Table of content
2. Multi-perspectival Narration
2.1 Forms of Multi-perspectival Narration
2.2 Single Perspectives
2.3 Structures of Perspectives
2.3.1 the Paradigmatic Dimension
2.3.2 the Syntagmatic Dimension
2.4 "Perspektivensteuerung" – Control of the Reception/Controlling Strategies
2.4.1 Closed or Open Structure
2.4.2 "Integrationsfördernde und synthesestörende Strategien der Perspektivensteuerung" – the Controlling Strategies Support or Disrupt the Synthesis
2.5 Effect of Multi-perspecivity
3. Multi-perspectival Narration in Atonement
3.1 Forms of Multi-perspectival Narration in Atonement
3.2 Single Perspectives in Atonement
3.3 Structure of the Perspectives
3.3.1 the Paradigmatic Dimension
Conclusion of the Paradigmatic Dimension
3.3.2 the Syntagmatic Dimension
Conclusion of the Syntagmatic Dimension
3.4 Control of Reception/Controlling Strategies
3.5 Effect of Multi-Perspectivity in Atonement
4. Closing Words
Multi-perspectival Narration in McEwan's Atonement
Sieht man einmal ab von einigen Studien zu einzelnen Autorinnen und Autoren […], so mangelt es […] im Hinblick auf viele AutorInnen und Romane an fundierten Untersuchungen, die die Formen und Funktionen von multi-perspektivischem Erzählen unter Rückgriff auf erzähltheoretische Kategorien charakterisieren. Dieses Defizit betrifft sowohl Klassiker des polyphonen Erzählen […] als auch viele zeitgenössische englischsprachige AutorInnen (von Julian Barnes und Antonia S. Byatt über Ian McEwan und Iris Murdoch bis zu Fred D'Aguiar, […]). (A. and V. Nünning, 35)
In this way the following essay will use Nünning's categories in order to analyse the structure of perspectives and its controlling function in Ian McEwan's Atonement.
Therefore I will introduce the general concept of A. and V. Nünning concerning multi-perspectivity in chapter two. It is necessary to have a close look at forms of multi-perspectivity (2.1) and the single perspectives first (2.2) in order to analyse the structure of perspectives (2.3) which are explored in the paradigmatic and the syntagmatic dimension. Even if the structures of perspectives may function already as a controlling strategy, control of reception will be explained in 2.4 more detailed. In this chapter mainly three strategies will be shown: the open or closed nature of the structure of perspectives, supporting or disrupting strategies of reception control and framing. The concepts about framing are extracted from Werner Wolf's essay "Multiperspektivität: Das Konzept und seine Applikationsmöglichkeit auf Rahmung in Erzählwerken."(2000, 79-109).
In chapter three these concepts will be applied to Ian McEwan's narration Atonement, which is an excellent example for multi-perspectivity in narrations. The forms of multi-perspectival narration in Atonement will be stated in 3.1. The single perspectives in 3.2 will be omitted in order to spare the reader repetitions, which would necessarily occur. The reasons for this procedure are stated there. In 3.3 the structure of the perspectives will be explored in the paradigmatic and the syntagmatic dimension (3.3.1 and 3.3.2). Whereas usually the different aspects will be looked at in a general summerizing way the aspects of "Extent of Authority" and "Extent of Reliability or Credibility" will need to distinguish further between the different focalizers.
The various strategies to control the reception will be summerized in 3.4, and in 3.5 I will describe briefly the first impression of the effect of multi-perspectivity in Atonement.
2. Multi-perspectival Narration
In their essay "Von 'der' Erzählperspektive zur Perspektivenstruktur narrativer Texte: Überlegungen zur Defintion, Konzeptualisierung und Untersuchbarkeit von Multiperspektivität" A. and V. Nünning claim that multi-perspectival narration is a field of great importance which has been neglected so far:
Obgleich es sich beim multiperspektivischen Erzählen um ein erzähltheoretisch und kulturgeschichtlich gleichermaßen faszinierendes Phänomen handelt, besteht wohl bei kaum einem anderen Aspekt narrativer Texte ein ähnlich eklatantes Miß-verhältnis zwischen der großen Bedeutung, die den jeweiligen Darstellungsver-fahren auf der 'Objektebene' literarischer Werke zukommt, und dem Mangel an adäquaten Beschreibungsmodellen auf der literaturwissenschaftlichen 'Metaebene' wie bei dem Thema 'Multiperspektivität'. (Nünning, 4)
Therefore they name definitions and define categories, which might be helpful in the process of analyzing a multi-perspectival narration.
