Omniscience in narrative construction: Old challenges and new

Meir Sternberg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Since modernism, narrative omniscience has been much attacked, yet little studied and understood. This in inverse ratio to the central role it actually plays in narrative discourse and metadiscourse alike: the telling, reading, grouping, evolving, conceptualizing of stories, invented (e.g., novelistic) or inspired (biblical, Homeric). Here I review the various old-new critical thrusts against epistemic superprivilege (outright denials, partisan judgments, attempted confinements, impairments, replacements, as well as genuine misunderstandings) arisen since my constructive theory of omniscience appeared, often in response to it. Those neomodernist challenges meet, multiply, and frequently run to extremes in Jonathan Culler's (2004) antitheistic critique, which accordingly presents an overall mirror-image to how and where and why omniscient narrative is (re)constructed. Nor is this key question of epistemic privilege vs. disprivilege alone at stake. The argument shows afresh its bearings on larger issues yet, especially narrative's open-ended art of relations. Thus the relations between axes of perspective, between perspective and plot, between power and performance, between mimetic and artistic sense-making, between factual and fictional storytelling. Equally involved, at a higher level still, are the relations between part and whole, form and force or function, typology and teleology, theory and history, (meta)discourse and ideology, the realities of literature and the desires of the literati. Throughout, the choice ultimately lies between freezing, even nullifying those relations via package deals and allowing them free play in the spirit of the Proteus Principle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)683-794
Number of pages112
JournalPoetics Today
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


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