1.1.  Definition of narrative

 

 

A narrative is a semiotic representation of a series of events connected in a temporal and causal way.  Films, plays, comic strips, novels, newsreels, diaries, chronicles and treatises of geological history are all narratives in this widest sense.  Narratives can therefore be constructed using a wide variety of semiotic media: written or spoken language, visual images, gestures and acting, as well as a combination of these.  Any semiotic construct, anything made of signs, can be said to be a text.  Therefore, we can speak of many kinds of narrative texts: linguistic, theatrical, pictorial, filmic. 

            The term "narrative" is, however, potentially ambiguous.  It has at least two main senses: the first is the broader one we have just defined, which would include such phenomena as films, drama, comic strips, etc.  Another sense of narrative is exclusively verbal: it is dependent on the presence of a narrator, a teller, and an act of narrating.  This is the case in such literary genres as the novel or the short story, epic poetry, ballads, jokes, etc.  Here we shall be concerned mainly with the narrower sense, with the study of verbal narrative, although we shall try to define those mechanisms which are common to both kinds of narrative phenomena. 

            The aim of this study is to provide the conceptual tools for a narratological analysis of fiction.  By narratological analysis we mean one which concentrates on those aspects of textual production, structure and reception which are specific to narrative: for instance, the study of plot, or the relationship between action and character portraiture.  Actually, most of the elements we shall study do not exist exclusively in narrative works, but the structures they assume in narrative are noticeably distinct ‹this is the case of point of view or enunciation.  We shall concentrate on creative literary genres and fictional film.  Although many of the narrative techniques we examine are equally present or show parallel developments in other forms of narrative, such as history writing or the telling of personal anecdotes, our attention will be given primarily to the resources of artistic narrative. 

            The fact that in creative literature or film the narrated events are mostly fictional has only indirect consequences at the level of analysis we shall undertake here, and in studying the structure of a narrative text we can disregard the difference between fiction and nonfiction at many moments of our analysis.  We should remember, moreover, that this difference is not an absolute one.  Fictional and nonfictional narrative situations can be clearly defined and distinguished in theory and for most practical purposes as different discourse activities taking place in well-defined contexts (e. g. we expect a novel to be fictional, but a news programme is supposed to give us actual facts).  But in specific cases the border line between one situation and another may be blurred, and several sets of conventions may be at work at once (e. g. in a literary biography, or in propaganda-biased newsreels).  And beyond this communicative level in which a "fictional pact" (or other types of illocutionary pact) are established between the participants, there remain the problems of representation.  On one hand, fiction is not entirely fictional in the sense that its materials are taken from reality.  On the other, reality is not all that solid, since any representation involves a measure of fictionalisation.  Any representation involves a point of view, a selection, a perspective on the represented object, criteria of relevance, an implicit theory of reality.  Narrative structures may be at their most elaborate in artistic texts, but narrativization is one of the commonest ways of imposing an order and a perspective on experience.  Even those historians or journalists which try to represent the bare facts must do so using narrative patterns.  Together with other linguistic resources such as tropology, narrative acts a shuttle between formal, ideal perception and representation, and the concreteness of experience which must be given a shape.  It always involves in some measure the intrusion of poetry and rhetoric upon any naive notion of purely transparent, immediate representation.  In literature and other narrative arts we can study the fantasies of representation engaging the real in different ways.  After a close study of narrative, we will no longer be able to speak of the real without taking into consideration at the same time the way it is narrated to us, the way we narrate it.