- Narrative Crossings: Theory and Pragmatics of Prose Fiction, and: Individuations: The Novel as Dissent, and: Semiotic and Structuralist Analyses of Fiction: An Introduction and A Survey of Applications
Although these three works contrast, they are intriguing to read together. Gelley and Peavler offer sharply differing theories of fiction, both of which draw from the type of analyses that Orr's work surveys but with very different effects. Together these three works reflect the competing assumptions about fiction from which a contemporary critic has to choose.
Alexander Gelley's Narrative Crossings: Theory and Pragmatics of Prose Fiction develops a theory of fiction from the work of such postmodern thinkers as Derrida, de Man, Lacan, Serres, de Certeau, Lyotard, as well as their predecessors, Heidegger, Benjamin, Bakhtin, Lotman, Barthes, Genette. You might say that, borrowing from the former, his work destabilizes the latter. Gelley writes, "What I attempt in these chapters is to take certain familiar concepts of fictive representation—concepts like description, character, dialogue, setting, scene—and probe them in terms of their other, of a negating or shadow side." In the first part of the book, Gelley takes up traditional narrative categories and reveals their instability. For example, in the case of description—the subject of Chapter One, he begins with "the ambiguity implicit in the word itself (describere), the contradiction of a scriptive and pictorial rendering, and pursue[s] it in terms of the concept and of its function within a more general structure of fiction." In the next three chapters Gelley treats space, character, and dialogue in a similar manner. Representation in fiction is the issue traced throughout the book. The remaining chapters of the book are devoted to practical criticisms based on the same theoretical concerns as their titles suggest: "The Two Julies: Conversion and Imagination in La Nouvelle Heloise," "Dialogic Structure in Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre," "Flaubert's Quotidian Tale: The Reality Effect in 'Un Coeur simple,' " and "Sighting the Scene: Representation and the Specular Model in Hawthorne's 'Wakefield.' " In his chapter on Goethe, for instance, he takes up the question of the-reader-in-the-text and shows how Goethe's projected "interlocutor" is not a "model of total comprehension of crystallized meaning" and therefore is not the best guide to an interpretation of the work, posing instead Bahktin's dialogic structure as an interpretive stratagem. Readers familiar with the poststructuralist idiom, especially of writers like de Man, will find this work stimulating and suggestive, an extension of the type of deconstructive analysis (loosely speaking) of literary texts brought to bear upon the concepts of traditional analysis, showing the ramifications such a strategy has for the reading of literary texts. Readers unfamiliar with this idiom will find the analyses baffling.
Terry J. Peavler's Individuations: The Novel as Dissent, like Gelley's work, develops a theory of fiction, but from a quite different perspective, one based on the work of writers like Erich Fromm and Raymond Williams. In his Preface Peavler indicates that his original goal was to "demonstrate, using formalist principles, the unique nature of the novel. After fifteen years he abandoned the project but in this work still seeks a "finer discrimination" of the genre than is presently [End Page 373] available. Borrowing the term from Erich Fromm, Peavler argues that the term "novel" should be replaced by the concept of "individuation"—"the process by which man, both as a species and as an individual becomes a unique personality and learns to relate to and interact with the environment, be it social or natural." Peavler understands individuation as the effect of "a dissident voice." Believing that the dialectic between the individual and the environment is the "parole" or deep structure that informs the novel as a genre, Peavler complains that the novel is often identified with its surface...