Narratology

Narratology

Narratology is the theory and study of narrative and narrative structure and the ways they affect our perception. In principle, the word can refer to any systematic study of narrative, though in practice the use of the term is rather more restricted (see below). It is an anglicisation of the French word narratologie, coined by Tzvetan Todorov in his Grammaire du Décaméron (1969), and has been retrospectively applied to many studies that were described otherwise by their authors. Although a lineage stretching back to Aristotle's Poetics may be traced, modern narratology is most typically said to begin with the Russian Formalists, and in particular with Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folktale (1928).

Due to the origins of the term, it has a strong association with the structuralist quest for a system of formal description that can usefully be applied to any narrative (the analogy being with the grammars by reference to which sentences are parsed in some forms of linguistics). This aim has not, however, characterised all work that is today described as narratological, Percy Lubbock's groundbreaking work on point of view, The Craft of Fiction (1921), is a case in point. Jonathan Culler argues that the many strands of (what he regards as) narratology are all united by a recognition "that the theory of narrative requires a distinction between... 'story' - a sequence of actions or events, conceived as independent of their manifestation in discourse - and... 'discourse', the discursive presentation or narration of events", but admits that this is only implicit in the work of many of the authors he is grouping together in this way. The distinction was originally proposed by the Russian Formalists, who used the terms fabula and sjuzhet, but a succession of other pairs has preserved what is essentially the same dichotomy (e.g., histoire/discours, histoire/récit, story/plot).

To a certain extent, the designation of work as narratological or otherwise may have more to do with the university department in which it takes place than with any specific theoretical position. Although a narratological approach can be taken to any narrative at all, and the classic studies (for example, Propp's) were often of non-literary narratives, the term "narratology" is most likely to be encountered within the disciplines of literary theory and literary criticism: examples of systematic narrative study that would not typically be described as narratological would include sociolinguistic studies of oral storytelling, such as those of William Labov, and studies in conversation analysis or discourse analysis that deal with narratives arising in the course of spontaneous verbal interaction. However, constituent analyses of the type where narremes are considered to be the basic units of narrative structure could be included either in linguistics, in semiotics, or in literary theory.

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