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Bernard Duyfhuizen. Narratives of Transmission. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1992. 278 pp. $36.50 cloth.

In Narratives of Transmission Bernard Duyfhuizen distinguishes between narration, “the activity of telling itself, the essential action in a text’s narrative of transmission,” and the narrative of transmission. The latter refers to the “second narrative that obtains within the process of narrating and that is marked within the narration.” Such intra-narrative documents include “letters, a diary, a memoir, a hybrid collection of documents arranged by an editor, or a transcribed oral narration.” These texts constitute what the author calls a “discourse of the other” that exists within the primary narrative and constitutes its “motivating force.”

We have long understood how novelists use structural complications as a narrative strategy. Indeed, that great ancestor of modern prose fiction, Don Quixote, contains a profusion of internal documents, narrators, readers, and audiences, all of them designed to undermine any absolute fictional representation. Duyfuizen wishes “to establish operating procedures for reading the signs of transmission encoded in the narrative text.” In establishing typology and procedure he leans explicitly on such precursors as Franz Stanzel, Gerard Genette, and Susan Lanser, in particular on those categories that Lanser articulates in The Narrative Act: “(1) status, the textual speaker’s relationship to the literary act; (2) contact, the interactions between narrators and the audience; and (3) stance, the attitudes of the textual personae toward the represented world.”

Duyfhuizen uses Bakhtin when he suggests how transmission “marks both the appropriation of another’s discourse and the attempts to recontextualize that discourse so that it produces effects other than those originally intended by the speaker or writer.” He also adopts Peter Brooks’s reconstruction of Freud’s theory of transference in defining “the site of exchange in the narrative contract between narrator and narratee.”

From such theoretical beginnings Duyfhuizen constructs excellent readings of particular narratives of transmission that occur within a series of literary forms. In talking about epistolary narratives, for instance, he uses Les liaisons dangereuses and Clarissa to show how the transgression of social order that is apparent in these works can occur [End Page 427] only because of transmission networks that have been created by a pre-existing social order. Transmission and transgression, for Duyfhuizen, thus constitute a double narrative. Also, in the diary narrative, the diarist’s doubleness arises from the fact that while he/she is ostensibly writing for private consumption, the author is writing for an audience outside the narrated text.

Most narratives are hybrid documents, in which such texts as letters and diary entries appear. By “rehears[ing] the genre that organized its logic within the literary universe . . . letters, diaries, and other documents that haunt prose fiction offer an alternative to the transmission processes of gossip that function in most novels.” Other examples of hybrid texts include novels with fictional prefaces as well as novels whose frames enclose the narration and make its representational authority recede from the reader. Duyfhuizen even has some fresh insights into that most commented on of all problematic narratives, The Turn of the Screw. He points out the many ways in which the governess’ text is mediated through such means as the narrator’s handcopying of it and our having to wait many years for its revelation, as well as through the agency of a framed narration that starts, but does not complete, the story. “In many respects all narratives of transmission turn a screw of narration and fabulate a figure already displaced and undecidable; thus, the object of interpretation is the textualized scene of writing and not the written scene.”

Narratives of Transmission, then, deals with several aspects of narration that other narratologists have touched on only in passing. Although the book’s language depends too much on the Latinate terminology used by, say, Genette, this is a challenging book from which one can learn a great deal.

Michael J. Hoffman
University of California, Davis

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pp. 427-428
Launched on MUSE
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