The “disnarrated” (Gerald Prince) means textual elements that consider (in a negative or hypothetical mode) what did not happen but could have. The scope of the term is inconveniently wide at present, ranging from explicit denials to lengthy passages of imagined or otherwise hypothetical events. This essay seeks to clarify the concept by relating it to the pragmatic and rhetorical functions of negatives in language and literature.
A statement of what could have happened but did not may often be rephrased as what should have happened but did not. Negatives reveal what is expected in a given situation and of a particular person or ethnic group. They thus render social and literary norms visible and subject to resistance, which makes them valuable for feminist and postcolonial criticism. Negatives do not record a neutrally observable reality but must be attributable to a narrative agent with her own set of cultural and individual norms. In Jhumpa Lahiri’s bicultural story “Interpreter of Maladies”, the descriptive focus inhering in (negative) phrases sometimes conflicts with the focalization indicated by contextual cues.
Salman Rushdie frequently evokes the voice of local gossips but renders their narrative hypothetical by using negatives. This may be regarded as one way of standardizing the expectations of a multicultural readership. Both Rushdie and Arundhati Roy invite the reader to make certain kinds of inferences concerning the events only to disappoint them by switching to disnarration at a climactic juncture. In making the reader conscious of the cultural stereotypes guiding her inferencing, negatives and the disnarrated serve ethical and political ends. They direct the reader’s attention to the discursive context of the text, urging her to read metonymically.