Study Guide

Gérard Genette Introduction

Gérard Genette Introduction

Never heard of Gérard Genette? You're not alone. He was well known among the Frenchies, but he never quite made his name in the English-speaking world.

However, if you want to be a theory insider (and who the heck doesn't?), getting to know this "other" French literary scholar is a must. So, here's the 411: Genette was a member of the Structuralist crew that included such bright lights as Roland Barthes, who helped make Structuralism—traditionally associated with anthropology and linguistics—meaningful for the study of literature and narratives. Call it Structuralism for English Majors.

Genette's contribution to the critical stew was the idea of Narratology. Now, this Narratology business is complex stuff, and mapping it out is like drafting the Allies' diagram to invade the beaches of Normandy. But never fear: we're here for you.

We're just going to give you a little trailer here—the devilish details will follow. Genette loved breaking things down into categories (a.k.a. typologies). His big three typologies are story, narrative, and narration. Story is, well, the events and actions revealed to us by a narrator. When that story is all said and done—literally—we call it a narrative (so it's the text itself, as a whole). Narration is the way this story is told, including every method and mechanism that goes into producing that narrative.

Look, Genette didn't coin the word "Narratology," but he was the agent of its rise to fame and glory (among theory types, at least). Like a good Structuralist—and check out Claude Lévi-Strauss if you want the down and dirty on this stuff—Genette saw the structures in narratives as universal.

Now, one thing that really makes Genette stand out from his Structuralist cohort is his devotion to studying literature. Genette spent his career trying to understand how literary writing works, what its effects were, and how it differed from other forms of writing. One of his hands down faves, for example, was Marcel Proust's seven-volume Remembrance of Things Past. Genette may picked it apart beyond recognition, but the love was there—even if it is the kind of love we imagine coroners have for conducting autopsies.

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