2.1 Forms of Multi-perspectival Narration
In order to categorize forms of multi-perspectival narration Ansgar and Vera Nünning
state three basic forms of multi-perspectival narration:
- multi-perspectively narrated texts
- multi-perspectively focalized texts and
- multi-perspectively structured texts.
In multi-perspectively narrated texts the underlying events are narrated or commented on by at least two distinct narrators. In multi-perspectively focalized texts the different perspectives become apparent through at least two different "focalizers". Multi-perspectively structured texts consist of at least two different types of texts, e.g. added newspaper articles, letters, extracts from dictionaries, etc. These basic forms may be mixed. Multi-perspectively structured texts hardly ever appear in their pure form, but usually consist of a multi-perspectively narrated or a multi-perspectively focalized structure.
These three basic forms of multi-perspectival narration can be further classified according to various characterisations. For multi-perspectively narrated and multi-perspectively focalized texts it is important to notice, whether the narrator or focalizer is part of the story – "intradiegetic" – or outside the story on a different level – "extradiegetic". Furthermore A. and V. Nünning distinguish, between bi-perspectively and poly-perspectively narrated or focalized texts.
These parameters do not apply to multi-perspectively structured texts. These are divided according to the fictional or non-fictional character of the texts and to the range of the selected genres ("homomorph" or "heteromorph", Nünning, 45). "Homomorph" structured texts consist of material belonging to the same or similar genres whereas "heteromorph" structured texts link material of various genres.
Concluding these classifications the following diagram illustrates the range of forms of multi-perspectival narration:
extradiegetic bi-perspectively narrated
illustration not visible in this excerpt
As a consequence, not to mention the various possible mixed forms, A. and V. Nünning distinguish 12 distinct basic classifications of multi-perspectival narration.
2.2 Single Perspectives
A single perspective can be either a narrator perspective, a focalizer perspective or a perspective of a fictitious recipient ("fiktiver Adressat", 51). Narrator perspective or focalizer perspective depends upon the fact if this perspective of the story is narrated or focalized. The recipient perspective is usually only of interest in stories in which the reader is explicitly mentioned or addressed or his existence is implicitly assumed. This is quite often the case in framed stories or when the narrator obviously functions as an agent between story and reader. (vg. Nünning 48-51) But at first it will be looked at the narrator or focalizer perspectives.
In order to explore single perspectives the following features have to be taken into account:
1. "den Informationsstand der Figur",
2. "die psychologische Disposition der Figur",
3. "die Werte und Normen der Figur" (Nünning, 48f)
These features can be found in the texts by looking into
- statements of the character (narrator or focalizer),
- his actions,
- the information given by the narrator or focalizer authority ("Erzählerinstanz"),
- and how other figures of the story characterise that character.
With this information about a character its perspective may be described to a point of classification.
2.3 Structures of Perspectives
The structure of the perspectives has to be examined in order to classify and to value the single perspectives. Therefore the single perspectives are to be fitted into the paradigmatic axis of selection ("paradigmatische Achse der Selektion", Nünning 52ff) and into the syntagmatic axis of combination ("syntagmatische Achse der Kombination", Nünning 55-60).
