Gerard Genette, “Narrative Discourse”


FOREWORD: Jonathan Culler’

– Culler invested in legitimizing literary theory as practice. Widely, Genette, as a structuralist, seeks to apply demystifying structural theories of linguistics to literature (‘grammar’), claiming that lingustics: language :: poetics: literature. In gesturing towards the importance of the marginal, Culler claims for Genette a place in the ‘current’ (1977) trends of post-structuralism and excuses the very problems he begins to locate in Genette’s work.


Summary: Resists the closed, more Formalist notion of ‘the text’ by insisting upon the openness of texts like Proust’s. “Like every work… elements that are universal, or at least transindividual…specific synthesis,” methodology of particular à general.


Narrative (Recit) – Statement: The order in which events appear textually (plot for the Formalists) – so, for example, Lolita begins with the jury, jumps back to HH’s childhood, then resumes at the point he met Lo and zigzags from there.

Story (Histoire) – Contents: Sequence in which events actually occurred (story for the Formalists) – Genette maps out specific array of temporal points in what we read.

Narration – Telling: Enunciative act itself (vs. narrative) – Genette points to this as largely ignored/understudied.

• Main focus is narrative, but acknowledges importance and relation of other two (narrative and story, narrative and narrating).

• Insists on the text’s freedom from paratexts. (but vs. Booth – less interest in reader, yet assumes a reader able to decipher structure beyond/outside historical-contextual restraints)

• The first half of the book focuses on temporality, under the subheadings of order, duration, and frequency, but Genette gestures towards the later chapters here on mood (diegesis/mimesis and fid/discourse) and perspective (focalization), so we can keep this discussion/many of the same passages on hand, even, for Thursday.


ANACHRONIES – arranged vs. story time – defines W. literature – allows for narrative to tergiversate, productively, it seems, for Genette. – connective, evocative – “memory-created instances” (46), referent to both character and reader, it seems? Though tacitly.

Prolepsis: (Anticipation)  fate, refs to Wix’s grandness, p. 142

Analepsis: (Flashback) not precisely a flashback, but a projection of later feelings onto the event not-yet-fully-recounted during its enunciation.

Anachrony: any discordance between temporal orders of story and narrative.

• these can all have varying reach (distance) and extent (duration), creating subtleties and subdivisions.

Mixed Analepsis: Begins before and ends at point after starting place of first narrative.

External Analepsis: Remains entirely external to the first narrative, no threat of interference.

• Interestingly, with Maisie, which presumes to begin in ultimas res, the start in present perfect tense is actually analeptic, referring (vaguely) to a time occurring before the start of the novel and ending at an uncertain point before the beginning of its diegesis. The first sentence of the novel is, then, somehow, outside of the first narrative.

– Difference between ‘pre-chapter’ and Chapter 1 in tense – implies analepsis before start of narrative via grammar. Rather than recount that which the novel starts with (Re: classical model of in ultimas res), never doubles back, exactly.

Internal Analepsis: Occurs within the temporal limits of the first narrative (threat of repetition, confusion).

–       Heterodiegetic: separate from the contents of the first narrative/catchup

–       Homodiegetic: same line of action as the first narrative

  • Recalls/Completing: returns to complete an earlier gap in narrative
  • Paralipsis: (talks with doll, to captain) sidestep completed by retrospective filling-in – a form of censorship, Genette argues – but by whom? Particularly interesting in Maisie.
    • Enigma: “At the time, I did not know…”
    • Reinterpreted: One meaning replaced by another “Marcel understands then that he had understood nothing.” 60, a dialectic of analeptic interpretation that characterizes Maisie. see quote 1, 142 again, too, and all the cases where she ‘pieces together’ motives of others.
    • Partial Analepsis: Never fully rejoined. “without ever acknowledging and signaling the moment” of suture (Wix)

• Maisie’s particular structure complicates readerly ordering of the novel. She both models the ‘putting away’ of memory and the puzzle-piecing of it back together, but also conceals herself, beyond the concealments of the narrator. Further, her lack of comprehension, as part of the novel’s psychic force, also enacts a kind of narrative force different from the Proustian one Genette outlines here.

Internal Prolepsis: again, problem of interference.

–       Heterodiegetic: Negligible.

–       Homodiegetic: Within storyline

  • Completing: Fills in ahead of time a later blank
  • Repeating: a slight doubling of a narrative to come
  • Iterative: which become, with other iterations, as Brandon will address, a replacement for summary in Proust. What about James?

–       Advance Notices: explicit, legible already, before following information.

–       Advance Mentions: simple markers without anticipation/acquire significance only later (VN rereading)

–       Snares/False Snares

External Prolepsis:  again, no threat of interference.

Double Structures: anticipated recalls, open analepses, etc.

• ex. defiance of chronology for spatial proximity, or reverse, so that narrative has temporal autonomy.

• Mrs. Wix as a connective point here – we gain advance notice of her, but she is also entangled in Genette’s later points about recall – Brandon. 238 – “Mrs. Wix had once said – it was once or 50 times…”



Say a story is narrated as follows: the clues of a murder are discovered by a detective (event A); the circumstances of the murder are finally revealed (event B); and lastly the murderer is caught (event C).

Add corresponding numbers to the lettered events that represent their order chronologically: 1, 2, and 3.

If these events were described chronologically, they would run B1, A2, C3. Arranged in the text, however, they run A2 (discovery), B1 (flashback), C3 (resolution).

This accounts for the ‘obvious’ effects the reader will recognise, such as flashback. It also deals with the structure of narratives on a more systematic basis, accounting for flash-forward, simultaneity, as well as possible, if rarely used effects. These disarrangements on the level of order are termed ‘anachrony’.


The separation between an event and its narration allows several possibilities.

  • An event can occur once and be narrated once (singular).
    • ‘Today I went to the shop.’
  • An event can occur n times and be narrated once (iterative).
    • ‘I used to go to the shop.’
  • An event can occur once and be narrated n times (repetitive).
    • ‘Today I went to the shop’ + ‘Today he went to the shop’ etc.
  • An event can occur n times and be narrated n times (multiple).
    • ‘I used to go to the shop’ + ‘He used to go to the shop’ + ‘I went to the shop yesterday’ etc.


The separation between an event and its narration means that there is discourse time and narrative time. These are the two main elements of duration.

  • “Five years passed”, has a lengthy narrative time, five years, but a short discourse time (it only took a second to read).
  • James Joyce’s novel Ulysses has a relatively short narrative time, twenty-four hours. Not many people, however, could read Ulysses in twenty-four hours. Thus it is safe to say it has a lengthy discourse time.


Voice is concerned with who narrates, and from where. This can be split four ways.

  • Where the narration is from
    • Intra-diegetic: inside the text. e.g. Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White
    • Extra-diegetic: outside the text. e.g. Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  • Is the narrator a character in the story?
    • Hetero-diegetic: the narrator is not a character in the story. e.g. Homer’s The Odyssey
    • Homo-diegetic: the narrator is a character in the story. e.g. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights


Genette said narrative mood is dependent on the ‘distance’ and ‘perspective’ of the narrator, and like music, narrative mood has predominant patterns. It is related to voice.

Distance of the narrator changes with narrated speech, transposed speech and reported speech.

Perspective of the narrator is called focalization. Narratives can be non-focalized, internally focalized or externally focalized


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