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Master Narrative


Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405183123.2011.x


Master narrative, metanarrative, metadis-course, and grand narrative, as expounded by the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard (1924–98), are broadly synonymous terms which refer to totalizing social theories or philosophies of history which, appealing to notions of transcendental and universal truth, purport to offer a comprehensive account of knowledge and experience. “Meta” means beyond or about, and therefore here refers to all-encompassing narratives which explain other, smaller narratives. Lyotard's account of metanarratives and their demise is a founding element of postmodernism. (Within narratology, “metanarrative” is also used in a distinct sense, as coined by the literary theorist Gérard Genette, to refer to stories within stories.) Lyotard developed his critique of metanarratives in The Postmodern Condition ( 1984 [1979] ; the English translation includes an additional appendix entitled “Answering the question: What is postmodernism?”). Although this short book, commissioned by the Council of Universities of Quebec, is concerned specifically with late twentieth-century scientific knowledge, its reflections on the different forms that knowledge takes, how it is legitimated and shared, and how these have changed since World War II have proved hugely influential in a range of fields, and the text is considered a founding work of the postmodernist movement. The Postmodern ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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