Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method – Genette

Genette, Gérard. Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983. Print.

Genette discusses three possible definitions for the term narrative: 1) has narrative “refer to the narrative statement, the oral or written discourse that undertakes to tell of an event or a series of events” 2) has narrative “refer to the succession of events, real of fictitious, that are the subjects of this discourse, and to their several relations of linking, opposition, repitition, etc.” 3) has narrative “refer to an event…that consists of someone recounting something: the act of narrating taken in itself” (25-26). Given these three understandings of narrative, Genette’s focus is on the third and he states, “analysis of narrative discourse will thus be for me, essentially, a study of the relationships between narrative and story, between narrative and narrating, and between story and narrating” (29). In an effort to understand narrative syntax as such, Genette breaks his analysis into five components: order, frequency, duration, voice, and mode. In his discussion of order, Genette analyzes the common anachronistic quality of order in narratives, whereby narrative events are rarely accounted for in a truly linear fashion. For Genette, frequency is the separation between an event and its narration. There are four types of frequency: singular (an event can occur once and be narrated once), iterative (an event can occur [x] times and be narrated once), repetitive (an event can occur once and be narrated [x] times), and multiple (an event can occur [x] times and be narrated [x] times). Duration accounts for discourse time and narrative time in which there are two possible durations: a long discourse time with a shorter narrative time (such as “three months passed) and a short discourse time with a longer narrative time (such as the length of Ulysses but in 24 hours narrative time). Genette also breaks voice – who narrated and from where – into four possibilities: intra-diegetic, extra-diegetic, hetero-diegetic, and homo-diegetic. Intra-diegetic voice happens inside the text while extra-diegetic voice is outside the text. In hetero-diegetic voice the narrator is not a character in the story, while in homo-diegetic voice the narrator is a character in the story.  Mode is related to voice and is dependent on the distance and the perspective of the narrator.

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