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Lecture 3
Grard Genettes Theory of Narrative Discourse (1)
According to Genette (Narrative Discourse, 1980), many of the difficulties of narratology
come from the very ambiguity of the term rcit/narrative for which he identifies three distinct
1 the most evident and central in common usage the narrative statement, the oral or written
discourse that undertakes to tell of an event or series of events (1980: 25),
2 the one preferred by analysts and theorists of narrative content the succession of events,
real or fictitious, that are the subjects of this discourse, and their several relations of
linking, opposition, repetition, etc. (25),
3 the oldest the event that consists of someone recounting something: the act of narrating
taken in itself (26).
Out of these three meanings, the most widespread, i.e. narrative discourse/narrative text, will
be focused upon and studied, constantly taking into consideration the relationships between
the discourse and the events that it recounts (2nd meaning) and the same discourse and the act
that produces it, actually or fictively (3rd meaning). To avoid confusion, Genette proposes,
therefore, a new terminology:
Story (French. Histoire) for the signified or narrative content;
Narrative (French. Rcit) for the signifier/ statement/ discourse/ narrative text itself;
Narrating (French. Narration) for the producing narrative action and, by extension,
the whole of the real or fictional situation in which that action takes place.
Naturally, only the level of narrative discourse is directly available to textual analysis: our
knowledge of the two (the events and the action of writing) must be indirect, unavoidably
mediated by the narrative discourse, inasmuch as the events are the very subject of that
discourse and the activity of writing leaves in it traces, signs or indices that we can pick up
and interpret traces such as the presence of a first-person pronoun to mark the oneness of
character and narrator, or a verb in the past tense to indicate that the recounted action occurred
prior to the narrating action, not to mention more direct and more explicit indications. Story
and narrating thus exists [] only by means of the intermediary of the narrative (28-9).
That does not mean that the relationship of the narrative discourse with the story and the
narrating is less important: As narrative, it lives by its relationship to the story that it recounts; as
discourse, it lives by its relationship to the narrating that utters it (29).
The analysis of narrative discourse thus presupposes the study of the relationships
narrative and story;
narrative and narrating;
story and narrating (to the extent to which this relationship is inscribed in the
narrative discourse).
Tense and Mood operate on the level of connection between Story and Narrative; Voice
designates the relations between both Narrating and Narrative, on the one hand, and
Narrating and Story, on the other. Thus described, the narrative levels and the categories that
should be taken into account for their analysis could be graphically represented as follows:

Sto Narr
ry atin
Voice ve
Categories of Genettes three-layered model:
Tense temporal relations between narrative and story;
Mood modalities (forms and degrees) of narrative representation;
Voice the way in which the narrating itself (i.e., the narrative situation or its instance
and its two protagonists, the narrator and the audience, real or implied) is implicated in
the narrative.
1.1. Tense: Order
connections between the temporal order of succession of the events in the story and
the pseudo-temporal order of their arrangement in the narrative deviations from
chronology = ANACHRONIES:
prolepsis = any narrative manoeuvre that consists of narrating or evoking in
advance an event that will take place later (1980: 40);
analepsis = any evocation after the fact of an event that took place earlier
than the point in the story where we are at any given moment (1980: 40).
Categorization of analepses (applicable to prolepses as well):
external analepsis (analepsis whose extent remains external to the extent of the first
narrative) (1980: 49);
internal analepsis;
mixed analepsis (whose reach goes back to a point earlier and whose extent arrives
at a point later than the beginning of the first narrative) (1980: 49).
The external and internal analepses function for purposes of narrative analysis in totally
different ways, at least on one point that seems () essential. External analepses, by the very
fact that they are external, never at any moment risk interfering with the first narrative, for
their only function is to fill out the first narrative by enlightening the reader on one or another
antecedent. [] The case is otherwise with internal analepses: since their temporal field is
contained within the temporal field of the first narrative, they present an obvious risk of
redundancy or collision (49-50).
heterodiegetic analepsis (analepsis dealing with a story line (and thus with a
diegetic content) different from the content (or contents) of the first narrative (1980:
homodiegetic analepsis that deals with the same line of action as the first narrative.
1.2. Tense: Duration
Genette acknowledges, from the very beginning, the difficulty of comparing the
duration of a narrative to that of the story it tells, which springs out of the fact that no one can
really measure the duration of a narrative. It could be associated with the time of reading, but it

