Story and Discourse

April 27, 2018 | Author: Saminda Ranawaka | Category: Oedipus, Narrative, Causality, Sigmund Freud, Cognitive Science
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Culler Jonathan D...



So much work has een done in the eld o narratology that to attempt any sort o synthesis, identiying areas of fundamental agreement and the principal issues in dispute, would e a massive task. Limting oneself to the obvious cases, there is the work of the ussian Formalsts, partcularly Propp and Shklovsky; an American tradition, running rom Henry James's prefaces, through Lubbock and Booth, to modern attempts at synthesis such as Seymour Chatman's Story and Dscours has een especally concerned wth prolems o point o iew French Structuralism has undertaken the development o narratve graars (Barthes, Todoro, Bremond, Greimas, Thomas Pavel, Gerald Prince) and description of the relatons between story and narration (Genette). In German the wrtings of of Wolfgang Kayser, Kayser, Eerhard Lmmert, Franz Stanzl, and Wol Schmid come to mind; important work has een done in the Netherlands, notably y Teun Van Dk and Mieke Bal; and there is an active group in Tel Aiv (Benjamin Hrushovski, Meir Sternber, Menakhem Perry)1 There is considerale variety among these traditions, and of course each theorist has concepts or categories of his own, but if these theorists agree on anything it is this: that the theory o narrative reuires a distnction etween what  shall call storya story a seuece o actions or events, conceied as independent o their manifestation in discourseand discourseand what  shall call discourse, discourse, the discursive presentaton or narration o events n ussian Formalism this is the distinction etween abula and  sjuzht: the story as a series o events and the story as reported in the narrative.

Other theorists propose dierent ormulations whose terms are oten conusing recit or example, is sometimes fabula, as in Bremond and sometimes  sjuzht as in Barthes ut there s always a basic dstnction between a sequence o events and a discourse that orders and presents evets Genette, or instance, distinguishes the sequence of events,  histoir rom the presentaton of events in discourse recit and also from a third leel,  narrtion, which is the enunciation o narrative; but rom the way in which Genette uses his catgories Mieke Bal argues, rightly I believe, that in th end Genette distingushes only two levels, those o Russian Formalism. he American tradition has been less inclined than the others to ormulate this distinction explicitly It has been primarily concerned with the problems o point o view: the identication and discrimination o narrators overt and covert, and the description o what n the novel or short story belongs to the perspective o the narrator In order to do this, however, one must post a distinction between actions or events themselves and the narrative presentaton o those actions. or the study of point o view to make sense there must be various contrastng ways o viewing and telling a given story, and this makes story an invariant core, a constant against which the variables o narratve presentation can be measured. But to describe the situation in this way is to identiy the distnction as a heuristic ction, or except in rre cases the analyst is not presented with contrasting narratives o the same sequence o actions; the analyst is conronted with a single narrative ad must postulate what actually happens in order to be able to describe and interpret the way in which this sequence o evets s organized, evaluated, and preseted by the narrator. hus the American tradition, though it has never been much concerned to formalze its categoris categoris or attempt a gram mar o plot has relied o the same basic distinction that European narratology explcitly ormulates, a distinction which, I claim, is an idispensable premise o narratology. o make narrative an object o study, one must distinguish narratives rom nonnarratives, and this invariably involves reerence to the act that narratives report sequences o events.  narrative is dened as the representation o a series o events, then the analyst must be able t o identy these events, and the come to function as a nondiscursive, nontextual give, something which exists prior to and ndependentl o narrative presentaton and whch the arrative then reports I am not, o course, suggesting that narratologists believe that the events o a Balzac story actually took place or that Balzac conceived the events rst and then embodied them in narrative discourse I am claimng that narratological analysis o a text requires one to treat the discourse as a represetation o events which are coceived o as independent o any particular narrative perspective or presentation and which are thought o as having the properties o real events. hus a novel may not identiy the tem poral relationship between two events it presents, but the analyst must assume that there is a real or proper temporal order, that the events  act





Jonathan Culler Source: T Psi f Sigs: Smiics, Li Coell Univesity Pess, 2002, pp. 169-187


Ithaca and New York:

