Full reference: Jahn, Manfred. 2002. Poems, Plays, and Prose: A Guide to the Theory of Literary Genres. Questions and Answers Supplement. English Department, University of Cologne. Version: 1.6. Date: April 10, 2002. External link to this page: www.uni-koeln.de/~ame02/pppq.htm .
Q1. Terms and Conditions
Q2. General Questions
Q3. Questions on Narratology
Q4. Questions on Drama
Q5. Questions on Film
Q6. Questions on Poetry
As in the other PPP documents, all subsequent paragraphs on this page use a decimal numbering prefixed "Q" for Questions and Answers.
Many readers of the PPP pages write in with questions or comments which may be of interest to a wider audience. On the remainder of this page, I have generally (unless specifically requested otherwise) anonymized all contributions. I am particularly grateful for comments that touch on difficult texts, fuzzy definitions, errors, and gaps, because all of that helps keep the project going. However, as a matter of principle, I ...
Email netiquette (http://www.albion.com/netiquette/) is much appreciated.
Q2.1. I read your web documents and am currently writing a dissertation on ... . I hereby attach my introduction which I pray you will read critically for me.
A. I get many requests of this type, but as a matter of principle and contract I can neither contribute to, nor interfere in, any process involving school or university exams. What I offer to do within the PPP project is to discuss questions of interest to the interpretive community at large. If you have any of those, go ahead and ask them.
Q2.2. Are there any plans to publish PPP as a book?
A. No, mainly because there are tremendous advantages to the hypertext version. Printing out is inexpensive, the documents have interactive links, and they can be updated regularly (currently at roughly half-yearly intervals, usually April/May and October).
Q2.3. Is the German version of PPP (Lyrik, Drama, Erzähltext) still available?
A. Sorry, no. However, as you may have noticed, from version 1.2, the local narratology index doubles as a multi-lingual glossary.
Q3.1. I want to know who is the person who first coined the word "narratology", could you help me?
A. Tzvetan Todorov, in his study Grammaire du Décameron (The Hague: Mouton, 1969), p. 10: "This study builds on a science that does not yet exist, let us say, NARRATOLOGY, the science of narration" (my translation). Actually, most narratologists let the beginning of narratology coincide with the publication of the French journal Communications, number 8 (1966), subtitled "L'analyse structurale du recit". Among the authors of this edition were Roland Barthes, Gérard Genette, Tzvetan Todorov, A.J. Greimas, Umberto Eco, and Christian Metz. An illustrious gathering!
Q3.2. I am a little confused by "narratology" and "stylistics" as two subjects. They have a lot in common, such as research methods, research targets. What is the major difference?
A. Dear confused -- I always wanted to say that! -- let's begin by defining our terms. Stylistics is a discipline which theorizes and analyzes the possibilities of expressing something in a semiotic (signifying) system (verbal or nonverbal; check Katie Wales's Dictionary of Stylistics for an extended definition if you want). Narratology is a discipline which theorizes and analyzes the forms and functions of stories and story-telling (which is a semiotic system, obviously). The objects of stylistics are not restricted to narratives, the objects of narratology are. To the extent that narratology (more appropriately, discourse narratology) focuses on the ways, means, and effects of telling narratives, narratology is part of, or intersects with, stylistics in the sense that the tools of narratology can be used for the purposes of stylistic analysis. However, you can't say much of interest about an epic's narrative quality by examining its meter, or about a lyric poem by examining its narrative situation (which in any case it hasn't got). In set-theoretical terms, imagine two intersecting circles, one large, one small. The large one is stylistics, the smaller one is narratology.
Q3.3. We are international publishers of English language educational textbooks for primary, secondary and high school students studying English as a foreign language. Our textbooks are used in the classrooms of several European countries. Our internet site is being used as an educational tool and integrates textbook study together with hands-on internet projects for our student readers. Our site also includes a resource section for use by the teachers. We believe that the materials on the PPP Project Page site will be of great interest to our students and teachers alike. As such we would like to link our educational activities to your site and would be grateful for your permission to do so.
A. My pleasure; no need to ask, really.
Q3.4. A look at the web indicates that narratology is a thriving area. Can you give me -- in brief, I do not want to take up too much of your time -- an idea of the importance of the field in terms of current research and teaching internationally. Is there strong interest in the US as well as Europe?
A. Hard to answer but if webpage activity is any indication have a look at who was interested in my website in April 2001. In the following, "reqs" denotes number of times an PPP related file was requested; "%bytes" is the relative amount of downloaded data. (In the meantime, figures have risen considerably, see chart in I4.)
