Study Guide

Gérard Genette - Major Arguments

Major Arguments

Throughout my career, I was a borrower and a lender. I drew upon Saussurean linguistics and the Structuralism of Lévi-Strauss, but I also made my share of contributions to the theoretical scene. I was tight with all the biggies—but especially with Tzvetan Todorov and everyone's favorite Structuralist, Roland Barthes—because, you know, he's actually comprehensible... and he talks about cool things like fashion, French cheese, and how much he loves his mother.

As Structualists, we believed that universal systems exist and that texts manifest signs of these systems and are basically participants in this great big world of codes. You would never find us admiring the beauty of words on the page or doing close readings like those hermetic New Critics. We read texts as artifacts and reflections of this great, big, diverse world, not as small units conveying one idea about one poet's admiration for a tweeting bird—no offense, Romantic poets.

This is not the place to recite all of the crazy typologies I created to distinguish story from narrative or mood from tense and voice—I discussed all of that before—but I do want to do one final plug for something that hasn't received due attention: the narrator.

I have had a lifelong fascination with narrators and the idea of who sees the events being told (a.k.a. the focalizer) and who recounts the events being told (the narrative instance). Just do me this one favor: the next time you read a novel, think carefully about how much the narrator knows about the characters he or she is describing. Considering this question may lead you, too, to a rich and lucrative career in Narratology.

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