In a recent review in this paper, Edward Said used the word 'narrative' about thirty times. This might have seemed a lot even in the present state of litcritspeak, and even in an essay on, say, narrative. On this occasion, however, he was writing not about literary texts but about the Palestinian troubles: an affecting topic, on which he writes with eloquence and with a generosity of vision which deserves the respect even of those whose loyalties are opposed to his. My concern here is not with this theme, but with the role of 'narrative' within it. The word is used most often, perhaps, in the phrase 'Palestinian narrative', variously meaning or implying 'history', 'story', 'predicament', 'side of the question', 'perspective', 'version of events' and occasionally nothing at all. There is an accompanying vocabulary of story, tale, romance, but 'narrative' is the main word, and it acquires an increasingly bizarre orchestration as the discussion progresses. Arab diplomats are reported, in some improbable distillations of style indirect libre, as using phrases like 'collective Arab narrative' in their conversations with Said at the UN, and David Gilmour, one of the authors under review, is equally improbably described as being frustrated by the 'non-narrative character of Lebanon's problems'. Reports of events since the fall of Beirut are described as 'pre-narrative or, in a sense, anti-narrative'. As to terrorism, its 'indiscriminateness ... its tautological and circular character, is anti-narrative'.
LRB 5 April 1984 | PDF Download