2.3.1 the Paradigmatic Dimension
The paradigmatic selection of single perspectives is concerned with a variety of parameters, which are:
- "der quantitative Umfang des Perspektivenangebots" – the quantity of perspectives
- "die Breite des Spektrums der Figurenperspektiven" – the range of perspectives
- "Grad an Konkretisierung der Figurenperspektiven" – the extent of specification
- "Maß an Ausgestaltung der Erzählerperspektive" – the explicity of the narrator
- "Grad an Repräsentativität" – the extent of individuality or collectivity
- "Grad an Zuverlässigkeit oder Glaubwürdigkeit" – the extent of credibility/reliability
- "Grad an Autorität" – the extent of authority (Nünning, 52ff)
The quantity of perspectives gives a first hint to the complexity of the work. Whereas a small number of perspectives does not necessarily assure a less complex structure of the text, a high quantity though will most certainly guarantee a complex structure.
The range of perspectives defines the variation of the perspectives concerning the social, cultural, ethnical, religious and historical background including sex and age of the focalizers/narrators. The breadth of this spectrum conveys more about the paradigmatic structure than the pure quantity of perspectives.
The extent of specification informs about how detailed a character perspective is depicted concerning the level of information, the psychic disposition and the values and norms of the character.
Of great interest is the explicity of the narrator. The main difference in this matter is if the narrator himself is put into concrete terms or only the act of narrating ("self-conscious narrator"). On the other hand a narrator perspective can be very concrete without the narrator being aware of narrating. Quite often the narrator undertakes the task of correlating the subordinate perspectives of the characters and guides the recipient.
The extent of individuality or collectivity describes how representative a perspective is in the context of a greater social group inside the fictional world and to what extent it corresponds to collective ideas, values and norms. Individual perspectives which contrast greatly to the general or collective view indicate a plurality of realities ("Wirklichkeits-modelle").
The extent of reliability or credibility of a narrator/focalizer largely affects how a recipient values the statements, judgements and the fictional facts of this narrator/focalizer. In this subject matter is included the field of "unreliable narration". Still, concerning multi-perspectival narration the reliability of a narrator/focalizer may influence the weight of its perspective. A recipient might be lead to build his opinion on the judgements of the more reliable figures.
The extent of authority measures to what extent the character is authorised and accepted inside the fictional world or by the recipient.
2.3.2 the Syntagmatic Dimension
The syntagmatic dimension is concerned with assignment and correlation of the perspectives which can be contradictory or correspondent. A. and V. Nünning examine the following variety of relations between the different perspectives:
- "hierarchische Relationierung der Perspektiven" – hierarchic relation
- "quantitative Relationierung der Perspektiven" – quantitative relation
- "syntagmatische Relationierung der Perspektiven" – syntagmatic relation
- "temporale Relationierung der Perspektiven" – temporal relation
- "lokale Relationierung der Perspektiven" – local relation
- "informationsmäßige Relationierung der Perspektiven" – relation regarding the status
- "normative Relationierung der Perspektiven" – normative relation
- "inhaltliche Relationierung der Perspektiven" – relation regarding the content (see Nünning, 55-60)
The hierarchic relation
The perspectives may be organised on an equal level or they may be related in a status of superordination and subordination. (When a perspective is arranged on the same level as all the other perspectives than they are equally levelled.) Superordination or subordination is the case when a perspective is arranged on a higher or lower communication level, e.g. in framing. Usually internal focalizers are on a lower level than the superordinate narrator.
The quantitative relation
The quantitative arrangement of the perspectives has to be taken into account when the weight of a perspective is valued. The predominance of a specific perspective emphasizes on this perspective. It receives more attention and might influence the recipient's view and his sympathy. A quantitative balanced arrangement of the perspectives requires more performance from the recipient.
The syntagmatic relation
The syntagmatic relation is concerned with the arrangement of perspectives in the narrative discourse. There are three different ways of multi-perspectival narrating: successive, alternate and simultaneous. When the different perspectives are narrated successively, the first perspective receives special attention (primacy effect), because the recipient is likely to identify with the first perspective. In alternate narrated stories the different perspectives may continually correct and correlate to each other. Here the last perspective might attain more influence because it correlates all former perspectives (recency effect). The difficulties to narrate a story simultaneously are obvious. The only possibility is to divide the page and print all perspectives beside each other. Still, there will be a "first perspective".
