4.5. Narrative Positions

 

 

What Genette does very well is to systematize the varieties of narrators according to purely formal criteria: their structural position with respect to the fabula and the different enunciative levels of the work.  The two criteria he uses result in the fourfould characterization of narrators into extradiegetic / intradiegetic on one hand, and homodiegetic / heterodiegetic on the other.  Before we examine these concepts further, it will be convenient to remember an important difference between different analytical problems: fictionality on one hand, and enunciative hierarchy on the other. 

 

            The relationship of fictionality is the one established between real and fictional phenomena.  Fiction is a kind of parasitic or alternative reality, one which is grounded in a real world with respect to which it is defined as fiction.  So a fictional event or a fictional world can be represented as a framed section in the middle of reality: the frame, by definition, cannot be crossed:

 

Real world

 

                                               Author / Inventor

 

                        ________________________________________

                             Fictional world

 

 

                                   Fictional characters and happenings

 

 

                        ________________________________________

 

 

 

The relation of fictionality is recursive: it can be applied again and again to the object it produces. 

 

            Any relationship of embedding can therefore multiply in two directions inside a text: [1]

  Horizontally, a number of fictional worlds may coexist at the same fictional level.  That is, we find a recursivity in length, an enchaining of embedded texts:

 

                                               Author

 

___________________     ________________    _________________

       Fictional world  A (1)           Fictional world B (1)          Fictional world C (1)

___________________     ________________    _________________

 

  Vertically, the signified world of a text may include another text or semiotic element which introduces an embedded fictional reality, which in turn may contain a further fictional reality, and so on.  That is, we can find fictional words where characters give rise to other fictional worlds, by dreaming them, imagining them or writing about them; the levels of fictionality assume here the form of a Chinese box:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Real world                                         

                                                           Real author

            ____________________________________________________

 

               Fictional world A (1)          

                                                           Fictional author (1)

                        _____________________________________________

 

                            Fictional world B (2)     

                                                           Fictional author (2)

                                   ______________________________________

 

                                          Fictional world C(3) 

                                                           Fictional author (3)

                                               _______________________________

 

                                                   Fictional world D (4)   (...)

 

                                               _______________________________

                                   ______________________________________

                        _____________________________________________

            ____________________________________________________

 

            These two modalities of embedding (enchained embeddings or embedded embeddings) can be combined in an infinite number of ways.  The fictional relation can establish multiple embeddings, enchainings and hierarchies until a complex pattern of relationships is constituted between the different realities of the discursive activity.  An author or inventor, real or fictional, may invent different fictional worlds which are independent from each other, or he may establish further relations of fictionality between those fictional worlds. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            Real world                                          Author

 

 

         _____________       _____________     _______________________________

          Fictional                             Fictional                       Fictional

          world A (1)        world B (1)                    world C (1)    Fictional author (1)

                                                                      _________    ___________

                                                                       Fictional                    Fictional

                                                                                                         world D (2)                  world E (2)

                                                                                                                                                  

                                                                                                                                                      Fict.

                                                                                                                                                    auth. (2)

                                                                                                                                                 __________

 

                                                                                                                                                       (...)

                                                                                                                                                 __________

 

                                                                      _________    ___________

 

         _____________       _____________     _______________________________

 

 

            The other hierarchic relationship we mentioned, enunciative hierarchy, is established between a main text and a subordinate text which is embedded inside it.  The simplest instance is the use of direct speech, with an introductory speech verb (the main text) and a quoted sentence:

                        Nietzsche said, "I can't find my umbrella."

At textual level, this relationship is established between whole texts, and not just between sentences.   For instance, the stories in The Canterbury Tales   are hierarchically dependent on the main story, which frames them by telling us about the circumstances of their telling and the identity of the different narrators.  When the characters in the Miller's Tale speak, their enunciation is hierarchically inferior to the enunciation of the tale by the Miller, just as the Miller's enunciation is hierarchically inferior to Chaucer's.  This kind of embedding is also potentially recursive: in Lost in the Funhouse  John Barth exploits this multiple embedding with comical effects. 

 

            Enunciative embedding can be developed in the horizontal and the vertical relation in the same way as fictional embedding, and it may combine those two modalities of development in just the same way.  

 

            It is obvious that these two kinds of embedding are different in nature.  The contents of an embedded text may be fictional with respect to those of the main text, but they may also refer to the same (real or fictional) world.  Therefore, a change in enunciative level, the introduction of a speaker through the words of another, does not necessarily involve a change in fictional level.  Conversely, a change in fictional level does not necessarily involve a change in enunciative level.  A fictional world must certainly consist in a semiotic representation of some kind: it is something referred to, signified, rather than something which is present in itself.  But this representation need not be made by means of language.  A fictional world may appear in a dream, a picture, a film, not only in a literary narrative.  The same thing happens when we project the fictional relationship to the inside of a literary narrative: when the narrator tells us of a character's dream, we enter a second-degree fictional world without entering a second-degree narrative. 

 

            There is still a third kind of semiotic embedding which appears in narrative texts and which should be kept in mind, even if it not directly related to the discursive position of the narrator.  Not all embedded semiotic structures must assume the form of discourses.  When speaking of fiction we have already mentioned the possibility of pictures, dreams, etc., which appear as elements of the main fabula.  Some of these elements can be used to introduce an embedded fragment which nevertheless refers to the same fictional world of the main narrative (for instance, the description of a photograph in a novel).  There is a change in level here, but it is not in enunciative level nor in fictional level.  We shall call these changes in semiotic level.  Of course, direct speech is also a semiotic device, but it is used to represent speech--itself, in a way.  A photograph, on the other hand, cannot be quoted the way a letter is quoted. 

 

            Furthermore, if we look back to the concept of perspective or focalization, we shall soon see another possible kind of embedding, an embedding which does not involve semiotic artifacts present in the fabula (verbal or other).  What is embedded are different kinds of cognitive structures, or perspectives.  Bal  speaks in this respect of changes in the level of focalization, usually introduced by verbs of perception or cognition and structured very much like the shifts in enunciative level introduced by speech activity verbs.[2] 

 

 

 



[1]          Cf. Genette, Narrative Discourse  214 n.

[2]          Mieke Bal, Narratologie  38; "The Laughing Mice: Or, on Focalization" 203ff.