is a French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...
Literary theory in a strict sense is the systematic study of the nature of literature and of the methods for analyzing literature. However, literary scholarship since the 19th century often includes—in addition to, or even instead of literary theory in the strict sense—considerations of...
, associated in particular with the structuralist
Structuralism originated in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague and Moscow schools of linguistics. Just as structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance in linguistics, structuralism...
movement and such figures as Roland Barthes
Roland Gérard Barthes was a French literary theorist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician. Barthes' ideas explored a diverse range of fields and he influenced the development of schools of theory including structuralism, semiotics, existentialism, social theory, Marxism, anthropology and...
and Claude Lévi-Strauss
Claude Lévi-Strauss was a French anthropologist and ethnologist, and has been called, along with James George Frazer, the "father of modern anthropology"....
, from whom he adapted the concept of bricolage
Bricolage is a term used in several disciplines, among them the visual arts, to refer to the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available, or a work created by such a process...
Genette was born in Paris, studying at the Lycée Lakanal
Lycée Lakanal is a secondary public school in Sceaux, France. It was named after Joseph Lakanal, a French politician, and an original member of the Institut de France. The school also offers a middle school and highly ranked "classes préparatoires" undergraduate training...
and the École Normale Supérieure
The École normale supérieure is one of the most prestigious French grandes écoles...
After leaving the French Communist Party
The French Communist Party is a political party in France which advocates the principles of communism.Although its electoral support has declined in recent decades, the PCF retains a large membership, behind only that of the Union for a Popular Movement , and considerable influence in French...
, Genette was a member of Socialisme ou Barbarie
Socialisme ou Barbarie was a French-based radical libertarian socialist group of the post-World War II period . It existed from 1948 until 1965...
He received his professorship in French literature at the Sorbonne
The University of Paris was a university located in Paris, France and one of the earliest to be established in Europe. It was founded in the mid 12th century, and officially recognized as a university probably between 1160 and 1250...
In 1970 he and Tzvetan Todorov
Tzvetan Todorov is a Franco-Bulgarian philosopher. He has lived in France since 1963 with his wife Nancy Huston and their two children, writing books and essays about literary theory, thought history and culture theory....
founded the journal Poétique
and he edited a series of the same name for Éditions du Seuil
Éditions du Seuil is a French publishing house created in 1935, currently owned by La Martinière Groupe. It owes its name to this goal "The seuil is the whole excitement of parting and arriving...
Among other positions, Genette was research director at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales
The École des hautes études en sciences sociales is a leading French institution for research and higher education, a Grand Établissement. Its mission is research and research training in the social sciences, including the relationship these latter maintain with the natural and life sciences...
and a visiting professor at Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...
Genette is largely responsible for the reintroduction of a rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...
al vocabulary into literary criticism, for example such terms as trope and metonymy
Metonymy is a figure of speech used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept...
. Additionally his work on narrative, best known in English through the selection Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method
, has been of importance. His major work is the multi-part Figures
series, of which Narrative Discourse
is a section.
His international influence is not as great as that of some others identified with structuralism, such as Roland Barthes and Claude Lévi-Strauss; his work is more often included in selections or discussed in secondary works than studied in its own right. Terms and techniques originating in his vocabulary and systems have, however, become widespread, such as the term paratext
Paratext is a concept in literary interpretation. The main text of published authors is often surrounded by other material supplied by editors, printers, and publishers, which is known as the paratext. These added elements form a frame for the main text, and can change the reception of a text or...
for prefaces, introductions, illustrations or other material accompanying the text, or hypotext for the sources of the text.
Important concepts in Genette's narratology
This outline of Genette's narratology
Narratology denotes both the theory and the study of narrative and narrative structure and the ways that these affect our perception. While in principle the word may refer to any systematic study of narrative, in practice its usage is rather more restricted. It is an anglicisation of French...
is derived from Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method
. This book forms part of his multi-volume work Figures I-III
. The examples used in it are mainly drawn from Proust's epic In Search of Lost Time
In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past is a novel in seven volumes by Marcel Proust. His most prominent work, it is popularly known for its considerable length and the notion of involuntary memory, the most famous example being the "episode of the madeleine." The novel is widely...