The temporal relation
Whereas the syntagmatic aspect considers the perspectives concerning their sequence in the narration, the temporal relation of the perspectives signifies the chronological connection to the events inside the story. There might be perspectives which are arranged chronologically before or after the narrated story. This arrangement is called diachronical multi-perspectival narrating, while perspectives on the same temporal level are narrated synchronically.
Again the primacy and recency effect has to be considered. In the context of temporal relation the recency effect receives that perspective that is narrated latest in the chronological order of the narrated story itself. From the internal perspective of the narration this latest perspective has got more information than any other perspective or at least it is up to date. The primacy effect therefore belongs to that perspective that is narrated earliest in the chronological order of the narrated story.
Sometimes it might be interesting to ascertain the temporal distance between the perspectives in order to see how close related a perspective is to the narrated events.
The local relation
Of similar importance is the local distance or closeness between the different bearers of perspectives and to the locality of the narrated events. When all figures are at the same location then A. and V. Nünning call it mono-local multi-perspectival narrating. When the events and figures are placed at two or more locations the narration is called bi-local or poly-local. The distance of a perspective to the narrated events influences the credibility of the perspective.
The relation regarding the status of information
If some figures of the story are better informed than others, A. and V. Nünning speak of "informationsmäßig diskrepantem multiperspektivischem Erzählen". When the status of information is similar between the perspectives the narration is congruent concerning the status of information. The perspectives of the better informed figures are privileged, in contrast to limited perspectives of figures which are less informed. Again, the recipient might be influenced to prefer the views and judgements of the better informed characters.
The normative relation
With the help of various strategies of "Perspektivensteuerung" the values and norms of a perspective may be privileged or discredited. It is called "normativ nicht-äquivalent multiperspektivisches Erzählen". In this way the perspectives are arranged into a hierarchical moral order. In normative equivalent narrating the perspectives are not put into a hierarchical order concerning their values and norms but their moral weight is balanced.
The relation regarding the content
The perspectives of a story might differ or be congruent regarding its content. According to the degree of agreement or disagreement the narration can be either additional, correlative or contradictory. If the content differs largely then the narrating is called contradictory. In this case it is more difficult for the recipient to synthesize the various perspectives. In additional narrating each perspective adds new information to the general picture, whereas in correlative narrating the different perspectives constantly correct and correlate to each other.
It might have become clear that the paradigmatic and syntagmatic features not only structure the perspectives but also indicate hints about how the recipient shall weigh or value a perspective and its views and judgements. With the help of theses features it might be possible to examine to what extent the story itself controls the reception.
 In "Multiperspektivisches Erzählen", ed. by A. a. V. Nünning, Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 2000. S. 4-38.
 A "focalizer" carries the perspective from whose point of view and level of information a story is narrated in a third-person-narration. Wolf calls it "figuraler diegetischer Perspektiventräger" and translates it as "focalizer". Wolf: 2000, 85.
 "Bei der Rekonstruktion der Figurenperspektiven sind sowohl die sprachlichen Äußerungen der Figuren im Dialog und deren Handlungen als auch alle von der Erzählerinstanz und durch Bewusstseinsdarstellung vergebenen Informationen über die Figuren zu berücksichtigen. Im Hinblick auf die Rekonstruktion der Perspektivenstruktur kommt allen Dialogäußerungen bzw. Repliken, die sich auf andere Figuren beziehen, insofern ein doppelter Informationswert zu, als sie neben der expliziten figuralen Fremdcharakterisierung immer zugleich implizit Aufschluss über die Disposition und Werte derjenigen Figur geben, die eine andere in einer bestimmten Weise charakterisiert." Nünning, 51.
 This usually is the case in focalizer perspectives, which A. and V. Nünning unfortunately do not explore in this context.
 see Nünning, Suhrkamp, Zerweck (ed.): "Unreliable Narration. Studien zur Theorie und Praxis unglaubwürdigen Erzählens in der englischsprachigen Erzählliteratur." Trier: WVT, 1998.
 Nünning, 58. See chapter 2.4: "Control of reception"; or Nünning, 62ff.