2.19. The Action in the Text

 

A text is language, and as such it is action, linguistic action.  We should in principle distinguish carefully between the text and the action it conveys.  The narrated action is logically prior to the text (even in fiction); nevertheless it depends on its textual representation in the sense that it cannot be known otherwise.  It is essentially mediated.  Sometimes we hear, usually as a way of praising a writer's style, that the action seems to take place by itself, to jump from the page in an immediate, vivid, unmediated form.  We should consider that this is a manner of speaking. Even those sections of the text in which the unfolding of the action is foremost in the reader's mind, those passages which are packed with movement and immediacy, are not action but text, not just happenings, but also form, treatment. 

            Of course we ought to be able to differentiate degrees of immediacy of the action, differences in action-rendering between narratives or between sections of the same narrative.  There are modes of enunciation which aim at producing the effect of an immediate rendering of the action.  Critics have referred to them with a variety of names: for instance, "historical enunciation" (Benveniste), "scene" (Lubbock), "dramatic mode" or "camera mode" (Norman Friedman), "mimetic language" (Martínez Bonati).  None of these terms is equivalent to the others, since this impression of immediacy is a construction,  a semiotic effect,  and can be achieved in a variety of ways.  But as this is a matter of storytelling technique and style, rather than of the nature of the action itself, we will postpone to the corresponding sections the study of this deceptively immediacy of the action.  Here we will only remark that the whole of the textual surface is not homogeneous as far as the depiction of the action and the narrated world is concerned.  Some parts of the narrative text, the most properly "narrative" ones,  may be devoted to the depiction of the action and world in a quite direct fashion, while others include other types of material ‹commentary, digressions, meditations,  minor independent narratives such as exempla, etc.  There is a continuum of intermediate forms between one extreme and the other, a whole register of more or less "transparent" or "direct" narrative forms, though, of course, even the most direct focusing on the action is still a focusing, a mediation.