Dear listers,Could anyone here help me get in touch with the author (James Sellars) or give any information concerning the paper he presented at the following conference:
http://www.secol.org/auconference/program/s5t1120.htmlI would also like to hear your comments on the following quote from Sellars' paper:
My overall claim is that Genette's model needs to be adjusted so that it does not require a logical ordering of all story events, but only of a small number of core story events. Events that occur outside of the essential core need only be understood in (temporal) relation to the core, not necessarily in relation to each other.
My own feeling is that written fiction can indeed "roam" much more freely in time and space, especially in expository passages, that is, passages where the action is not set in any specific temporal-spatial (scenic) frame. Also, it seems to me that chronological/logical order is more important for those events that take place in the fictive present than for the events represented in retrospective or prospective passages. It is often quite difficult to arrange events evoked in flashbacks in various parts of the narrative in a chronological sequence, especially in novels with multiple story lines. On the other hand, it is usually less difficult to keep track of what is going on in the narrative present, since it unfolds more or less chronologically. Sellars formulation concerning "events that need only be understood in (temporal) relation to the core, but not necessarily in relation to each other" is IMHO a quite good description of the relation between main narrative and anachronies in many novels.
I would also like to mention list member I.S. Talib's fine article on "Nostromo" ("Conrad's Nostromo and the Reader's Understanding of Anachronic Narratives") where he puts forward the hypothesis that the fictive present (rather than the underlying fabula/story "per se") is the most important point of comparison or anchoring point for the reader in the processing of anachronic narratives. Accordingly, what makes "Nostromo" a somewhat difficult read is the fact that the narrator does not establish such a fictive present until quite late in the narrative:
"The narrative "now" is the Archimedean platform from which the past and future could be moved about in the reader's mind during textual response. Even if the chronology continues to move backwards or forwards after the narrative "now" has been found, these movements could be seen in terms of clear-cut analepses or prolepses from the "now", instead of unmotivated movements back and forth in time. I am convinced that this inability to find the narrative "now" during reading performance lies behind many readers' difficulties with the chronology of Nostromo, where, as Said has observed, "the present seems most reluctant to hold center stage".
If you're interested in that line of criticism of Genette's model you might also be interested in this paper, which puts forward a similar proposal (the one in the quote from Sellars' paper):
Adams, Jon-K. "Order and Narrative." In Recent Trends in Narratological Research: Papers form the Narratology Round Table ESSE-4, September 1997, Debrecen, Hungary, and Other Contributions. Ed. John Pier. (GRAAT 21). Tours: Publications des Groupes de Recherches Anglo-Américaines de l'Université François Rabelais de Tours, 1999. 111-28.
Jose Angel Garcia Landa
Dear Jose Angel,
Thanks for the response. I have Adams' article, which I think is quite interesting and thought-provoking. Adams has also pursued this line of thought in " Narrative theory and the executable Text" (Journal of Literary Semantics. Volume 29, Issue 3). Adams does not refer to the differences between film and written fiction, though-that's why I thought it would be interesting to hear what film narratologists have to say on the matter.
Although Genette himself describes his method as involving a comparison between two different orders (story order versus discourse order), I would not consider this way of looking at anachronic narratives as a criticism of Genette's method-after all, the notion of a chronological "primary narrative" is a vital part of Genette's theory of narrative order as well. In fact, his categories of anachronies (external/internal, heterodiegetic/homodiegetic) more or less depend on a well-defined "narrative present", from which the anachronic segments can deviate in various ways. If there is no clear primary narrative, or if the narrative goes "backwards", it might be quite hard to decide whether a specific chunk of discourse should be regarded as a chronological deviation (deviation from what?).
As for the issue of absolute chronology, it might be that most readers do not consciously register that the analeptic or proleptic segments are "achronous" (in the sense that they cannot be arranged in a clear chronological sequence), as long as the background information they provide can be integrated into the ongoing action.
Another problem with regards to the analysis of narrative order is that "event in the fabula" and "narrated event" are still quite nebulous concepts in narrative theory-as you yourself have shown in your fine (Spanish) introduction to narrative theory. I have seen some quite odd applications of Genettian theory, where every element in the text that could conceivably be considered as an "evocation" of an earlier or later event is included in the analysis, with the result that even (in my eyes at least!) quite straightforwardly narrated passages are described as displaying complex anachronic movements between various temporal positions.
Best, Eva ____________________
Well, Genette himself provides the model for "microscopic" analyses of temporal complexity in Narrative Discourse, just before he embarks on the "macro" analysis of prolepses, analepses, etc... and then he finishes the chapter on anachronies with a reference to "achrony", when temporal relationships become too vague or complex to track down. Still, perhaps we analysts are tempted by the most extreme cases (Proust, Memento, etc.) while most narrative is comparatively straightforward in this respect; thence the temporal disconnection of anachronies Adams alludes to. Both in films and in novels the notion you allude to, an "ongoing present" which serves as a basis for eventual anachronies, is crucial, since it provides for immersion, an essential ingredient in narrative, especially in popular narrative. Thanks for the answer!
