This essay proposes that understanding a text in narrative terms is based on the reverse causality of what it calls the narrative unconscious. The argument revisits literary and critical treatments of retrospection as a phenomenon of narrative temporality. It considers retrospection from a thematic angle, from the cognitive perspective of mind time, and from a reader-response motivation to fill gaps in the story, arriving at a necessity to postulate “invisible” reverse causality. The backward logic of the narrative unconscious, defined here as consolidation, works hand in hand with the conscious, forward-oriented operation of narrative thinking that appears to us as cumulative and anticipatory. In other words, narrative thinking or narrative processing oscillates between the forward direction of anticipation and backward direction of consolidation. Although we do not have access to the anti-intuitive workings of reverse causality, we can thematize this oscillation on a performative level as the interplay between the narrator's and narratee's perspectives, which are looked at collectively as the two foci of narrative consciousness. Finally, and while leaving the important question of practical application still open, the article considers the relevance of this supposition to the literary field of narratology and suggests that the concept of the narrative unconscious is a productive way to explain the aesthetic narrative effects of “oscillatory” and affective nature.

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