Individualism was and is one of the defining myths of US culture. Its narrative equivalent - the “I” - has been the basis of entire literary genres from Puritan conversion stories to slave narratives to coming-of-age novels. However, little attention has been given to “we” narratives in US literature, their aesthetic functioning and their socio-historical context. While the first person plural narrative is still a relatively rare phenomenon, a considerable number of American novels in the “we” voice have been published since 1980.
As primary sources, this project considers American novels, novellas and short stories published between 1980 and 2016. Combining narratological approaches with feminist and intersectional approaches, this project will examine contemporary US “we” narratives in light of the idea of collective consciousness (Durkheim). To what extent does the “we” narrative express a collective consciousness, i.e. a group’s shared beliefs, feelings or attitudes, and in how far does it remain limited to individual consciousness? Further, how do contemporary American “we” narratives negotiate the gap between individual and collective consciousness?
Secondly, this research project aims to connect narratology with politics: Whom - and how - do “we” narratives include and exclude, creating an ‘in-group’ and an ‘out-group’? By incorporating critical race, feminist and queer narratology, the dissertation seeks to examine “we” narratives’ mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion. More specifically, does the “we” hold potential for undermining and evading identity categories through the open space of the collective “we”? To what extent is the “we” voice a rejection of the practice of “speaking for” (Spivak) and to what extent does it re-inscribe exactly this practice?
Taking an unnatural narratology approach to the “we” narrative voice, the project broadens the scope of the (unnatural) narratologist approach by connecting the formality of narratology with political considerations from feminist, queer, and critical race studies.