Short Story Cycles

The enigma of development: building a reflexive point of view across remote contexts

This thesis singles out point of view (POV) as the governing technical choice in creative writing. As such it integrates creative practice with an essay on the theoretical basis for a POV across remote contexts. The methodology follows Mikhail Bakhtin’s call for a new story telling position through an enquiry into Western literary history, Classical Chinese novels and Gao Xingjian’s partitioning of POV by narrative angle. Part One Chapter one establishes the importance of POV to motives in my own creative work and sets out the case for Bakhtin over normative theorists, calling for a reconfiguration of POV to withstand contextual aberrations arising from cultural or historical differences, or from the boundaries of what Bakhtin refers to as Small Time presentism. Further, it argues against Tzvetan Todorov’s generic view of the novel as a property of discourse, an ahistorical constant, by considering Bakhtin’s meta-historic survey of Western literature with periods of intensified novelistic discourse in given contexts. Chapter two considers POV in the separate context of Chinese literature focussing on the historiographic POV taken in Classical Chinese novels, namely The Four Great Works. Comparisons are drawn between these and Western short story cycles noting forms given in Andrew Plaks’ Chinese Narrative (1977) and aesthetics in François Cheng’s Chinese Poetic Writing (1982). Critical contemporary concerns arising between Classical and Modern Chinese are addressed with reference to essays by Xi Chuan, Yang Liang and Henry Zhao. Chapter three begins with reflexivity as an inherent property of what Bakhtin identifies as discrete double voicing and draws parallels with the bi-polar unity of Daoism and its Chan iv (Zen) hybrid, consulting Victor Sōgen Hori’s studies of capping phrases and contemporary techniques in the fiction, drama and essays of Gao Xingjian. Part Two Creative enquiry takes the form of a novel, Interesting Times, (working title: The Enigma of Development), in which a first person protagonist’s narrative alternates with third person short stories embedded in a historical schema. The novel depicts economic development through the construction of a power station, following a schema of short story settings in one location from pre-industrial salt making to sophisticated intellectual piracy, indentured peasant labour to chaotic collateral debt finance. These short stories alternate with chapters from the linking protagonist whose narrative encircles the whole from the rural location of his family’s ancient English heritage. With the cognitive ground of one POV set against that of the other, the resulting novel is intended to create an interpretive domain for the reflex between the two, in this case a cyclical relationship between exploiter and exploited, interchangeable as subjects and objects.

from Macfarlane, J. (2016). The enigma of development: building a reflexive point of view across remote contexts (Doctoral dissertation, Newcastle University).



This dissertation is included in the collection as it has some chapters on Chinese short story cycles, and I haven’t so far found many English works about these!

I have listed it as included a short story cycle as well, although the author calls the fiction part of the thesis a “novel”.


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