More and more there is emarrassment all around when the wish to hear a story is expressed Walter Benjamin



play reating tese events as the reality of the story, one then seeks to nterpret the signicance of the way n which they are portrayed In the case of Oedpus, as in many other narratves of which the detectve story is only the most banal eample, the discourse focuses on the brngng to lght of a crucial event, identied as a reality wch determnes signicance Someone killed Laus and te problem s to discover what in fact happned at that fateful moment in the past One of mllions of enthusiastc readers, Sigmund Freud, descrbes the play as follows:

occurred either simultaneously or successively Mieke Bal denes this assumption with an eplicitness that is rare among theorists of narrative: the story [l'histoire] consists of the set of events in their chronological order, their spatial location, and their relations with the actors who cause or undergo them And more specically, The events have temporal relations with one another Each one is either anterior to, simultaneous with, or posteror to every other event. '3 The analyst must assume that the events reported have a true order, for only then can he or she describe the narratve presentation as a modication or eacement of the order of eents If a novel does not identify the temporal relation between two events, one can treat this as a distinctive feature of its narrative point of view only if one assumes that the events themselves do have an order of succession Of course, it s only reasonable to assume that events do occur in some order and that a description of events presupposes the prior eistence, albeit ctive, of those events In applying these assumptions about the world to the tets of narrative we posit a level of structure which, by functioning as a nontetual given, enables us to treat everything in the discourse as a way of interpreting, valuing, and presenting this nontetual substratum This has been a frutful way of proceeding Indeed, it is indispensable, even for the analysis of contemporary ctions that seem to reject the very notion of event The assumption that narrative presents a series of events is necessary to account for the eect of narratives, such as RobbeGrillets Le Voyeur, that make it impossible for the reader to work out what the real events are and in what order they occurred Without the assumption of a real order of events, the repettons of the narrative dscourse would not be at all confusing and would be interpreted, atly, as a repetition of motifs How ever, indispensable as this perspective may be, its premise about the nature of narrative and the organzaton of narrative discourse is frequently questoned in narratives themselves, at moments when the hierarchy of narrative is invertedmoments that must be carefully investigated if one is not to oversimplify the way in which narratives function and fail to account for their force Positing the priority of events to the discourse which reports or presents them, narratology establishes a hierarchy which the functioning of narratives oen subverts by presenting events not as givens but as the products of discursive forces or requirements To illustrate the issues involved, let us start with a familiar eample, the story of Oedipus The analysis of narrative would identify the sequence of events that constitutes the action of the story: Oedipus s abandoned on Mt Cithaeron; he is rescued by a shepherd; he grows up in Corinth; he kills Laius at the crossroads; he answers the Sphinxs rddle; he marries Jocasta; he seeks the murerer of Laius; he discovers his own guilt; he blinds himself and leaves his country. Aer identifying the fabula, one could describe the order and perspective in which these events are presented in the discourse of the

Freud ephasizes that the logic of sgnication here is one in whch events, conceved as pror to and independent of their dscursie representaton, determine meanngs the play brings to lght an awful deed whic s so powerful that it mposes ts meaning irrespective of any ntention of the actor. he prior event as made Oedipus guilty, and when ts s revealed he attains tragc dignity n accepting the meaning mposed by the revealed event Ths way of thinking about the play s essential, but there is a contrary perspective whch is also essential to ts force and whch an apparently margnal element will help us to grasp Wen Oedipus rst asks whether anyone witnessed Laiuss death he is told, All died save one, wo ed n terror and could tell us only one clear fact His story was that robbers, not· one but many, fell in wth the Kngs party and klled them5 And later when Oedpus egins to wonder wether he mght not mself be the murderer he tells Jocasta that everythng hangs on the testimony of tis witness, hom they await You say he spoke of robbers, that robbers killed hi If he stll says robbers, t was not I One is not the same as many But f he speaks of one lone traveller, tere is no escape, te nger points to me o which Jocasta answers, Oh, but I assure you, that was what e sad He cannot go ack on it now; the whole town heard it, not only I' he only witness has publicly told a story tat s incompatible wth Oedipuss gult hs possbilty of nnocence s never elinated, for when the wtness arrives Oedpus is interested in his relation to aius and asks only about his birth, not about te urder. e wtness is never asked wheter the urderer s were one or many6 I am not, of course, suggesting that Oedipus was really nnocent and as een falsely accused for 2,400 years I am nterested in the sgncance of the



