Narratology and Proust: An Essay on the Narrative Form
Narratology refers to the narrative form in literature, and all that it entails. It is concerned with the order and method by which the narrative is crafted. By design, a narrative must contain at minimum characters and a narrator, a voice apart from the characters that plays the role of storyteller, observer, and commentator. It is important because narration touches our lives through mass media, television, news print, and almost every form of information we receive in our daily lives. Four our purposes however, we will examine its use in fiction, or more finitely, the novel. In order to best understand the use of narratology within the novel context, we will examine the various elements of narratology according to conventional theory. Then, we will explore the example of Proust's style of narratology in his famous works, "In Search of Lost Time." In one of the most celebrated and widely criticized forms of narratology, the dancer becomes the dance, or in this case, the writer becomes the story.
According to Perdue University's notes on narratology which are published on the website, "The study of narrative is particularly important since our ordering of time and space in narrative forms constitutes one of the primary ways we construct meaning in general. (Felluga, 2002) As Hayden White puts it, "far from being one code among many that a culture may utilize for endowing experience with meaning, narrative is a meta-code, a human universal on the basis of which transcultural messages about the nature of a shared reality can be transmitted" (White, 1987).
The term "narratology" is a derived from the French term narratologie, which was first established by Tzvetan Todorov in Grammaire du Decameron (1969). Notably Brooks, Barthes and Greimas have developed theories regarding the structure and purpose of the narrative form. Peter Brooks' theory asserts that the primary function of the narrative is to drive the plot of the story. The way that the narrative does this is to provide the segue to the next sequence, chapter or scene. He refers to this element as "the temporal dynamics that shape narratives in our reading of them, the play of desire in time that makes us turn pages and strive toward narrative ends." It carries the story from one moment to the next, thus "moving it forward." (Brooks, 1984) Brooks distinguishes his theory as distinctively opposed to those of Barthes or Greimas, or any academic who refers to his or her self as a "structuralist narratologist."
In this sense Barthes sees narrative as providing the links in the fence, the queue which shapes the boundaries of the work; "demarcates, encloses, establishes limits, orders." (Brooks, 1984) Interestingly, Barthes' own translation of these boundaries supports Brooks' seeming rejection of them, by perceiving "plot" as analogous to a grave plot, i.e., a bounded space that relates to the concepts of death or closure, or as Brooks puts it: "the internal logic of the discourse of mortality." (Brooks, 1984)
Brooks further examines the narrative context by expounding on the metaphor and metonymy as polar principles of language construction. Brooks associates the idea of the interplay between metonymy and metaphor with the Freudian notions of the pleasure principle and the death drive. He states: "the metaphoric work of eventual totalization determines the meaning and status of the metonymic work of sequence -- though it must also be claimed that the metonymies of the middle produced, gave birth to, the final metaphor" (Brooks, 1984). He is basically saying that use of metonymy carries a sequence of the story in strings of rhetoric by using abstract ideas to paint a picture, where the metaphor in similar fashion is used at the end of a boundary to bring provide to the sequence. The slight distinction between metonymy and metaphor bring an artful dance to the construct of a scene.
Further, Brooks explains this interplay by relating it to the theory of Freud's "Pleasure Principle," in that the reader's motivation to continue with the story is to find the essence of the character's motivation, the pleasure in his or her victory, the closure of the death of a relationship, a moment, a happening or a character itself. Brooks claims that readers are vicariously motivated by Freud's pleasure principle and death drive, and even in the reading of novels seek to satisfy these urges through what Brooks refers to as "textual erotics." (Brooks, 1984)
Consequently, if this is indeed the reader's subliminal motivation, then if the closure is timed too soon, the reader can feel cheated from the totality of the experience, or conversely, if closure is left to the imagination, the reader can be left without resolution. This concept parallels that of the human experience, in which individuals are inclined to repeat traumatic episodes, each iteration bringing one closer to closure, or true understanding. Freud associates repetition with the death drive, in that it is elemental to proper closure. Brooks considers the use of repetition key to the narrative in creating boundaries. "The desire of the text (the desire of reading) is hence desire for the end, but desire for the end reached only through the at least minimally complicated detour, the intentional deviance, in tension, which is the plot of narrative." (Brooks, 1984)
Roland Barthes identifies five organizational structures that he claims are engaged by any narrative. He sees the structure of the work as being sort of "backed into." In other words, the plot is not derived by the traditional structural piecing together of a story according to the edicts of English definition, i.e., setting-conflict-climax-resolution, but rather as he puts it: a "nebulae' of signifieds" in which each sentence, each thought is an individual component to a larger whole. (Barthes, 1974) In this way, the plot line is not necessarily linear, but exponential, with the main entrance point being subjective.
Barthes refers to his organizational structures as "codes" which are interdispersed throughout the text in no particular order.
The hermeneutic code refers to an element in the story that raises unanswered questions.
The proairetic code refers to an element in the story that builds suspense or entices interest.
The semantic code infers additional meaning through the use of connotation.
The symbolic code is roughly defined as apart from semantics in that: "Every joining of two antithetical terms, every mixture, every conciliation -- in short, every passage through the wall of the Antithesis -- thus constitutes a transgression" (Barthes, 1974)
The cultural code delineates the communication of a body of knowledge.
These are the basic definitions of Barthes' codes. Their usefulness to the narrative art can be expounded upon further. For instance, the hermeneutic code can be utilized as a tool to preface the culmination of a later scene. By introducing some, but not all of the details early on, when the pieces come together further on the impact is heightened by wetting the appetite of the reader for the sought-after conclusion, the inevitable answer to "why?" Or "what happens next?." As Barthes notes, a classic example of this strategy is a suspense mystery, such as a detective story. However it is important to note that the successful execution of this strategy is to ultimately reveal the answers to the questions posed. Leaving the answers open-ended will leave the reader, as Brooks asserts, unsatisfied due to a lack of resolution.
The proairetic code is similar to Brooks' notion of the primary aim of narrative, i.e., the "temporal dynamics" which serve to drive the plot forward. Barthes relates the first two codes with "the same tonal determination that melody and harmony have in classical music." (Barthes, 1974) He implies that the first two codes work better in chronological order, whereas the remaining codes are independent of place and timing for their effectiveness in the story.
For instance, the semantic code utilizes the technique of nuance, suggestion or implication as a communicative or illustrative tool. The semantic code is simply a way for the writer to find a more creative, aesthetically pleasing way of espousing ideas to the reader during the telling of the story. The timing is not necessarily strategically associated to the plot line. The symbolic code is defined as "a 'deeper' structural principle that organizes semantic meanings, usually by way of antithesis or mediations. (Felluga, 2002) In this sense, the symbolic code is characteristically useful as a tool to represent contradictions. Lastly, the cultural code is useful when educating the reader about a specific subject matter. It can be any reference, whether topical, related to language, geography or insight. Barthes calls the five codes a "weaving of voices." (Barthes, 1974) The utilization of the various codes in the development of the narrative form is akin to a weaver who makes a blanket, creating patterns, linking fabrics, forming a whole product from distinctly different threads and colors, combining them into a palatable product. Algirdas Greimas looks at narration from an entirely different perspective. His underlying premise is that writer's…