Eva Broman escribió:
> Hi again,
> Thanks for the personal reply! I had hoped that my query would generate some onlist discussion among the narratology mavens, especially since the fabula/sjuzhet dichotomy has been so influential *and* contested. However, it seems that nobody except you took the bait!;-)
> I have to admit that I find Genette's micro-analyses a bit problematic...I have the feeling that he focuses too much on relations between "temporal positions" rather than relations between events (characters' physical, mental etc. actions), which I think is the most important element of temporal analysis at the micro-narrative level.
> To me it seems as Genettes efforts to "date stamp" the text fragments he deals with and arrange them in elaborate arithmetic formulas doesn't really convey the reader's experience of temporality in these sample texts. Take this passage, for example, where Genette has marked the "narrative sections", which each belong to a specific temporal position in the "histoire":
> D) Swann interested Bloch greatly by telling him that the Prince de Guermantes was a Dreyfusard. "We must ask him to sign our appeal for Piquart; a name like his would have a tremendous effect". But Swann, blending with his ardent conviction as an Israelite the diplomatic moderation of a man of the world, (E) whose habits he had too thoroughly acquired (F) to be able to shed them at this late hour, refused to allow Bloch to send the Prince a circular to sign, even on his own initiative.
> In my reading experience, the marked sentences would be the ones I'd focus on when trying to assess the temporal order between the story events narrated in this passage; Genette's narrative sections E and F contain background information, which play a minor role in my understanding of "what is happening" in this particular passage. And yet Genette includes them in his scheme of the temporal relations between the events in the story and their presentation in the narrative, which results in (in my humble opinion, at least!) an overly complex representation. Furthermore, in Genettes scheme you get the impression that the events described in section D and F belong to the same chronological level (level 6, "the Swann-Bloch luncheon"). Such a notation misses that there is a chronological passing of time within that level. If you look at the segment in which this extract belongs, you see that all the events which are included in the "Swann-Bloch luncheon" section follow each other in diegetic time. At " F6" Swann does not allow Bloch to send the circular, then he repeats himself, then he refuses to sign it himself. At "N6" we find a summary account of the result of the action at F6. Genette's method of analysis suggests that "D6", "F6" and "N6", while progressing in presentational order, do not progress in chronological order. Although his method ostensibly deals with temporal sequencing on the narrative micro-level, it cannot account for "iconic sequence", which I would say is one of the most important features of narrative temporality at this level of analysis. Of course, it might be that Genette thought this type of (chronological) temporal sequencing so mundane and self-evident that he refrained from dealing with it, concentrating on miniscule anachronic movements instead!
> It might also be that Genette never intended these particular sample analyses from the 70's to be used a general model 30 years later-the problem is that many budding narratologists (e.g. PhD students!) regard them as the gospel truth and apply them mechanically on their chosen texts, which sometimes results in some rather bizarre descriptions of temporal structure. Anyway, I find Genette's examples and analyses of macro-structural anachronies more convincing and useful, and quite close to the work of Lämmert and other theorists of narrative time.
Well, actually when one thinks of Genette's account of temporal structure one thinks of the "macro" analyses of time instead of the micro ones you mention, but I think both are useful and illuminating---although of course one may disagree (actually one disagrees at almost every step!) with the actual analyses carried out and even with the conceptual apparatus, which struck people as complex but in fact deals in a simplified way with the complexities involved in narrative. That is, I like both kinds of analysis, and the way they allow us to connect on the micro side with grammatical analyses of time at sentence level, anaphora, coherence, and the traditional "linguistic" approach to time; and on the macro side with large categories of textual organization such as narration and focalization.