The acton of te play conssts of nothing other tan the process of revealng, with cunning delays and evermounting ecitement, that Oedipus imself s the murderer of Laus, but further, that he is the son of the murdered man and of Jocasta Appalled at the abomnaton he has unwttingly perpetrated, Oedipus linds himself and forsakes his home4



fact that the possibility of innocence is never dispeled. The 'whole action of the play is the reveation of this awful deed, but we are never given the proof, the testimony of the eye-witness. Oedipus himsef and all his readers are convinced of his guilt ut our conviction does not come from the revelation of the deed Instead of the revelation of a prior deed determining meaning,  we could say that it is meanng, the convergence of meaning in the narrative discourse, that leads us to posit this deed as its appropriate manifestation Once we are well into the play, we know that Oedipus must be found guilty, otherwise the play will not work at al; and the ogic to which we are responding is not simply an eshetic logic that aects readers of literary  works Oedipus, too, feels the force of this logic. It had been prophesied that Oedipus would ki his father it had been prophesied that Laius would be kiled by his son; Oedipus admits to having kiled an old man at what may have been the relevant time and place; so when the shepherd reveals that Oedipus is in ·fact the son of Laius, Oedipus leaps to the conclusion, and every reade leaps with him, that he is in fact the murderer of Laius His conclusion is based not on new evidence concerning a past deed but on the force of meaning, the interweaving of prophesies and the demands of narra tive oherence. The convergence of discursive forces makes it essentia that he become the murderer of Laius, and he yieds to this force of meaning Instead of saying, therefore, that there is a sequence of past events that are given and which the pay reveals with certain detours, we can say that the crucial event is the product of demands of signication Here meaning is not the eect of a prior event but its cause. Oedipus becomes the murderer of his father not by a violent act that is brought to ight but  bowing to the demands of narrative coherence and deeming the act to have taken place Moreover, it is essentia to the force of the pay that Oedipus take this leap, that he accede to the demands of narra tive coherence and deem himsef guity If he were to resist the logic of signication , arguing that the fact that hes my father doesnt mean that I kiled him, demanding more evidence about the past event, Oedipus oud not acquire the necessary tragic stature In this respect the force of the narra tive reies on the contrary logic, in which event is not a cause but an eect of theme. To describe this logic is not to quibble over details but to investigate tragic power Moreover, one might note that this contrary ogc is in fact necessary to Freuds reading of the play, even though he himsef stresses in his account the priority of event to meaning If we were to follow this logic and say that the prior deed, commtted without understanding, is hat makes Oedipus guilty of patricide, then Oedipus can scarcely be said to have an Oedipus complex7 But suppose we stress instead that as soon as Oedipus earns that Laius is his father he immediatey decares what he has hitherto denied: if Laus is my father, he in eect says, then I must have iled him If e emphasize this point, we can indeed dentify an Oedipus complex: that is to

say a structure of signicationa desire to ki the father and a guit for that desirehch does not result from an act but precedes it This logic by which event is a product of discursive forces rather than a given reported by discourse is essential to the force of the narratie, but in describing the play in this way we have certanly not replaced a deluded or incorrect model of narrative by a correct one On the contrary, t s obvous that much of the plays power depends on the narratologcal assumption that Oedipuss guilt or innocence has aread been determined by a past event that has not yet been reealed or reported. Yet the contrary logic in which Oedipus posits an act in response to demands of sgnication is essential to the tragic force of the ending These two ogics cannot be brought together in harmonious synthesis each works by the excusion of the other each depends on a hierarchical reation beteen story and discourse which the other inerts In so far as both these ogics are necessary to the foce of the play, they put in question the possibility of a coherent, noncontradictory account of narrative. They stage a confrontation of sorts between a semiotics that aspires to produce a grammar of narrative and deconstructive nterpret ations, hich in showing the orks opposition to its on ogic suggest the impossibiity of such a gramar If an analysis of the logic of signication shows that Oedipus requires a double reading, a reading according to incompatible princples, this ould suggest both the importance of narrato logcal analysis and the impossibility of attainng its goal. If Oedipus seems a special case, in that the analysis turns on a possible uncertainy about the centra event in the plo, et us consider an example from a very dierent period and genre, George Eliots Daniel Deronda, as anayzed in a recent article by Cynthia Chase Deronda, the adopted son of an Englsh nobleman, is a talented, senstive young man, moving in good society, ho has been unable to decide on a professon He happens to rescue a poor Jewish gir ho as trying to drown hersef, and ater, in searhing for her family, he meets her brother Mordecai, an ailing scholar with hom he begins to study Hebrew He deveops an intense interest in Jeish cuture, falls in ove ith Mirah, the gir he has saved, and is accepted by Mordecai and others as a kindred spirit At this pont Deronda receves a sumons from his mother, who, obeying her dead fathers injunction, reveals to him the secret of his birth he is a Je The novel emphaszes the causal orce o this past event because he was born a Je he is a Jew. Origin, cause, and identity are linked in an implicit argument tha is comon to narrative Wit the reveaton of Derondas parentage it is implied that his present character nd involvement with things Jesh have been caused by his Jewsh origin But on the other hand, as Chase notes,



