Study Guide

Gérard Genette Quotes

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A second meaning […] current among analysts and theoreticians of narrative content, has narrative refer to the succession of events, real or fictitious, that are the subjects of discourse, and to their several relations of linking opposition, repetition, etc. "Analysis of narrative" in this sense means the study of the totality of actions and situations taken in themselves […] through which knowledge of that totality comes to us[...] [From Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method]

I know what you're thinking: that I'm purposely trying to sound smart. That's not true. I just am smart—but that doesn't mean I can't clarify myself. My whole reason for living is to identify basic structures for analyzing narratives. You may not believe me, but I'm actually trying to simplify things.

To me, considering the "discourse" of a narrative is to consider not just the actual story chronology versus the description of events, but also to consider the narrator's approach to the story (by the way, I call the narrator "the enunciating subject," so bear that in mind), the mood and voice. In short, analyzing narrative isn't like writing a 9th-grade book report; it's a massive surgical strike against the text, and it demands razor-like critical precision. When books see me, they run the other way.

Briefly, an icon can be denned as any sign that resembles its reference in some way. The theory that writing originated in pictures has always had a strong appeal. [From Mimologics]

This one is child's play compared to a lot of the humdingers I've put out there. Some languages (Chinese is one example) have a few characters that actually resemble the objects they represent—that's some serious connection between the sign and its referent (what it refers to). Most words don't look anything like the object or concept they represent.

This distance between word and object has always been fascinating to us Structuralists (and it's a big part of Post-Structuralist theory, too); that's why we love any and all cave paintings, whose pictures served as a kind of language.

The second type of [intertextuality] is the generally less explicit and more distant relationship that binds the text properly speaking, taken within the totality of the literary work, to what can be called its paratext: a title, subtitle, intertitles; prefaces, postfaces, notices, forewords, etc.; marginal, infrapaginal, terminal notes; epigraphs; illustrations; blurbs, book covers, dust jackets, and many other kinds of secondary signals[...] [From Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree]

Breathe into a bag and then return to this one. When I say "I critique books," I mean that I critique everything from the acknowledgements to the blurbs on the back, because I don't see a text as simply the chapters that tell the story.

As a prefix, "para-" means "further than," so when I talk about paratexts (my favorite subject after erotic French pulp novels), I am referring to everything in addition to and beyond the story—in other words, all of those things I list above. There's no limit to what all this "extra stuff" can tell you.

Now, don't get me started on author photos, but I will tell you some of my favorites are of Jacques Derrida, debonair fellow that he is. That hair!

For us, accordingly, the paratext is what enables a text to become a book and to be offered as such to its readers and, more generally, to the public. More than a boundary or a sealed border, the paratext is, rather, a threshold[...] [From Paratexts—Thresholds of Interpretation]

Here, I'm taking my ideas about paratext to the next level, arguing that paratext is what transforms a text into the book you hold in your hands. The book is what is presented to the public once it has gone through the various stages of publication, after it's given a proper cover, an index, a table of contents, and so forth.

I like to think of all of this supplementary material as a "threshold"—something you cross over or through to get to the text (or meat of the story) itself. Once you pass the "title, subtitle, intertitles; prefaces, postfaces, notices, forewords, etc.," as I have said, you have entered a new world.

Like description, in the traditional novel the iterative narrative is at the service of the narrative "as such," which is the singulative narrative […] The first main sections of the Recherché […] can without exaggeration be considered essentially iterative. Other than some singulative scenes (which are, for that matter, dramatically important, like Swann's visit […] the text of Combray narrates, in the French imperfect tense for repeated action, not what happened but what used to happen at Combray, regularly, ritualism every day, or every Sunday, or every Saturday, etc. [From Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method]

Recall, if you will, that a singulative narrative is a story that has been told only once; an iterative narrative is one that has been told many times—often from different narrators. You may not have read Proust's Remembrance of Things Past before, but I'm here to tell you that that narrative is all over the freaking map. Above all, memories get that plot all mucked up, as do actions that are recalled over and over. Some events are described once, but most events have affected the characters to such a degree that they just can't drop it.

Like any good complex French author, Proust uses one verb tense to describe an event that happened once, and another—the French imperfect tense—to narrate events that were recurrent or parts of patterns and traditions. (Like going to prom—something that happened once—versus going to World Civ class—something that happened all the time.)

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