Structuralist Narratology 

 

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Vladmir Propp

Espoused by Tzvetan Todorov, Roland Barthes and , Structuralist narratology illustrates how a story’s meaning develops from its overall structure (the langue) rather than from each individual story’s isolated theme (the parole). According to Aristotle, all narratives develop longitudinally, from beginning to middle and the end through the casual selection and temporal combination of events. This means that narratives can be analysed horizontally, at what Barthes calls the syntagmatic level. But narratives are also complex “representations” of events, whose meaning requires interpretation. This complexity of meanings calls for a vertical,

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Gerard Genette

paradigmatic, hermeneutic analysis. It is this vertical axis of narrative which the Russian Formalists had in mind when they differentiated between a “fabula” and “siuzhet” (Todorov’s “story” and “discourse”) as the two main analytical levels.

 

Drawing on Saussurean linguistics, the French structuralists defined literature as a kind of langue of which each specific work is an instance of parole. Roland Barthes, Claude Bremond, AJ Greimas and Tzvetan Todorov chose to develop an underlying structural approach to literature. Consequently,.the main aim of their structural activity was to identify the general codes that structure literary language as a whole. In this abstract type of approach, the individual work is relevant only as the concrete materialisation, among many possible virtual ones, of the general codes. On the contrary, the surface structure of the discourse approach to narrative pays attention primarily to the analysis of the functioning of individual works as langue in their own right. This approach is dominated by the work of Gerard Genette.

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Tzveran Todorov

Both approaches have a common origin and practice. Studies such as Barthes’ Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives and Todorov’s Poetics partake of both. When Todorov coined the term “narratology”, in the Grammar of Decameron, he gave it the all-inclusive meaning of “the ;cience of narratives.” Todorov, drawing on the distinction made by Russian ‘ormalists between tabula and siuzhet, proposes working on two major levels of descriptions, the “story” and “discourse”. The story (the argument) comprises a logic of actions and a syntax of characters, while discourse (the ray in which the story is told by the narrator to the reader) comprises tenses, aspects and modes of narrative.

 

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Claude Bremond

Drawing on Todorov’s distinction between “story” and “discourse,. Genette goes on to distinguish three aspects of narrative reality — the story (the narrative content or the signified), the narrative (the signifier, discourse or the narrative text) and narrating (the narrating act itself). This distinction is crucial as it allows Genette to organise the analysis of narrative in wholly relational terms. Genette envisions the study of narrative as essentially a study of the relationships between narrative and story, between narrative and narrating, and between story and narrating.

 

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