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Unspeakable Sentences: Narration and Representation in Benedetti’s “Five Years of Life”

From: Narrative
Volume 21, Number 2, May 2013
pp. 243-262 | 10.1353/nar.2013.0011

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Preliminary Remarks

This article deals with the relations between narrative (more precisely, narration) and fiction in a short story by Mario Benedetti, “Five Years of Life.”2 Its theoretical frame of reference is S.-Y. Kuroda and Ann Banfield’s non-communicational or poetic theory of narrative, seen as an alternative to communicational narrative theory, which has occupied a dominant position since narratology came into being. Given that the terms narrative theory, communicational theory (or theory of narrative communication), and narratology are all often used and often used ambiguously, I would like to clarify what I understand by narratology and communicational theory of narrative as well as the context of what might be interpreted as a “return” to Kuroda’s and Banfield’s theories.3

By narratology, I understand first a school of literary theory or, more precisely, of the theory of literary narrative, which was first formed in the mid 1960s and based at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, then at the École des Hautes Études en Science Sociales in Paris (its socio-institutional heritage is not indifferent but determines the meaning of the adjective structuralist in the term structuralist narratology). Gérard Genette swiftly became its leading figure. For historical reasons which deserve closer examination, his prominence began to extend outside France in the late 1970s, particularly in the Netherlands, the United States, and Israel; it later reached other countries in Europe, often by an indirect route, particularly in German-speaking countries, which were subject to other influences. The program put forward by narratology was expressed as follows in Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method: “Analysis of narrative discourse will thus be for me, essentially, a study of the relationships between narrative and story, between narrative and narrating, and (to the extent that they are inscribed in the narrative discourse) between story and narrating” (29). It was reformulated in Narrative Discourse Revisited and in the preface to the French translation of Käte Hamburger’s Die Logik der Dichtung (The Logic of Literature): “the work of fictional narratology, always more or less focused on the comparison of discourse and story, assumes (by virtue of a provisional methodological decision) that the nonserious pretense of fiction—to tell a story that has actually happened—is taken seriously” (113). Story, narrative (or narrative discourse, or simply discourse), narrating (or narrator): narratology cannot do without the propositions these words encapsulate. They designate issues so essential that it cannot call them into question without undermining its own legitimacy.

1.    There is a story, which must be clearly distinguished from the narrative in which it is expressed.

2.    The narrative is always uttered by somebody addressing somebody else— even in the case of written narrative: “uttered,” here, means “produced in verbal form, whether oral or written.” This is what Genette terms the narrating (narration in French).

3.    In the case of narrative fiction, the story and the narrating (and thus the narrator and the narratee) are fictional. More precisely, a fictional act of narrating duplicates the author’s real act, which Genettian narratology passes over, although in its absence there would simply be no narrative. The fictional narrator recounts to the narratee a series of events he or she knows before his or her act of narration. He or she is the one who makes use of the categories of time (order, duration, frequency), mode, and voice in Genettian narratology. He or she is behind the selection and presentation (sometimes termed focalization) of narrative information in other versions of narratology.

Somebody addressing somebody else, a narrator modeled on the speaker in communication and understood to be fictional in the case of fictional narrative: narratology can be termed a communicational theory of narrative—including fictional narrative.

Contemporary debates accord great importance to the difference between structuralist narratology, classical narratology, and postclassical narratologies (this terminology was put forward not by historians, but rather by the central figures of the second movement). Postclassical narratologies, they claim, are distinguished by a profusion of new methods and research hypotheses. They add that it draws on a range of sciences and that its corpus is much larger and more varied than that of classical narratology. Nevertheless, it seems to...

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