I'll just focus on one of the cases you mention, to show that I also find them problematic, and how they should be even more complex. As to your objection that this does not account for the reader's experience of temporality... well, there is a problem with the notion of experience, because in a narrow sense experience is identified with the conscious, attentional aspects of consciousness. But what makes for the reader's experience, in a wider sense, is the whole, both what is consciously attended to, and what has been interiorized or "grammaticalized" and thus works unconsciously. I think that must be accounted for, too, although of course it is a different plane of analysis. For instance, in the passage you quote, take just the first sentence: "Swann interested Bloch greatly by telling him that the Prince de Guermantes was a Dreyfusard". We have a whole narrative sequence there, part of it by implication: 1. the Dreyfus case (a whole story in its own right). 2. The Prince de Guermantes becoming a Dreyfusard, a choice or significant response by one of the characters. 3. Swann's learning of it. 3. Swann's telling Bloch. 4. Bloch's reaction. In context, there is also the story of Swann's relationship to the Prince, and to Bloch, especially in the light of Swann's telling Bloch not to send the manifesto to Guermantes. So each micro event acquires its full sense in the context of larger events---including the Jewish diaspora in the larger historical background. And then, in the larger temporal frame, one must go beyond this particular episode in the Recherche to the larger frame, where the characters' actions and choices are seen in perspective from the authorial viewpoint. And this authorial viewpoint is itself situated in history—which is why Proust can write with a measure of hindsight and panoramic omniscience on the Dreyfus case. Of course this authorial dimension of temporality is another of the missing or faulty pieces in Genette's analysis, given that his model leads us to disregard Proust (even as an implied author) and concentrate at most on "Marcel" the narrator, as the most encompassing frame of narrative analysis, temporal or otherwise.
I suppose everyone must build their own model of temporal and structural categories for narrative analysis, depending on the needs, interests and priorities of their analysis. But the most comprehensive models, which find a place for the simpler ones, must necessarily be complex, and sometimes unwieldly, a way of "killing flies with cannon", as we say here in Spain!
Thanks again for your thoughtful response! I agree with your thoughts on the particular passage, which I think go far beyond the standard conception of narrative/sjuzhet order as a "distortion" of a pre-existing temporal sequence of events, which is Genette's main concern at this point. As I wrote, my comments were more focused on the reader's impression of temporal progression in the particular passage. It seems to me that the subordinate clause which Genette in his scheme indexes as containing two narrative sections/"events", does not really affect our sense of temporal progression/ordering in this particular episode-they function more as an explanatory background to the distinct event that follows (the fact that Swann refused to allow Bloch to send the circular). Genette's micro-structural analysis of narrative order doesn't really account for the alternation between more or less static background information and dynamic foreground in narrative discourse, which I think is vital for the study of narrative progression.
> But Swann,
> blending with his ardent conviction as an Israelite the diplomatic
> moderation of a man of the world, (E) whose habits he had too
> thoroughly acquired (F) to be able to shed them at this late hour,
Of course, I'm quite influenced by linguistic theories of foreground and background in narrative, such as those proposed by Reinhart, Dry and Fleischman. My personal reading experience is that in most narratives there is a "skeleton" of narrative clauses/dialogue sections which propel the action forward in the narrative now, and which we use as a kind of scaffolding to understand "where we are" in the evolving story. Other types of passages (thought representation/memory monologues, description, iterative sections etc.) do not convey the sense of time passing in the same way. Of course, in many novels the actional skeleton is not very important at all, while the inner fabula takes center stage (memories of things that happened in the narrative "past", projections of possible future events etc.). This multilayered nature of narrative discourse is not really accounted for in Genette's micro-analyses, although it is quite apparent in his description of Proustian "omnitemporality".
If you have the time, I'll give you an example of the kind of meticulous analysis of narrative time that I personally find somewhat misleading (the section concerning time is quite far down in the text):
The question whether this type of analysis should be considered adequate or not obviously depends on our definition of "event" and "fabula". However, if event should primarely be considered as something someone does (thinks, says) in the fictional world, and fabula as a (reconstructed) coherent series of such events/episodes, I think FitzSimmons analysis is too wide-ranging. For example, if a person in the fictional now mentions a historical event in conversation or if someone sings a song that might be temporally indexed, should these mentioned "events" be included in a description of the "action" or "story" that the narrative conveys or represents?
FitzSimmons does include such instances as "events" in his paraphrase...I wouldn't deny that there is a complex layering of events and time schemes in Faulkner's fiction, but somehow I feel that this type of analysis makes it unnecessarily complex!
I don't want to take up too much of your time, so I'll stop here!
Yeah, I agree with your view that there are lots of temporal structures and distortions but some are more relevant than others to account for the reader's experience---and also to characterize the author's style. I suppose part of the issue is the difference between the temporal structures that are "already" there as part of the characters' world (or as part of background stories, songs, etc.) and those that are the immediate concern (attentional one might say) of the narrative, and its own work as an exercise in temporal structuring. Although some authors are more attentive than others to the "received" time of objects, received stories, myths, and so on, it doesn't make sense to collapse all of those events of many different kinds at the same level, as events in a fabula. One could say that the universe is a big story which encompasses everything all right, and everything's a chapter of that sequence of events--- but then the differences between different frames must be attended to, and the cogs and wheels of narrative, so to speak, are also part of the story---a watch is not the same thing as the pieces which make it up, all in a row. So I think we agree on the way to deal with these issues in narrative analysis. Glad about this exchange, Eva, we'll be around I guess; greetings from Zaragoza, Spain.
El anclaje narrativo
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