Narrative Discourse : An Essay in Method Paperback
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 288 pages
- Publisher: Cornell University Press
- Publication Date: 31/08/1983
- Category: Anthologies (non-poetry)
- ISBN: 9780801492594
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Review by stillatim
I was pleasantly surprised by this one. A friend recommended it, and, despite my scepticism, I picked it up. He said it had been very useful for his work on Robert Musil, and I can see why. <br/>I think there are two ways of reading this. I'm not sure it's so helpful to read it as Genette seems to have intended: a description of the conditions which make narrative possible. This structuralist project has always seemed a little dubious to me, although I'm very fond of philosophical explanations of the conditions for pretty much everything. On the other hand, if you read it as an analysis of one of the more complex narratives we have (the examples are mainly from Proust), it's very good. The terminology is absolutely horrific (prolepsis, analepsis, prolipsis, anachrony...), but the concepts are actually quite clear. I can imagine using them in a classroom to help students understand the way an author tells her story. Can't ask for more than that. <br/>As good as the tools are, the book itself gets a little grating towards the end. Genette launches into a defense of Proust against what he perceives as a bias towards Henry James-esque narrative techniques (that is, a bias against the first person, against autobiographical forms, and so on.) That's all well and good, since Proust is a great author and it's silly to claim that he's not because he writes in the first person. On the other hand, Proust wasn't perfect. He made mistakes. Genette does a great job analysing those mistakes... and then claims that they are evidence of Proust 'transgressing' or 'subverting' narrative conventions. The problem is, he's just 'transgressing' or 'subverting' the conventions that Genette has described. The argument becomes circular: the data supporting the conventions are found in the book which is also meant to be undermining those conventions. And I sure didn't get the feeling that Proust was trying to do that. <br/>So, it's a good tool-box. But be ready for some general French-literary-theoriness towards the end.