The sequence of events in the pot as a whole presents erondas reveaed origins in a dierent perspectve. The account of erondas



By one logic Deronda's birth is a past cause of present eects by another contrary logic, named by Deronda's friend Hans Meyrick in a ippant letter, one should speak rather of the present causes of past eects. '9 It is essential to stress here that, as in the case o Oedipus, there is no question of nding a compromise formulation that would do justice to both presentations of the event by avoiding extremes, for the power of the narrative depends precisely on the alternative use of extremes, the rigorous deployment of two logics, each of which works by excluding the other. It will not do to say, for example, that Deronda's involvement with Judaism is partly but not com pletely the result of his birth, and that the revelation of his birth is therefore in part an explanation and in part a narrative fulllment This sort of formu lation is wrong because the power of Eliots novel depends precisely on the fact that Deronda's commitment to Judaism and idealism, instead of to the frivolous society in which he has been raised, is presented as a free choice. To have exemplary moral value it must be presented as a choice, not as the ineluctable result of the hidden fact of parentage It must also be presented as wholehearted, not as a dilettantish dabbling which woul then be trans formed into commitment by revelation of the fact of birth The novel requires that Derondas commitment to Judaism be independent of the reve lation of his Jewishnessthis is thematically and ethically essentialyet its account of Jewishness does not allow for the possibility of conversion and insists o the irreplaceability of origins: to be a Jew is to have been born a Jew These two logics, one of which insists upon the causal ecacy of origins and the other of which denies their causal ecacy, are in contradiction but

tey are essetial to the way in wic the narrative functions One ogic assumes the primacy of events; te other treats the events as the products of meanings ·  One coud argue that every narrative operates accordig to tis doube ogic, presenting its plot as a sequence of events which is prior to and idependent of the given perspective on these events, and, at th€ same time, suggesting by its implicit claims to signicance that these events are justied by their appropriateness to a thematic structure. As critics we adopt the rst perspective when we debate the sgicance of a character's actions (taking those actions as given). We adopt the secod perspective wen we discuss the appropriateness or inappropriateness of an ending (when we debate whether these actions are appropriate expressions of the thematic structure which ougt to determine them) eorsts of narrative have aways, of course, recognized these two perspectives, but they have perhaps been too ready to assume that they can be held together, synthesized in some way wthout contradiction. Not ony is there a contradiction, but it w characteristically manifest itself n narratives as a oment that seems either superuousa oose end, as n Oedipus or too neat, as in Daniel Deronda. Recent work on narrative has brought such momets to the fore, stressing their importace to the rhetorica force of arratives. ough my examples so far have been classics of European literature, this doube ogic is by no means conned to ctional narrative Recet discussions of the nature and structure of narratve in Freud enabe us to identify a similar situation In geeral, Freudian theory makes narrative the preferred mode of explanation Psychoanaysis does not propose scientic laws of the for if X, ten Y' Psychoanalytic understanding invoves recostructing a story, tracing a phenoenon to its origin, seeing how one ting leads to another. Freuds case histores themselves are indeed narratives with fabula and a  sjuzhet: the fabula is the reconstructed plot, the sequence of vents n the patients life, and the  sjuzhet is the order in which these events are pre sented, the story of Freuds conduct of te case10 Lke Oedipus and Daniel Deronda, Freud's narratives lead to the reveation of a decisive event which, when placed in the true sequece of events can be seen as the cause of the patient's present situato One of Freud's more dramatc cases s that of the Wolfman, n wich analysis of key dreams and assocations leads Freud to the conclusion tat at a age of /2 years the child woke up to witness his parents copuatng. Freud recostructs a sequence of events that begins wit ts decisve prima scene' and icudes te transformatio of the memory into a trauma at age 4, a striking exampe of Nachtrglichkeit hough the evet has been posted or projected (constructed is Freuds term) from the discourse produced by the patient, and tus might see the product of dscursive forces, Freud argues vigorousy for the reaity and decisve prority of the event. It ust therefore, he concudes, be left at tis (I can see no other possibiity) either the



