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Narrative Consciousness

It is the structure and style that offer the reader a way into the often bewildering and disturbing fictional worlds of Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett and Alain Robbe-Grillet. The problem confronting writers since the middle of the nineteenth century was how to cope artistically with an increasingly alienating and mechanized world. Kafka, Beckett and Robbe-Grillet conclude, by the example of their fictions, that the writer’s province is no longer this impossible environment. Instead, the writer must work within the knowledge available to any one person–the knowledge attained through one’s perceptions. So the shape of the story is determined by a narrating consciousness, that single character through whose awareness the details are filtered. Thus, in a special sense, the tale and the telling are one.

Clues to the style of a conventional narrative were once discernable through examination of the immediate passage, but when dealing with Kafka one must first grasp the whole, whereafter the particular segment will illuminate itself. Looking at a paragraph of Kafka’s prose, the reader recognizes each moment in the narrative to be so closely integrated into the entirety of the work that he is a loss without the guide of some context. In works of other writers, orientation is usually established by a verbalized point of view, but in Kafka, no statement, no directing voice guides one into the new fiction. The only context is the whole work–the whole story, the whole novel. There is no philosophy upon which the reader can rely, no previously secured understanding between the author and the reader. It is therefore to the whole work that one must turn, to the largest element of the author’s style, his unifying structure.