Narrative Fate

  • Date and time: Monday 22 April 2024, 5pm
  • Location: Seminar Room BS/007, Berrick Saul Building, Campus West, University of York (Map)
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Event details

Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature at Queen Mary University of London, presents a talk in the series “Current Research in Narrative Studies,” the research seminar of the British and Irish Association for Narrative Studies. These seminars are held in a hybrid format, with speakers and audience from the Association membership around the country, hosted at York by the Interdisciplinary Centre for Narrative Studies


Nobody now, or at any time in the past, seems to know what they mean by “fate”. It is, and always was, caught up in an unspecifiable compatibility between contingency and necessity. It is a force against which struggle is pointless, but it doesn’t eliminate choice. It is the duration of life and it is death. It is the portion of success and suffering handed out to humans by gods and goddesses, and a godless way of thinking about the determinants of fortune. It names a conspiracy theory for the concept of luck and offers a misty causal explanation for things that happen by chance. In this paper I am going to argue that fate is a kind of temporal disorientation and that its legacy is to be found in narrative form.

The paper takes Rachel Cusk’s Second Place as an example of a narrative that proposes an equivalence between narrative and fate. The argument begins from orientational metaphors for fate in Homer’s The Iliad and pursues these spatial orientations in Cusk’s novel. The story of Second Place is one in which the narrator loses her belief in the equivalence of narrative and fate, but develops an unwitting, alternative, logical connection between them through their temporal properties. In particular the paper aims to offer an account of teleological retrospect in narrative as an inherently fatalistic frame of mind.

About the speaker

Mark Currie is Professor of Contemporary Literature at Queen Mary University of London. His the author of About Time (2007) and The Unexpected (2013) and a number of other books on literary and narrative theory. His recent work has been about the concepts of contingency and uncertainty in narrative, and he is currently writing about narrative and the persistence of fate.