stuation has made it increasingly obvious to the reader that the progression of the hero's destiyor, that is to say, the progression of the storypositively requires a revelation that he is of Jewish birth. For Deronda's bildungsroman to proceed, his character must crystallize, and this must come about through a recognition of his destiny, which has remained obscure to him, according to the narra tor's account, largely because of his ignorance of his origins The suspenseful stress on Deronda's relationship with Mordecai and with Mirah orients his history in their direction, and Mordecai explicitly stresses his fait tat Deronda is a Jew. Thus the reader comes upon Deronda's Jewish parentage as an inevitable inference to be drawn not simply from the presentation of Deronda's qualities and his empathy with the Jews but above all from the patent strategy and direction of the narrative. The revelation of Deronda's origins therefore appears as an eect of narrative requirements The sup posed cause of his character and vocation (according to the chapters recounting the disclosure), Deronda's origin presents itself (in the light of the rest of the text) rather as the eect of the account of his vocation his origin is the eect of its eects. 8



analysis base on the neurosis in his chilhoo is all a piece of nonsense from start to nish, or else everything took place just as I have escribe it above.'1 To uestion the priority of the event is to court absurity. At this point Freu is attempting to hol together in a synthesis the two principles of narrative that we have foun in opposition elsewhere: the priority of event an the etermination of event by structures of signication. Inee, he cites the fact that his construct makes sense, hangs together nicely, as evience that the event must have occurre He rejects the conception of the event as a meaningful, highly etermine ction by refusing to see it as a possibility; he amits nly the two alternatives: a real, prior event or a narrative without signicance. Bt later Freu comes to see another possibility, an in hat Peter Brooks calls one of the most aring moments i Freu's thought an one of his most heroic gestures as a writer,' he allows his rst argument to stan an as a further iscussion, by way, he says, of supplementation an rectication'12 It is possible, Freu says, in supplemen tation, that this primal event i not occur an that what we are ealing with is in fact a trope, a transference from, say, a scene of copulating animals to his parents to prouce at age 4 the fantasy of witnessing at 1  years of age a scene of parental copulation To the possible objection that it is implausible for such a scene to have been constructe, Freu replies by cit ing as evience for the possibility of this fantasy precisely the structural coherence that ha previously been auce as evience for the reality of the event itself For example, if the fantasize event is to work in a plausible narration, it must be imagine as taking place at a time when the chil was sleeping in his parents' beroom The scene which was to be mae up ha to fulll certain contions which, in conseuence of the crcumstances of the reamer's life, coul only be foun in precisely this early perio; such, for instance, was the conition that he shoul be in be in his parents' beroom.'13 In this secon argument, then, Freu separates the two principles of nar rative instea of attempting to conate them as he i previously. One may maintain the primacy of the event it took place at the appropriate moment an etermine subseuent events an their signicance Or one can maintain that the structures of signication, the iscursive reuirements, work to prouce a ctional or tropological event At this point Freu amits the contraiction between these two perspectives, but he refuses to choose between them, referring the reaer to a iscussion of the problem of primal scenes versus primal fantasies in another text hen he oes return to the proble in this case history it is with a rich an pertinent formulation: I shoul myself be gla to know whether the primal scene in my present patient's case was a fantasy or a real experince; but, taking other similar cases into account, I must amit that the answer to this uestion is not in fact a matter of very great importance'1 Confronte with the iculty of eciing whether a putative narrative event shoul be

regare as a given or a prouct, Freu notes that it is not ecisivey importan, in that either perspective gives us the same narrative seence ut Freu also recognizes that the reader or analys can never calmly accep this concusion when he has egage wit a arrative here is o happy compromise, for te force, the ethical import of a arrative, always ipels the reaer or anayst towar a decision Unersanaby, Freu esires to know whether he has iscovered the ecisive event of his aient's astan event which, for exaple, other arents might on e basis of Freu's iscovery be ejone to avoior whether he parents' behavor was in no way ecisive, since whatever they i co be rans forme by te tropes of fantasy into hat the forces of signication in he narrative reuire The ethical an referentia imensions of te narratve, that s to say, make such uestions of comeling interest, even thoug the theorist resists this interest with the suggestion that te choice oes not atter n one sese, however, Freu is right, for the two ateratives give us very silar narratives. f oe opts for te proction of the event by forces of signication, it becomes cear ha the primal fantasy, as we ight call i, can be ecacious y if the iagie event functions for the 4yearl as a rea event frm his past Ad if, on the other han, we ot for te reaity of he pria scene, we can see that this event col not have ha the isastrous cosequeces it id uless the sructures of signication which ade i a traua for e Wofman an gave i irresistibe explanaory poer were so suite to it as to ake it in some sese ecessary The fact that the event supposedly experienced at age  Y2 became a traua ony throgh eferre action at age 4 shows the owerful role of te forces of eaning. But how ever cose these two accouns ay be, the fact remains that from the point of view of narratoogy, a aso from the pot of view of he engage reaer, the ierence beteen an event of the plot an a magiary event s irreucibe As Brooks conces, the reatioship beween fabula an sjuzhet, between event a is signicant rewriig s oe of suspicion an conjecture, a structre of uneciability hich can oer only a fraework of narrative possibilities rater han a clealy speciable plot.'5 This unecidabity is he eect of the covergece of two narrative ogics tha o not give rise to a synthesis he same patte of arrative an analysis aears in another text of Fre's which tels no the story of an inviual but he story of the race In Totem and Taboo Freu tels of a ecisive historical even in primitve ties a jeaos a tyranical fater, ho kep al the woen for imsef a drove away he sons as they reache matrity, was kille an devoue by the sons who ha banded together his memorable an criminal ee' was the beginning of socia organizaton, region, an ora restrctons, since the guilt e to the creaton of taboos This hstorical eve, Freu cais, remains ecacious to this day. We iherit and repeat the ish f not e




