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Narrative Enthymeme: The Examples of Laurence Sterne and James Joyce
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The technique of the "Aeolus" episode of Joyce's Ulysses is, according to the scheme that Joyce had given Stuart Gilbert, "enthymemic." The common understanding of an enthymeme is as an argument in which, by contrast to a syllogism, one of the premises is either implicit, absent, or non-valid, and the conclusion is, therefore, a matter of probability rather than certainty. A syllogism,1 works as follows:

A.   All men are mortal.

B.   Socrates is a man.

C.   Socrates is mortal.

By contrast, "We were weak, therefore worthless"2 relies on an enthymeme:

A.   To be weak is to be worthless [tacit premise].

B.   We were weak.

C.   We were worthless.

The missing premise, moreover, is also non-valid, though we can name any number of civilizations in which that maxim would "enjoy good repute."3 The enthymeme here has an ironic ring, and the irony is at the expense of the system of thinking—e.g. the strategies of the British Empire—within which the elided maxim may be held true.

I believe that the notion of the enthymeme can be useful for the analysis not only of classical rhetoric but also of narrative.4 In narrative, the implicit premise of the enthymeme can belong either to the External Frame of Reference (EFR—see Hrushovsky 1984), a semantic continuum outside the specific text, or to the Internal Frame of Reference (IFR), a semantic continuum formed by units within the text.

An External Frame of Reference can be a source of an enthymeme when it (the context) facilitates a semiotic deciphering of a narrative detail (in the text). In Joyce's "The Sisters," for example, Father Flynn is known to have grown up in Irish town. Hence, one has to conclude that he comes from a poor family. This is based on the implicit contextual premise: Irishtown is, at the time, a poor neighborhood.

  • A.   Irishtown is a poor neighbourhood [tacit premise from EFR].

  • B.   Father Flynn grew up in Irishtown.

  • C.   Father Flynn and his sisters come from a poor family.

  • True, the same conclusion can be drawn from the features and occupation of his sisters, but these narrative elements have other functions in the story. In fact, the enthymemic conclusion suggested by a reference to Irishtown as their first home adds a class coloring to such idiosyncrasies as Nanny's crookedly pinned skirt—not without the aid of another premise, both implicit and non-valid: "the lower-classes are negligent with their clothing."5

    When, however, an implicit premise belongs to an Internal Frame of Reference, it is often not missing from discourse but distanced from the proposition that may derive from it. The in-character behavior of the personages is basically a matter of enthymeme: if a character trait is established, it becomes a premise for further inferences about this character's motivation from his or her speech or acts. If in Ulysses it is established that Bloom has masochistic tendencies, then, on a repeated reading, as we come to the butcher-shop episode and watch Bloom watching a neighbor's servant and recollecting her dusting a carpet ("She does whack it, by George"; 2000: 70) we may connect these memories to his fantasies of flogging:

  • A.   Bloom has masochistic tendencies [a premise that emerges later in the sjuzhet6]

  • B.   Flogging is part of the sadomasochistic repertoire [implicit premise from external field of reference]

  • B.   Dusting the carpet on a string [hypotyposis] resembles flogging

  • C.   Blooms prurient interest in the neighbor's servant belongs to the novel's strand of sadomasochistic motifs.

  • The distanced premise "Bloom is a masochist" here combines with a tacit extratextual topos of flogging as part of the sadomasochistic repertoire to produce not a cognitive syllogistic structure but a sense of coherence in the deployment of motifs. The enthymeme, like a military strategist, "makes matter mental"7; here it transforms kinky fantasies into a conceptual building block of an aesthetic structure—what, within the Hjelmslev net, would count as the form of the content. Note how term (C) is of an intellectual nature and has nothing to do with a mimetic production of images on which term (B') may depend. In...

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