In this article, the questions of narrative temporality and narrative subjectivity in Gérard Genette's Narrative Discourse are examined, with special attention to the underlying basis of Genette's conceptual apparatus. The idea of basing concepts in narrative theory on linguistics, more specifically on the grammar of verbs, is a structuralist one, as is Genette's “deductive” method in defining the categories of narration. The relationship between Genette's categories and previous concepts of narrative analysis is discussed briefly; in contrast to these, Genette's concepts are intended to be logically necessary, accurately and exhaustively defined, and purified of any “subjective” or “psychological” connotations. It is here argued that Genette's notion of concept formation and use is in fact based on the model of the exact natural sciences. As an example, his concepts of narrative temporality are analyzed, which he defines in terms of the physical coordinates of the location and extension of the event and of its narration on the continuum of time. Indeed, Genette's approach to the definition of narrative phenomena closely resembles Galileo's method of observing bodies and determining their spatiotemporal coordinates and quantity. Similar to concepts of temporality, questions of experiencing and narrating subject(ivity), that is, “focalizer” and “voice,” are discussed in (quasi-)physical terms of space, time, and quantity. This inevitably leads us to ask whether a conceptual framework for describing narrative temporality and subjectivity that excludes the specificity of human experience, including questions of meaning and interpretation, can be an appropriate and fruitful tool in the study of literature in all its great historical and cultural variety.
Liisa Steinby; Time, Space, and Subjectivity in Gérard Genette's Narrative Discourse. Poetics Today 1 December 2016; 37 (4): 579–603. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-3638081
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