actual deed, and the uilt which arises from this wish keeps the conseuences of the deed alive in an unroken narrative But clearly if uil can e created by esires as well as by acts, it is possible that the oriinary act ever took place. Freud admits that the remorse may have een provoked by the sons' fantasy of killin the father (by the imain ation of an event) This is a plausible hypothesis, he says, and no damae would thus e done to the causal chain stretchin from the einnin to the present day.'16 Choosin etween these aternatives is no easy matter; how ever, he adds, it must be confessed that the istinction which may seem fundamental to other people does not in our judment aect the heart of the matter' As in the case of the Wolfman, emphasis on event and emphasis on meanin ive the same narrative. But once aain, one cannot fail to wish to choose, and Freud does: primitive men were uninhibited; for them thouht passed directly ito action. With them it is rather the deed that is the substi tute for thouht And that is why, without ayin claim to any nality of  judment, I think that in the case before us it may be assumed that "in the beinnin was the Deed. '17 A safe assumption, perhaps, ut safe because it is so euivocal. Freud here starts with the fantasy and asserts that for primitive men the deed was a substitute for the fantasy The deed truly took place, he caims, but his formu lation prevents one from takin the deed as a iven since it is itself but a sustitute for the fantasy, a product of this primal fantasy. And in claimin that in the beinnin was the Deed, Freud refers us not to an event but to a sinifyin structure, another tet, Goethe's Faust, in which deed' is but a substitute for word' Faust is translatin the openin words of Genesis, In the beinnin was the Word,' and, unhappy with the German Wort, decides to substitute for it, in the very esture Freud repeats, the word for deed': Tat. Quotin Goethe in assertin an oriinary deed, Freud cannot but refer us to a prior Word. Freud's tet shows that even when one tries to assert the primacy of either word or deed one does not succeed in escapin the alterna tive one tried to reject I emphasie the impossibility of synthesis because what is involved here in narrative is an eect of selfdeconstruction A deconstruction involves the demonstration that a hierarchical opposition, in which oneerm is said to be dependent upon another conceived as prior, is in fact a rhetorical or meta physical imposition and that the hierarchy could well be reversed The narra tives discussed here include a moment of selfdeconstruction in which the supposed priority of event to discourse is inverted. The most elementary form of this deconstruction, somewhat dierent but still very relevant to narrative, is Nietsche's analysis of causation as a trope, a metonymy. Causation involves a narrative structure in which we posit rst the pres ence of a cause and then the production of an eect Indeed, the very notion of plot, as E M. Forster tauht us, is based on causation: the kin died, then the ueen died' is not a narrative, althouh the kin died, then the 127


