to the contingencies of real experience. Retelling/Rereading provides solid theoretical grounding for a new understanding of storytelling's strange role in twentieth-century art and of our need to develop a truly multicultural narrative criticism.