Joseph Frank’s Theory of Spatial Narrative

Joseph Frank is the author of the book Spatial Form in Modern Literature, which was written in 1945. The main idea that the author reveals in his work is that modernist literature is spatial. This is due to the fact that the invented, imaginary part replaces the standard narrative and thus violates the normal “flow” of prose. For example, in James Joyce’s book Ulysses, the author presents his narrative line in the format of scattered fragments, which complicates the reading process. Readers are forced to keep pieces of the previous narrative in their heads all the time and refer to what was written at the beginning of the work. In the case of Ulysses, the author focused on writing a work about the Dubliners. Probably this work was aimed at those who know about the daily life of Dubliners and who do not need additional remarks. Frank’s theory draws attention that it would be better if this work were written more extensively. Although Frank’s theory that art and literature are spatial had success, it still had oppositional opinions.

WJT Mitchell is a professor at the University of Chicago who studies iconology and visual arts. In addition, the professor actively studies fine arts and humanities. Using his theory of spatiality, Frank seeks to decipher what the author of a literary work or the artist who created the picture is trying to demonstrate. This does not fit Mitchell’s understanding of what literature or fine art should look like. Spatial thinking is not enough to realize what the author is trying to say.

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There are different positions regarding Frank’s theory of spatiality. Some people do not support this theory and do not consider it something unique. Others, on the contrary, believe that the idea of spatiality is one of the most critical aspects of literature at any time. The most obvious argument opposing Frank’s theory is that this is just a simple metaphor that carries nothing but concreteness. It is wrong to exclude facts and historical components from literature, and a metaphor is part of the truth. Still, it only distracts the reader’s attention from the essential details of the text.

The concept of virtual reality has been widely used in science and culture to denote a specific environment, a particular space-time continuum created with the help of computer graphics. Cipresso et al. state that the concept of VR could be traced in 1960s (2). This “reality” goes beyond the scope of the aesthetic experience itself and concerns any human activity that is somehow connected with computer-network manipulations. Nevertheless, virtual reality is actively being introduced into the sphere of modern artistic and aesthetic culture, and this concept is increasingly being used in aesthetic theory. The spatial theory is most fully revealed in virtual reality. Since it includes simulated not only spatial “realities” but also dreams are also an integral aspect of it. In their dreams, people create a picture of the space, the idea of which lies in the subconscious.

In conclusion, the theory of spatial narrative by Joseph Frank is one of the most relevant and criticized. It is not unambiguous and has its followers and enemies. Anyway, it takes place in modern literature and such a direction as virtual reality. Unlike classical art, virtual art worlds are ideally focused not on the image of life but its free modeling, and they claim to be this life itself. Virtual reality is formed directly in space, which strongly connects it with the theory of Joseph Frank.

Work Cited

Cipresso, Pietro, Giglioli, Irene, Raya, Mariano and Riva, Giuseppe. “The Past, Present, and Future of Virtual and Augmented Reality Research: A Network and Cluster Analysis of the Literature.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 9, no. 2086, 2018, pp. 1-20.

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