varies, in its turn, according to particular circumstances. There is no reference point or zero
degree or rigorous isochrony between narrative and story, although Jean Ricardou seems to
suggest that, in the case of a scene with dialogue, there is a sort of equality between the
narrative section and the fictive section (87). Genette accepts that, in the case of such a scene,
there is only a kind of conventional equality between narrative time and story time (87), but
that cannot serve as a reference point for a rigorous comparison of real durations. Yet, he
maintains that the isochronism of a narrative can be defined, if not by comparing its duration to
that of the story it tells, at least in terms of steadiness in speed (87).
Speed: the relationship between a temporal dimension and a spatial dimension
(): the speed of a narrative will be defined by the relationship between a duration
(that of the story, measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years) and a
length (that of the text, measured in lines and in pages). (1980: 87-8)
variations in tempo/ narrative speed:
(descriptive) pause (NT = n, ST = 0, thus NT > ST, i.e. NT is infinitely
greater than ST);
scene, most often in dialogue, which () realizes conventionally the equality
of time between narrative and story (1980: 94) (NT = ST);
summary, a form with a variable tempo (whereas the tempo of the other three
is fixed, at least in principle) which with great flexibility of pace covers the
entire range included between scene and ellipsis) (1980: 94) (NT < ST);
ellipsis ( NT = 0, ST = n, thus NT < ST, i.e. NT is infinitely less than ST).
1.3. Tense: Frequency
Singulative narrative or, otherwise, narrating once what happened once. (e.g.
Yesterday I went to bed early);
Repeating narrative or narrating n times what happened once (e.g. Yesterday I went
to bed early, yesterday I went to bed early, yesterday I went to bed early, etc.)
Although apparently rather hypothetical and irrelevant to literature, this kind of
repetition has been successfully exploited at different stages in the evolution of the
novel, here including the eighteenth-century epistolary novel, or novels in which stress
is laid on the repetition doubled by stylistic or viewpoint variations or that display
repeating anachronies such as the advance notices and the recalls. (115)
Iterative narrative or narrating once what happened n times. This type of narrative
can be easily identified because of its association with grammatical markers of
2.1. Mood: Distance
Another category moulded upon a grammatical model is that of the narrative mood,
which, like its grammatical counterpart, has its own degrees: The narrative can furnish the
reader with more or fewer details, and in a more or less direct way, and can thus seem () to
keep at a greater or lesser distance from what it tells. The narrative can also choose to
regulate the information it delivers, not with a sort of even screening, but according to the
capacities of knowledge of one or another participant in the story (a character or group of
characters), with the narrative adopting or seeming to adopt what we ordinarily call the
participants vision or point of view; the narrative seems in that case () to take on, with
regard to the story, one or another perspective. (162) As the quote shows, Genettes analysis
of modalities of regulation of narrative information will be focused upon the two categories
of distance and perspective.
mimesis/ diegesis (Plato) showing/telling (Henry James) narrative of events/
narrative of words Information + informer = C - which implies that the quantity
of information and the presence of the informer are in inverse ratio (1980: 166):



narrative of words:
Narratized or narrated speech, obviously the most distant and, generally,
the most reduced. Genette identifies as a peculiar species of narratized
discourse the narrative of an inner debate, or, as he puts it, the analysis or the
narrative of thoughts or narratized inner speech. E.g. uttered speech: I
informed my mother of my decision to marry Albertine.; inner speech: I
decided to marry Albertine. (171)
Transposed speech, in indirect style: Although a little more mimetic than
narrated speech, [] this form never gives the reader any guarantee or above
all any feeling of literal fidelity to the words really uttered: the narrators
presence is still too perceptible in the very syntax of the sentence for the
speech to impose itself with the documentary autonomy of a quotation. (171)
E.g. uttered speech: I told my mother that I absolutely had to marry
Albertine.; inner speech: I thought that I absolutely had to marry Albertine.
Words are not simply reported in subordinate clauses, but condensed,
integrated into the narrators own speech.
Reported speech, the most mimetic form (that Plato rejected) in which the
narrator pretends literally to give the floor to the characters. E.g. I said to
my mother/ I thought: It is absolutely necessary to marry Albertine.
2.2. Mood: Perspective
Genette chooses to challenge most of the theories on the point of view, on the
ground of their promoting a regrettable confusion between two different questions which he
proposes to answer separately in the discussion of the categories of mood and voice. These
questions are:
(1) Who is the character whose point of view orients the narrative perspective?
(2) Who is the narrator? (186)
Genette introduces his own term, i.e. focalization and re-discusses the classification of
narratives according to the perspective they are representative for as follows:
Nonfocalized narrative or narrative with zero focalization. This type of focalisation was
questioned and eventually rejected in later theories of the narrative discourse.
Narrative with internal focalization:
Fixed (e.g. The Ambassadors, where everything passes through Strether, or What
Maisie Knew, where we almost never leave the point of view of the little girl);
Variable (e.g. Madame Bovary, where the focal character is first Charles, then
Emma, then again Charles);
Multiple (e.g. epistolary novels).
Narrative with external focalization (e.g. Hemingways novellas The Killers or Hills
Like White Elephants; Walter Scott, Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas, Balzac, etc.)
Genette takes care to underline the fact that the commitment to a certain kind of focalization
is not necessarily steady over the whole length of a narrative. Besides, he admits that the
distinction between different points of view is not always as clear as the consideration of pure
types alone could lead one believe (191). Special emphasis is laid on internal focalization,
which, according to Genette, is rarely applied in a totally rigorous way: the very principle of
this narrative mode implies in all strictness that the focal character never be described or even
referred to from the outside, and that his thoughts or perceptions never be analysed

objectively by the narrator (192). Therefore, the internal focalization (that seems to be fully
realized only in the interior monologue) should be taken in a less strict sense, as mainly based
on what Roland Barthes calls the personal mode of narrative. Genette subscribes to Barthess
definition of this mode as the possibility of rewriting the narrative section under consideration
into the first person (if it is not in that person already) without the need for any alteration of the
discourse other than the change of grammatical pronouns (193).
E.g.: He [James Bond] saw a man in his fifties, still young-looking internal focalization

I saw a man in his fifties, still young-looking

E.g.: The tinkling of ice cubes against the glass seemed to awaken in Bond a sudden

external focalization, given the narrators marked ignorance with respect to the heros
thoughts. (193-4)