2.k. Action macrostructures

 

A textual macrostructure is a structure which somehow unifies a text and allows the reader to process it.  We can identify macrostructures at any textual level: the mimetic, the perspectival or the verbal (in a narrative text, the action, the story, or the text).[1]  Recurrent vocabulary choices may serve as an example of verbal macrostructure; consistent patterns of point of view are an instance of story-level macrostructure. 

            At this point we are concerned with action macrostructures.  Action macrostructures are used to process and unify the mimetic level of the narrative text, the level which consists of the narrated world and the action.  They are peculiar in being particularly close to non-literary experience: there is a world both inside and outside the text, and actions are performed both by people and by fictional characters.  Of course a fantastic text may present us with a world different from our "real" world, but that difference is usually based on a common ground of experience which goes without saying. 

            Action macrostructures are therefore, as we have pointed out above, nothing but frames  or schemata  which we use to understand and undertake action, whether in life or in literature.  Any kind of framework which allows us to grasp the meaning of the action as a whole, relating its parts to each other and to general models of textual development can be said to be an action  macrostructure.  Campbell's monomyth, Propp's basic sequence of functions, or the various mythoi  described by Frye can be understood to be action macrostructures.  A macrostructure is a basic formal element of the work as well as a spontaneous cognitive tool: one of the steps in understanding a narrative is a mental or verbal formulation of its action in the shape of a coherent structure.  Summarising the action is a spontaneous interpretive tool.  For many purposes, we feel that in summarising the action of the text we have also summarised the text itself.[2]  Note the proviso: there is no such thing as the  macrostructure of a text.  Even the narrative  macrostructure of a text is reached through an intepretive act, which involves an analysis of the needs and aims of the concrete act of analysis.  Thus, there are different macrostructural levels in any narrative.[3] And different types of macrostructures are relevant at different interpretive levels.  Thus, a macrostructure identified in a text by a deconstructive analysis is not as available as a simple perceptual macrostructure which is the prerequisite to make sense of the action. Although psychological processes in average readers' minds involve frames and macrostructures, we should not assume that these are the "true" or final structure of a work.  Conversely, we should not assume that any structure a critic can identify in a work is used as a cognitive tool by readers.  Here we meet the problem of levels of interpretation and of different kinds of readers (more or less idealized actual readers, implied readers, etc).  We shall return to these issues further on.  Now we can concentrate on those unifying structures which belong specifically to the analysis of the action. 

            Up to now, we have been using indifferently the terms "plot", "action", and even "fabula" without any rigorous distinction.  And indeed they are difficult to establish, due to the different meanings of these terms for different theorists.  We shall, however, try to define a coherent usage which conflicts as little as possible with the commonest sense of the terms.  We have already defined one basic distinction: whether we refer to representational issues (story-level) or to represented actions and characters (action-level).  We have, moreover, the textual or discursive level which includes both.  A second criterion intersects with this "vertical" or hermeneutic one: whether we are referring to a phenomenon in its full specificity or to a macrostructural model, a scheme, of that phenomenon.  We shall use "story", for instance, to refer to everything that happens in the fictional world of a novel; "plot", on the other hand, usually carries a suggestion of pattern and scheme.  These two criteria, used together, would yield the following diagram which represents different analytical levels in a narrative text:

 

                                               Full                             Schematic

 

 

Represented    Action / World                       Fabula

objects

 

Perceptual                   Story                                       Plot

schemes

 

Discourse                   Text                                        Summary

level

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1]          For a closer discussion of these textual levels, see Ingarden 29ff.

[2]          Cf. Hendricks, Essays in Semiolinguistics and Verbal Art   for a discussion of the implications of paraphrasability.

[3]          Cf. Van Dijk, Texto  204-5.