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Carla Namwali Serpell
University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, CA 94704-5940)
Seven Modes of Uncertainty

My project revisits William Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity in order to explore how uncertainty emerges out of three narrative structures: multiplicity, repetition, and mutual exclusion. Uncertain narratives, I argue, are structurally suggestive--they afford ways of reading that I call experiential modes. I transform Empson's work by infusing it with time. First, my analysis moves through uncertainty to examine how its effects accrete and change over the course of reading. Second, I apply other models of reading to my examples--rereading, intertextual reading, and metareading--to see how uncertainty is refracted through the different rhythms of these "layered" reading practices. Finally, I accord attention both to contemporary novels' belated use of modernist techniques of uncertainty and to current technologies that interrogate the physical form of the book.

Project fields:
Literature, General

Summer Stipends

Research Programs

$6,000 (approved)
$6,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
5/1/2010 – 9/30/2010