. One criticism which had been used against previous forms of narratology was that they could deal only with simple stories, such as Vladimir Propp
Vladimir Yakovlevich Propp was a Russian and Soviet formalist scholar who analyzed the basic plot components of Russian folk tales to identify their simplest irreducible narrative elements.- Biography :...
's work in Morphology of the Folk Tale
. If narratology could cope with Proust, this could no longer be said.
Below are the five main concepts used by Genette in Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method
. They are primarily used to look at the syntax of narratives, rather than to perform an interpretation of them.
Say a story is narrated as follows: the clues of a murder are discovered by a detective (event A); the circumstances of the murder are finally revealed (event B); and lastly the murderer is caught (event C).
Add corresponding numbers to the lettered events that represent their order chronologically: 1, 2, and 3.
If these events were described chronologically, they would run B1, A2, C3.
Arranged in the text, however, they run A2 (discovery), B1 (flashback), C3 (resolution).
This accounts for the 'obvious' effects the reader will recognise, such as flashback. It also deals with the structure of narratives on a more systematic basis, accounting for flash-forward, simultaneity, as well as possible, if rarely used effects. These disarrangements on the level of order are termed 'anachrony'.
The separation between an event and its narration allows several possibilities.
- An event can occur once and be narrated once (singular).
- 'Today I went to the shop.'
- An event can occur n times and be narrated once (iterative).
- 'I used to go to the shop.'
- An event can occur once and be narrated n times (repetitive).
- 'Today I went to the shop' + 'Today he went to the shop' etc.
- An event can occur n times and be narrated n times (multiple).
- 'I used to go to the shop' + 'He used to go to the shop' + 'I went to the shop yesterday' etc.
The separation between an event and its narration means that there is discourse time and narrative time. These are the two main elements of duration.
- "Five years passed", has a lengthy narrative time, five years, but a short discourse time (it only took a second to read).
- James Joyce's novel Ulysses has a relatively short narrative time, twenty-four hours. Not many people, however, could read Ulysses in twenty-four hours. Thus it is safe to say it has a lengthy discourse time.
Voice is concerned with who narrates, and from where. This can be split four ways.
- Where the narration is from
- Intra-diegetic: inside the text. e.g. Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White
- Extra-diegetic: outside the text. e.g. Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles
- Is the narrator a character in the story?
- Hetero-diegetic: the narrator is not a character in the story. e.g. Homer's The Odyssey
- Homo-diegetic: the narrator is a character in the story. e.g. Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights
Genette said narrative mood is dependent on the 'distance' and 'perspective' of the narrator, and like music, narrative mood has predominant patterns. It is related to voice.
Distance of the narrator changes with narrated speech, transposed speech and reported speech.
Perspective of the narrator is called focalization
Focalization is a term coined by the French narrative theorist Gerard Genette. It refers to the perspective through which a narrative is presented. For example, a narrative where all information presented reflects the subjective perception of that information by a certain character is said to be...
. Narratives can be non-focalized, internally focalized or externally focalized.
- Figures I-III, 1967-70. (selections of Figures III translated and published as Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, 1980)
- Mimologiques: voyage en Cratylie, 1976. (translated as Mimologics, 1995)
- Introduction à l'architexte, 1979.
- Palimpsestes: La littérature au second degré, 1982.
- Nouveau discours du récit, 1983.
- Seuils, 1987. (translated as Paratexts. Thresholds of interpretation, 1997)
- Fiction et diction, 1991.
- L'Œuvre de l'art, 1: Immanence et transcendence, 1994.
- L'Œuvre de l'art, 2: La relation esthétique, 1997.
- Figures IV, 1999.
- Figures V, 2002.
- Métalepse: De la figure à la fiction, 2004.
- Bardadrac, 2006.