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  • Les Rouages de l’intrigue. Les outils de la narratologie postclassique pour l’analyse des textes littéraires by Raphaël Baroni
  • Marie-Laure Ryan (bio)
Raphaël Baroni. Les Rouages de l’intrigue. Les outils de la narratologie postclassique pour l’analyse des textes littéraires. Préface de Jean-Louis Dufays. Slatkine, 2017.

Plot is one of the most troublesome concepts of narratology. As Karin Kukkonen observes (2014, 706), it has currency in both popular discourse and literary scholarship. An example of the popular usage is the “plot summaries” of Wikipedia entries on novels, plays, or movies which recount the events that make up the story. But for narratologists, this conception of plot makes the concept superfluous, since it is synonymous with fabula (or story). Alternatively—and following a questionable translation of the term of sjuzhet, which Russian formalists (especially Victor Shklovsky) oppose to fabula, plot designates the organization of narrative material by the author, and it becomes difficult to distinguish from discourse. Ideally, plot should mediate between story and discourse, but in practice, a tripartite analysis of narrative into story, plot, and discourse has not been productive: we can isolate story (the signified of narrative), we can isolate discourse (the signifiers), but we cannot really isolate plot as an autonomous layer of signification truly different from the other two. There is consequently something wrong with this approach. But what is it exactly?

Raphaël Baroni’s Les Rouages de l’intrigue is admittedly not about plot, but about the French concept of intrigue, and while this concept overlaps significantly with plot, it is not fully synonymous with it. Plot suggests plotting, an action with negative connotations, but that makes great narrative material: “A plan made in secret by a group of people to do something illegal or harmful” (Oxford American Dictionary). Intrigue can mean something very similar: Littré’s dictionary defines it as an “ensemble de combination secrètes et compliquées visant à faire réussir ou manquer une affaire” (Group of secret and complicated machinations aiming at making a deal succeed or fail.”) [End Page 345] But the noun intrigue is related to a verb, intriguer, which means something quite different from plotting: intriguer means (among other things) to arouse curiosity. When applied to narrative, then, intrigue becomes the means through which the author manages to intriguer le lecteur, to keep the reader eager to learn more about the storyworld and to find out how the story ends. Intrigue, for Baroni, is a dynamic design inseparable from the temporal nature of narrative. From La Tension narrative to L’Oeuvre du temps, the common denominator to Baroni’s important, but unfortunately, his untranslated work in narrative theory is the attempt to capture the temporality of the narrative experience. Les Rouages de l’intrigue is no exception.

This focus on the dynamic nature of intrigue comes however with a caveat: it means that intrigue (or plot; I will use the two terms interchangeably despite their different connotations) cannot be captured in the same way story can be summarized or discourse can be analytically described. Doing justice to the temporal unfolding of narrative would require a moment-by-moment account of what happens in the reader (or spectator’s) mind during the process of reading or watching, as well as an ability to connect these mental events to specific textual features—a largely unfeasible project, since it would require mind-reading technology, or, if based on the critic’s own intuition, would probably not capture a spontaneous initial impression but an interpretation influenced by several readings. But if we cannot really describe intrigue in its temporal development (no more than we can capture the nature of time), we can try to describe les rouages de l’intrigue, this is to say, the cogs and wheels that the text (or rather, the author) puts to work to immerse the reader in the flow of narrative time. Such is the ambitious project of Baroni’s short but very rich book.

In Chapter 1, “For a functional definition of intrigue,” Baroni presents a most useful survey of the plot definitions that have been proposed by scholars such as Peter Brooks...


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pp. 345-351
Launched on MUSE
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