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Reviewed by:
Gerald Prince. Dictionary of Narratology. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1987. 118 pp. $17.95.
Welch D. Everman. Who Says This? The Authority of the Author, the Discourse, and the Reader. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1988. 142 pp. $17.95.

In a world overrun with theories and vocabularies, there are two reasons for coining new words or redefining those that exist: to designate something not hitherto named or to reveal a new system of relations. From Henry James and Percy [End Page 374] Lubbock we inherited a set of terms that enhanced our understanding of point of view in fiction. Finding that vocabulary inadequate, Dorrit Cohn, Franz Stanzel, and Gérard Genette developed different systems to name the phenomena involved, and each one calls attention to important aspects of narrative technique. The efforts of French structuralists to describe other aspects of narrative left us a more dubious welter of words. When not renaming phenomena that had already been named, they often used traditional terms in new senses. And when translated, a single French word might spawn several in English (thus Barthes's catalyses became "catalyzers," "catalysts," and "satellites").

In these circumstances, Prince's Dictionary of Narratology is an immensely useful reference work. It includes nearly all the terms that fall within the field; the only omissions I noted were words that have not gained currency. He is particularly generous in presenting the terminology of the French structuralists but does not slight the Anglo-American, German, and Russian traditions. The multiple meanings of words such as "mode" are lucidly distinguished, and the foreign terms used by some who write in English ("Er-form," "histoire") are appropriately cross-referenced. Relevant terms from communication theory, psychology, and folklore also appear.

To gain an understanding of some words, it is necessary to know the meaning of others, and by following the cross-references Prince supplies, it is possible, and sometimes necessary, to piece together the theories from which they are taken. A few entries, such as "focalization" and "function," draw together large areas of theory in useful ways. Narratologists will want to have a copy of Prince's Dictionary at hand; if available in paperback, it would be useful for courses in narrative. The proliferation of overlapping terminology in the past thirty years has produced what looks more like a scholasticism than a science of narrative, and this situation obscures important achievements in the field. Although we do not need an Academy of Narratology to license neologisms, we might profit from the efforts of a reductionist who proposed to cut the working vocabulary of the discipline down to an unredundant size.

Whereas critics classify the techniques of fiction, writers play with them, disrupting the conventions that separate characters, narrators, and authors, and thereby calling into question the ontology that segregates texts, facts, and dioughts. Everman's Who Says This? is a collection of essays that could serve as a primer of postmodernism. The first chapter concerns the mixing of fact and fiction in The Executioner's Song, Kerouac's Visions of Cody, and Cantor's The Death of Ché Guevara. In his almost desperate attempt to show what really happened, Mailer is driven to the fictional rendering of consciousness as well as to a ponderous authentication through inclusion of court transcripts and newspaper articles. Kerouac's quest for the truth of Neal Cassady leads him to a quest for himself in "spontaneous prose" and tape recording. (Both approaches are in the American grain; Mark Twain had used news clippings and imagined an internal tape recorder in writing his autobiography.) But of course neither of these approaches will yield a truth beyond textuality—as Cantor realizes.

The next four chapters treat Raymond Federman, Harry Mathews (of OuLiPo), and Italo Calvino respectively. Everman is a perceptive reader and a good writer, but the subtitle of his book—The Authority of the Author, the Discourse, and the Reader —provides only an occasion for collecting these essays, not a conceptual [End Page 375] structure that draws them together. Assaults on literary authority have taken two forms. One challenges the unity of the author as a self capable of validating a text woven from an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 374-376
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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