1.2.  On Definitions and Concepts



We have defined narrative provisionally as "a semiotic representation of a series of events linked in a temporal and causal way".   There is no absolute definition of this or of any other concepts or phenomena.  A definition is a kind of translation: it allows us to grasp a phenomenon in relation to other phenomena which are already available to us and are (strategically) supposed to need no definition.  Therefore, a definition of a particular object will vary according to the "language" in which we want to formulate it.  A definition answers to a particular purpose ‹it must therefore be contextualized‹ and can be more or less specific or detailed according to the contextual needs it answers.  Definitions of narrative, of point of view, of plot, etc.  are to be looked at in this way.  It is not that we define what a plot is more accurately than Aristotle did: it is that Aristotle did not need to relate the concept of plot to so many areas of human activity (psychology, linguistics, history, sociology, politics, literature, etc.) as we do nowadays, owing to the increased specialization of discourse in our society.  Definitions therefore will never be accurate in one sense, and will always be in another.  The problem of their accuracy is to some extent a pseudo-problem.  The real problem is their usefulness in a particular context, or rather their usefulness in helping to relate two areas of knowledge which were previously unrelated.  Concepts, therefore, are tools which we use to grasp a flow of phenomena which otherwise remains unnamable according to a post-metaphysical (or Nietzschean) ontology.  Concepts are not isolated units: they are organized into frameworks of an equally conceptual nature: contemporary psychology names such relational concepts "frames", "templates", "schemata".[1]  And narrative is precisely one of such patterns, one of of the main ways in which we organize concepts and impose order on the world.  Analyzing narrative patterns is one way of getting to know the nature of that order.


            One of the discursive areas into which we will translate the concepts of narratology, in order to define them, will be the discipline of semiotics.  This is not just one more discursive area.  It is more like a universal coinage where the contributions of different theories can be compared to one another.  From a semiotic point of view, we can study narrative in its syntactic, its semantic or its pragmatic aspect, just as we study any other linguistic phenomenon.  For the sake of simplicity, we shall concentrate for the moment on verbal narrative.





[1]          Cf. Goffman, Frame Analysis;  Minski, "A Framework for Representing Knowledge"; Sanford and Garrod, Understanding Written Lnaguage.