queen died of rie is18 his, one ight sa, is the fabula of the causal narrative rst, there is cause ; then, there is eect; rst a osquito bites one's arm, then oe feels pai ut, says Nietzsce, this sequence is not ive; it is constructed y a rhetorical operation Wat appens ay e, fr eample, that we feel a pain and then look aroud for some factor we ca treat as the cause e rea' causa sequence ay be: rst pain, ten mosuto It is the eect that causes us to produce a cause; a tropooical operation then reorders the seuence painosquito as mosuitopain his latter seuence is the product of iscursive forces, ut e treat it as a iven, as te true order19 This account of the productio of causatio does not imply tat we ca scrap the notio of causation, any more tan the discursive prouction of events impies tat narratives coul function without the idea of causation, but there are momets wen narratives identify their on tropoloical pro duction and when the second perspective is indispensabe to a account of teir force This is true not oy of coplex literary or teoretical arratives but aso of hat the socioinuist William Laov cas atura narrative' an interestin case for the narratooist n his studies of the blac Enish vernacuar, Labov became interested in the arrative skills displaed b adolescents and preadolescets In inter views he would ask, for exaple, Were you ever i a ht ith a uy bier than you?' and if the answer were Yes' ould pause and then as, sipy, at happene?' Laov beis his formal analysis of these stories by assuin te primacy of events: he denes narrative as a method of recapitulatin past eperience y matcin a veral seuece of causes to the sequence of evets'2 0 But, starting fro this denition, he discovers that tere is oe iportant aspect of narrative that has not een dis cussedperhaps te ost important eemet in addition to the basic arrative cause Tis is what we term te evaluation of te arrative: te eas used by the narrator to indicate the point of te narrative, its raison d'tre, wy it was told ad what the narrator as getting at 2  Laov even cocludes tat the narrator's primary concern may not e to report a sequence of evets, as the deition of arrative would suest, but rater to el a story tat will not be tout pointless Poitless stories are et [in Elish] with te witherig rejoinder, "So at? Every ood arra tor is cotiuay ardi o this uestion en is narrative is over it shou be unthikable for a bystader to say, "So what? ' 22 Labov's narrators prove silled at arding o this questio hey con struct their narratives so that the deands of signication are met and the story percived as worthy of telin, as arratable Labo's analysis distiuishes tese discursive, evaluative eeents from the seuence of actions 28


reported in the narrative clauses; it is thus based on yet another version of the basic narratological distinction between story and discourse. Labov's analysis \orks very ell as long as he can distinguish story from discourse If he can separate narrative clauses from evaluative clauses, then he ca main tain the view that a narratie is a sequence of clauses reporting eents, to  which are added clauses evaluating these evens, but when he comes to describe the evaluative devices, he discovers that some of the most ineresting and powerful are no comments external to the action but acually belog to the sequence of actios Instead of oneself remarking how exciting or dangerous or what a close call an incident was, one can emphasize the reportability of a story y attributing an ealuative comment to one of the participants and narrating this comment as an event in the story: And when  we got down there her brother turned to me and whispered, "I think she's dead, John ' Or, as Labov says, the evaluation may itself be a narrative clause' in that an actio one reports has the primary function of emphasizing the dramatic character of the event, as i I never prayed to God so fast and so hard in all my life! m Labov is certainly correct to claim that many clauses reporting actions are in fact determined by heir evaluative function; instead of thinking of them as reports of prior actions, he prefers to see them as in eect producing an action so as to comply with the requirements of signicance and make the story one to which no one will say So what?' But given this possibility, the analyst nds himself in an awkward position For every report of an action there is the possibility that it should be thought of as evaluatie, determined by the requirements of signicance, and not as the narrative representation of a given event Since the analyst's most basic distinction is between narra tive and evaluative clauses, since for him analyzing a tale is rst of all a matter of sorting elements ito these two classes, he must make this choice,  which may be a ery dubious one Of course, in a sense, as Freud said, his choice may not matter, since however he describes a particular event we still have the same tale But if we are concerned with the force of the story, and those who tell or listen to natural narratives are especially concerned with their force, then we are inited to choose In natural narratie the desire to choose, the urgency of choice, is likely to emerge in the form of suspicion: it sounds too neat, too dramatic, too good to be true did it really happen that way, or is this incident an evaluative device designed to preent us from saying So hat?' Is this particular ele ment of the story a product of discursive reqirements? In so-called natural narrative' the choice usually emerges as a question about ctionality Is this incident true?), but as soon as the narrative as a whole is placed under the aegis of ction, as soon as we approach it as a short story rather than a narrative of personal experience, then the question of the relation of story and discourse nds no such simple outlet We cannot as simply whether an incident is true or false; it would be very odd to say of Daniel Deronda that 129


