Because German literary criticism tends to be strongly historicist in character, modern and postmodern German narrative has remained relatively unexplored by poststructuralist critics. In the eight individual analyses of twentieth-century German texts that make up this book, Patrick O'Neill deviates from the theoretical mainstream. O'Neill applies the principles of structuralist and poststructuralist narratology to a selection of narratives from both modernist and postmodernist German authors: Mann, Kafka, and Hesse, and Canetti, Grass, Johnson, Handke, and Bernhard.
O'Neill's approach rests on three assumptions: first, that all stories are stories told in particular ways; second, that these particular ways of telling stories are interesting objects of study in and for themselves; and third, that modern German fiction includes a number of narratives that allow us to indulge that interest in ways that are themselves compelling. The relationship of story and discourse is central to Acts of Narrative; in particular, each of the texts under analysis continually foregrounds the active role of the reader, which O'Neill sees as an inescapable feature of modern and postmodern narrative as a semiotic structure. The volume might be described as an exercise in semiotic narratology, exploring a variety of aspects of the semiotics of narrative as a discursive system.
Acts of Narrative provides a fresh and challenging approach to German literary texts that will interest both those whose concern is narrative theory and critical practice and those who study modern and postmodern German or comparative literature.