2.15. Classification of Motifs


This difference in the logic of action and story brings along a difference in the motifs which make up the work:

By simply retelling the story we immediatly discover what may be omitted  without destroying the coherence of the narrative and what may not be omitted without disturbing the connections among events.  The motifs which cannot be omitted are bound motifs;  those which may be omitted without disturbing the whole causal-chronological course of events are free motifs"  ("Thematics"  68). 

Bound motifs are in some way the core of the work, while free motifs belong to the stylistic periphery: according to Tomashevski, "Although only the bound motifs are required by the story, free motifs (digressions, for example) sometimes dominate and determine the construction of the plot" ("Thematics" 68).  So, once again we find the notion of the fabula as a basic framework and material, and siuzhet as a detailed artistic elaboration.  Literary tradition is seen as more determinant on the use of free motifs, which give each kind of writing its determining quality.  We see that bound motifs are bound by the laws of the fabula: time and causality.  Free motifs, on the other hand, are bound by the laws of the siuzhet: artistic relevance.  Tomashevski is ambiguous as to whether there is any sense in speaking of free motifs in the fabula.  He seems to conceive of the fabula basically as a schematic series of bound motifs, somewhat like Propp's functional series in the folktale.  This notion of fabula as an action scheme (and not a fully fleshed world) is useful in narratology, and versions of this concept can be found among more recent critics from Barthes and Bremond to Van Dijk or Bal.[1]  But it is to some extent contradictory with one direction of Tomashevski's analysis, namely the conception of the fabula as the fully concretized action, the product of the reader's deconstruction of the siuzhet.  

            Bound motifs call for other motifs, and their development and connection calls for free motifs.  Tomashevski's analysis is developed later by Roland Barthes's classification of narrative motifs into functions (either kernels or catalysts) and indexes.  Indexes are integrative motifs, which refer us to another level of the narrative structure, such as the narrative act.


            Another principle of classification divides the motifs into static   and dynamic.  This division cuts across the first one: "Free motifs are usually static, but not all static motifs are free"  ("Thematics" 70).  This classification derives from a conception of the fabula as the transition from a static situation to a different static situation.  From this very definition we see that the fabula, the basic action scheme, must include both static and dynamic motifs, although in Tomashevski's view the fabula consists most characteristically of bound motifs, while most motifs introduced at siuzhet  (story) level are static.  Contemporary narrative favours either the suppresion of traditional catalysts or static motifs, or else the reorganization of their function: nuclei or dynamic motifs may be suppressed as well, and left to implication and suggestion; we read their trace in the secondary motifs (static motifs, catalysts) which are explicitly represented.  Through its intertextual reliance on previous texts, a narrative can reshuffle the traditional role of motifs, so that a seeming nucleus, that is, an event which should have been a nucleus in previous narrative styles, becomes a catalyst for the knowledgeable reader.  Therefore, the characterization of motifs as nuclei or catalysts depends in each case of the textual dynamics and on interpretation, and cannot be determined a priori.

            Dynamic motifs be divided into events  and actions.[2]   Actions, atomic actions, are intentional, the product of human agency, though with a varying degree of deliberateness.  Events are the products of impersonal forces, or at least forces which are outside the conscious control of agents.  Here we discover another principle of classification or analysis.  A narrative may rely to a greater or lesser extent on actions or on events; it may be governed to a greater or lesser extent by the opposing principles of human intention or chance happenings. 






[1]          Roland Barthes, "Introduction à l'analyse structurale des récits" 16ff (cf. also Chatman's version of Barthes in Story and Discourse);  Claude Bremond, Logique du récit;  Teun A. Van Dijk, Some Aspects of Text Grammars  308; Mieke Bal, Narratology  13ff.

[2]          We shall use the term "atomic action" whenever there is a risk of confusion between an incident and the whole of the action.