Marta Puxan-Oliva, "Narrative Reliability, Racial Conflicts and Ideology in the Modern Novel" (Routledge, 2021)


Marta Puxan-Oliva’s Narrative Reliability, Racial Conflicts and Ideology in the Modern Novel (Routledge, 2021), engages with the intertwined relationship between narrative studies – centering on narrative reliability – racial conflicts and ideologies. Puxan-Oliva argues that the problem of narrative reliability in fiction, often mirrors and makes use of narrative reliability of historical discourse, and therefore urges literary critics to examine the historical context of a work of fiction to “comprehend technical modulations of narrative reliability.” 

Her book offers a crucial contribution to narrative theory by insisting on a need to historicize the field itself to understand how historical discourses give rise to specific cultural and political discourses. In order to illustrate her methodology, Puxan-Oliva analyzes Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, Albert Camus’s L’étranger, and Alejo Carpentier’s El reino de este mundo. In each chapter, Puxan-Oliva grapples with a specific issue on the problem of reliability in connection to historical contexts of each literary work. For example, she discusses in depth the role that the voice of persuasion has in Conrad’s Lord Jim, and the implications this has within the larger discourse of British imperialism. When focusing her keen analysis on Faulkner, Puxan-Oliva considers the degrees of reliability in the narrative, and the way the problem of reliability reflects historical discourses in the New South. In her chapter on Camus, she observes how Meursault’s ‘estranging narrative’ makes use of underreporting, which is an “ideological strategy common in colonial discourse”, thereby connecting narrative voice within a broader condition of discordant reliability within French colonial Algeria. To sum up, each chapter in Puxan-Oliva’s book consists of a necessary intervention in narratology, arguing that the field of narrative studies needs to release narrative from its exclusive engagement with the text, divorced from other forces that exert pressure on its formation; instead, Puxan-Oliva is interested in the interconnectedness of texts with political and historical discourses, and their rootedness within broader patterns of cultural production, which, ultimately, is an argument for a cultural narratology that is interested in the “construction of form” and in the very “politics of form”. Ultimately, this book is an important intervention not only within narrative studies and racial conflicts and ideology, but it has crucial implications during a time when various discourses around the globe pose a major challenge to the nature of truth, and how the latter is affected by narrative, narrative form, and how these are shaped by historical and political discourse.

Marta Puxan-Oliva a is Ramón y Cajal senior researcher at the Universitat de les Illes Balears, Spain. She has worked at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Harvard University, the Universitat de Barcelona, and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. Marta has conducted research periods at New York University, Princeton University, the University of Chicago, and Harvard University; this last one was with a Marie Sklodowska Curie Outgoing Fellowship from the European Commission (2012-15). She is a specialist in comparative literature, especially in the fields of narrative theory, comparative racial studies, ecocriticism and global literary studies. She has published various articles on these topics in journals like Poetics Today, Studies in the Novel, English Studies, Letral, Journal of Global History and the Journal of World Literature. Her book Narrative Reliability, Racial Conflicts, and Ideology in the Modern Novel (Routledge, 2019) bridges narrative theory with the constitution of racial ideologies. Currently, she works on the global novel in the I+D project, codirected with Neus Rotger, “The novel as global form: Poetic challenges and cross-border circulation” (2021-24). For last few years she has been working on “global environments” in literature, especially the ocean, studying environmental criminality at sea in contemporary literary and film narratives. She is a member of the research group Contemporary Literature: Comparative Studies and Theory.

Eralda L. Lameborshi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Literature and Languages at the Texas A&M University – Commerce where she teaches world literature and cinema. Her areas of research are World Literature, the historical novel on the Ottoman Empire, world cinema, postcolonial theory, and film theory. She is the recipient of various fellowships and awards like the Hagler Institute for Advanced Study Fellowship, and the Elizabeth Greenwade Qualls ’89 Endowed Fellowship. She is currently working on her book manuscript titled The Islamic Empire and Southeastern European Literature, and articles on the global novel and literatures of migration, immigration, and exile.

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Eralda Lameborshi

Eralda Lameborshi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Literature and Languages at Texas A&M University Commerce. Her areas of research include world literature and cinema, Southeast European studies, Ottoman studies, postcolonial theory, and the global novel.

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