Stories are as numerous and, if they’re good, as elusive as the atoms of our observable universe—estimated at a minimum of 10 to the power of 78. ‘Even the smallest thing,’ said the novelist Gustave Flaubert, ‘has in it something which is unknown.’ We listen to, read and re-read stories, but the best retain something of their own stubborn mystery and their own secret life. At the same time, we feel as we read that entire worlds ‘hum’, ‘vibrate’ or ‘live’ within stories. They can be animate, uncanny, dynamic, and even ‘magical.’
But what happens when a writer brings together—in an explicit or even radical way—multiple worlds: i.e. worlds-within-worlds or co-existent worlds? Why might a writer do so? What is the nature of the relationship between the multiple worlds of a single story or single novel? What meaning does it or can it evoke? Is there a tradition of ‘multiple world’ narratives in literature? If so, which artistic drives and questions sustain it? How does any such tradition express itself in contemporary fiction? How do multiple-world narratives in literature relate to 20th- and 21st-century thought in disciplines beyond literature?
In this session, Alison MacLeod will explore these questions, both as a professor of literature and as a writer who has written multiple-world narratives herself.