Study Guide

Gérard Genette Biography

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Basic Information


Gérard Genette


Proust Booster, The Book Surgeon, The Rogue Structuralist, The Typologist, Theory's Favorite Underdog



Home town


Work & Education


I've preached the good word of Narratology and dismantled French literature for the best and brightest at the Sorbonne and my other alma mater, École Normale Supérieure. Along the way, I was director of the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, which is crazy prestigious, and did lecturing stints at Johns Hopkins and Yale.

Like all good French intellectuals, I accomplish the work of ten people, so I also oversee the journal
Poetics at the Seuil publishing house—which, incidentally, I founded with Hélène Cixous and Tzvetan Todorov (no slouches, those two). Poetics was the "it" journal for all things Structuralist and Post-Structuralist.


Go ahead, guess. Give up? Okay, I went to a fancy-pants lycée in the suburbs of Paris and then made the inevitable move through the sequence of institutions of supreme intellectual training known as the Sorbonne and then the École Normale Supérieure—the Harvard of Paris, but even better. Among my fellow students were Pierre Bourdieu and the formidable Jacques Derrida. We weren't tight then, but he already stood out as a dashing intellectual.


Political views

Full disclosure: I was a dedicated member of the Communist Party and wept upon hearing of the death of that homicidal dictator Joseph Stalin on March 5, 1953. I've been told I was a bit of a pest with all that Communist dogma, harassing people to sign petitions and trying to wrangle people into political meetings.

In short, I was a believer—also known as a Communist militant. What finally turned me off to Stalin? Well, it wasn't his gulags, purges, massacres, the famine he caused, or the 1.5 million people he murdered. It was when those darn Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest.

Never one to be apolitical, I then joined a little organization subtly called
Socialisme ou Barbarie (Socialism or Barbarism), whose basic premise was hating on bureaucracy and the evils of capitalism and supporting workers fighting the good fight.

Religious views

I was a Communist. I didn't give a hoot about organized religion—you know that old Marxist saw: "Religion is the opiate of the masses." (That's a paraphrase, by the way, but it does get the point across.)

Activities & Interests


Graphic novels
New editions
Multi-volume works
Layered narratives
Jane Austen
Typologies—the more intricate, the better
A good parody


Bad moods
Poor storytellers
Bad flashbacks
Anything too obvious
Movie characters who talk to the camera
Being interrupted
Straightforward narratives (yawn)
Boring book covers
People who are afraid to write in the margins of books
Anyone who won't question the universe


Classifying stuff
Thinking about prefixes like para-, trans, inter-, meta-, and the like
Ignoring the gap between poetry and prose
Talking narratology with Roland Barthes
Taking a book down to the metal
Taking miming classes
Going to the theater—love Bertolt Brecht
Laying my eyes on a good panorama
Reading Plato's The Republic, and then starting all over again
Getting absorbed in a good Hemingway novel


The Anti-Humanists
Truth Seekers
The All-Explainers
Code Diggers
The Mood Dudes

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