 we do no beieve he was actua ly born a ew We hav e to ask insead whether this is an event tat determines meaning and discourse or ether it is isef determined by various narrative and discursive requirements The analysis of narraive is an imortant branch of semiotics e stil do not appreciate as ully as e ought the imortance of arrative schemes and models in a asecs of ur ives Anaysis of narr aive depends, as I ave argued, on te distinction between story and discourse, and tis disinction aways invoves a relation of deendency either the discourse is seen as a representation of events hich must e thought of as indeendent of hat particuar representaion, or ese the so-called evens are though of as the postulates or roducs of a discourse Since he disinction eween story and discourse can function ony if there is a deermination of ne by te her, the anayst must alays choose which wi be treaed as the given and hich as the roduct Yet either choice leads to a narraology that misses some of he curious coexiy of naaives and fails o account fr mch of teir imact If ne tinks of discourse as he resentation of story, one wi nd i dicult o accoun fr the sorts o eects, discussed here, wich deend uon he deerminaion f story by discourse, a possibili often osed by the narraive itse If, on the other hand, one ere to adot the vie hat ha e call evens' are nohing oter than roducts of discourse a series of redicates ataced to agents in the text, then one oud be even ess abe to accoun for he force of narrative For even the most radica ctions deend for their eect on the assuion ta their uzzing sequences of sentences are presentaions of events (though e ay not e abe o te ha tose events are), and that these events in rincile ave features no reported y the discourse, such tat the seection oerated y he discourse has meaning ithou ha assumion, wich maes the discourse a seection and even a supression of possible information, texts old lac eir inriging and disocaory power Neither perspective, then, is iey to oer a satisfacory narratoogy, nor can e   ogether in a armonious syntesis; hey stand in irreconci able oposition, a conict beteen to ogics hich uts in quesio the ossibiity of a coherent, nonconradictory science' of narraive But this identication f a certain sef-deconstructive force in narrative and te e ry of narraive shoud n lead o rejecion of te anaytica enterprise ta drives one to this discovery In te absence of te possibility of synhesis, one ust be iling t shi from one perspecive to te oter, from story to discourse and a c again Notes

For a bibiogaphy and useful synthesis, see Seymour Chatan Story and Discourse: Narative Structure in Ficion and Film, Ithaca Corne University Press 130


2 3 4 5 6 7 8  l

11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 1

20 21 22 23

1978. For more recent disussions and further bibliography, see the three issues of Poetics Today devoted to narrative: 1 :3 (180) 1:4 (180) and 22 (181) Mieke Bal, Narratologe: essai sur Ia signcation narratve dans quatre romans odes Paris, Klinksieck, 177 p 6 Ibid, p. 4 Sigmund Freud, The nterpretaton ofDreams New York Avon, 165 p 25 Sophocles, Oedpus the King translated with a commentary by Thomas Gould, Englewood Clis, N.J, Prentie-Hall, 170, lines 842-7 See Sandor Goodhart, 'Oedipus and Laiuss Many Murderers, Dacritics 81 (Sprng 178) pp 5571 See Cynthia Chase, Oedipal Textuality Reading Freuds Reading of Oedus,' Diacrtcs 1 (Spring 17) p 58 Cynthia Chase, The Decomposition of the Elephants DoubleReading Daniel Deronda PMLA 32 (Marh 178) p 218 Ibid, p 215 This is a simplication of a more complex account in Peter Brooks, 'Fictions of the Wolfman, Diacrtcs 1 (Spring 17) pp 756 Sigmund Freud The Woan and Sgmund Freud Harmondsworth, Penguin, 173 p 220 Brooks, Fitions of the Wolfman, p 78; Fred, The Woman p 221 Freud, The Woan p 223 Ibid, p 260 Brooks, 'Fitions of the olfman, p 77 See also Brooks, Freds Masterplot Questions of Narrative, Yale French Studes 5556 (177) pp 280-300 Fred, Tote and Taboo Ne York, Norton, 150 p. 16. Ibid, p 161 Unlock E M orster, Aspects of the Novel Harmondsworth, Penguin, 162 p 3 Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke ed Karl Schlechta, Munich, Hanser Verlag, 156 vol 3 pp. 804-5 For disussion see Jonathan Cller, On Deconstruction Lterary Theory in the 1970s Ithaca, Coell University Press/Rotledge & Kegan Paul, forthoming, ch 2 William Labov,  Language in the nner City niversity of Pennsylvania Press, 172 p 360 Ibi, p 366 Ibid William Labov, Narrative Analysis Oral Versions of Personal Experience,

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Essays on the Verbal and Visual Arts: Proceedngs of the Amercan Ethnological Socety (166) pp 37


NARRATIVE THEORY Crtc Concpts n Ltrr nd Cutur Studs First published 2004 by Rouledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park Abingdon Oxon OX14 4RN

by Mieke Bal

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Volume I Major Issues in Narrative Theory

Typese in Times by ReneCach Limied Bungay Suok Prined and bound in Grea Brain by MPG igia Soluions Bodmin ornwal A righs reserved. No par o this book may be reprined or reproduced or uiised in any orm or by any elecronic mechanical or oher means now known or hereafer invented incuding phoocopying and recording or in any inormation sorage or rerieva sysem without permission in writing from he publi�h�rs

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References within each chaper are as hey appear in he origina compete work

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