Short Story Cycles

The Shape of Things to Come – An Interview with Lars Bernaerts

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Prof. Lars Bernaerts of Ghent University. He has founded and coordinated the Centre for the Study of Experimental Literature (SEL), which, among other things, will have some focus on the story cycle as such (not necessarily the short story cycle). I have chosen a particular passage of the interview that concerns itself with the cycle as a form of storytelling in general. I found of particularly interest the examples of a cycle that include several books – not just short stories collected in a single volume. (See the end of this excerpt for more examples.)

DIEGESIS: How would you describe your research project to a wider audience?

Bernaerts: I am currently looking into the narratological implications of the “cycle.” Cycles are circular patterns of recurrence (“cyclicity”) as well as a type of macrotext containing several narratives revolving around the same character, theme, and/or plot, as in a short story cycle, a poetry cycle, or a cycle of novels. Think of the epic cycle of Homeric narratives, medieval cycles of mystery plays, or the India Cycle (1964–1976) by the French novelist and filmmaker Marguerite Duras. The two meanings of the cycle (cyclicity and macrotext) come together in narrative forms such as the novelistic cycle.

“It is striking how often we resort to cyclicity as a tool for thinking (to borrow David Herman’s phrase about stories). In disciplines such as psychology, biology or, say, business communication, cycles are a remarkably omnipresent model of presentation: ‘the arousal cycle of anger,’ ‘the cycle of violence,’ ‘the communication cycle,’ ‘the life cycle of a plant,’ . . . We can go on and on. Interestingly, these concepts are almost always used to describe a temporal sequence of events with a distinct narrative arc. In a cycle of anger, there is a clear succession of built-up tension and a release of that tension. However, since it is a cycle, it can or will continue the same succession. In such instances, there is an intriguing integration of linear development and cyclical return.

“Stories are usually associated with linear development: they have beginnings, middles, and endings. In the history of storytelling, however, this type of narrativity has always been entwined with cyclicity. From archetypical recurrences in the cosmos and in nature described by Northrop Frye in his Anatomy of Criticism (1957) to narrative circularity in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939), cycles have always been around, sometimes challenging and sometimes reinforcing the course of the narrative that is presumed to be linear.

“The monumental narrative form of the novelistic cycle, on which my research centers, often foregrounds cyclicity and combines it with a macrotextual dynamics. In a macrotext, the parts interact with each other on multiple levels: characters introduced in one novel come back in another, the narrated time develops across volumes, closure is distributed over the parts of the cycle. These relations between its parts are what constitute the cycle as a cycle. Read in relation to the other novels of Children of Violence (1952–1969), for example, Doris Lessing’s The Four-Gated City (1969) gains depth and meaning. The twelve volumes of Anthony Powell’s cycle A Dance to the Music of Time (1951–1975) together create the image of generation, they sketch an entire social history through the life of the first-person narrator Nicholas Jenkins. The cyclicity of A Dance is already apparent in its structure of four trilogies presented as the four seasons.


Bernaerts, Lars: “The Shape of Things to Come. An Interview with Lars Bernaerts.” In: DIEGESIS. Interdisciplinary E-Journal for Narrative Research / Interdisziplinäres E-Journal für Erzählforschung 11.2 (2022). 102–107. URN: urn:nbn:de:hbz:468-20221213-093708-7



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