Listing domains, sorted by the amount of traffic. reqs: %bytes: domain ----: ------: ------ 1262: 9.58%: .de (Germany) 1023: 8.46%: .edu (USA Educational) 372: 3.58%: .ca (Canada) 391: 3.01%: .uk (United Kingdom) 204: 1.63%: .au (Australia) 232: 1.49%: .ch (Switzerland) 171: 1.43%: .us (United States) 91: 1.14%: .dk (Denmark) 106: 1.08%: .arpa (Old style Arpanet) 106: 0.97%: .es (Spain) 97: 0.91%: .sg (Singapore) 63: 0.88%: .se (Sweden) 93: 0.86%: .org (Non-Profit Making Organisations) 63: 0.73%: .fr (France) 71: 0.73%: .no (Norway) 47: 0.68%: .cy (Cyprus) 82: 0.59%: .at (Austria) 69: 0.48%: .br (Brazil) 58: 0.46%: .it (Italy) 60: 0.45%: .jp (Japan) 42: 0.44%: .ie (Ireland) 34: 0.38%: .fi (Finland) 38: 0.36%: .si (Slovenia) 102: 0.33%: .pl (Poland) 32: 0.33%: .nz (New Zealand) 38: 0.31%: .ar (Argentina) 36: 0.28%: .lb (Lebanon) 28: 0.25%: .sa (Saudi Arabia) 17: 0.24%: .ee (Estonia) 36: 0.23%: .be (Belgium) 23: 0.19%: .nl (Netherlands) 18: 0.18%: .gov (USA Government) 15: 0.18%: .ru (Russia) 12: 0.18%: .il (Israel) 31: 0.13%: .ro (Romania) 28: 0.12%: .tw (Taiwan) 21: 0.11%: .tr (Turkey) 16: 0.11%: .gr (Greece) 11: 0.09%: .mo (Macau) 6: 0.08%: .cz (Czech Republic) 5: 0.07%: .mx (Mexico) 3: 0.07%: .cl (Chile) 6: 0.06%: .za (South Africa) 17: 0.06%: .id (Indonesia) 10: 0.06%: .lt (Lithuania) 10: 0.06%: .mu (Mauritius) 10: 0.06%: .al (Albania) 4: 0.05%: .co (Colombia) 1: 0.05%: .yu (Yugoslavia) 6: 0.04%: .lu (Luxembourg) 2: 0.03%: .eg (Egypt) 2: 0.03%: .pt (Portugal) 4: 0.01%: .in (India) 3: 0.01%: .is (Iceland) 3: 0.01%: .ph (Philippines) 5: 0.01%: .tt (Trinidad and Tobago) 3: 0.01%: .hk (Hong Kong)
Q3.5. I found the narratology site very useful and I linked it to my own course site recommending the students a given reading schedule. I won't know with any certainty how well this has worked until in about a month when the term papers are due.
A. In my experience, first-year students work well with the poetry part but tend to get a bit overwhelmed by the drama and the narratology pages. Paradoxically, the narratology webpage -- that's the one that is requested most frequently -- seems to appeal to people who already have a good working knowledge of narrative theory. Of course, the main idea of the project (apart from forcing me to keep abreast) is to establish a meta-language that enables people to talk about the how and the what of literary texts.
Q3.6. I'm a PhD student and I work on cognitive poetics. I've read your 1997 article on cognitive narratology and I am interested in learning more about your work.
A. Visit my homepage at http://www.uni-koeln.de/~ame02/index.htm . The site contains a number of abstracts and some full text links.
Q3.7. In your intro to drama and to narrative fiction you are using a simple three-level model of embedded communication situations. I know there are all sorts of more complex models but I am more interested in this simpler version because it's more meaningful and the hierarchy isn't too involved. (I need diagrams to help me understand things -- understanding is seeing!) Is there a published source for this or should I cite PPP?
A. For a published source, you might either turn to Janik (1973: 12-13), a seminal 70's text, or else to Nünning (1996: 76f). The categories in Janik were (1) author -- actual reader; (2) fictive narrator -- fictive reader; (3) communication between persons in the story. Nünning uses (1) real author--real reader; (2) fictive narrative instance--fictive reader; (3) figure as sender--figure as receiver. The references are: Janik, Dieter. 1973. Die Kommunikationsstruktur des Erzählwerks: Ein semiologisches Modell. Bebenhausen: Rotsch. Nünning, Ansgar. 1996. Englische Literaturwissenschaft: Grundstrukturen des Fachs und Methoden der Textanalyse. Stuttgart: Klett. By word of warning: be prepared to have an answer for people asking you, Shouldn't the implied author and the implied reader be present in your model, too? (See Q2.16, below.)
Q3.8. Goethe is supposed to have said that the novella is something about an "unheard-of, singular event" ("...eine unerhoerte, einmalige Begebenheit"). Do you have a clue where this statement might be found? There is no hurry; I have been trying to find it for years.
A. Search no more, sigh no more: Letter to Eckermann, 29 January 1827.
Q3.9. I was researching narrative structure on the internet and came to your web page. I found it very interesting. In particular, I am looking for a critique of Katherine Mansfield's "Bliss", which discusses the narrative structure of the piece. I have found a lot on Mansfield but nothing on this particular topic. I find "Bliss" to be very interesting and somewhat confusing. The narration of the story is quite interesting. In all, the story is very sad. I can only wonder if Mansfield felt that kind of confusion and sadness in her life. In reading about her background, perhaps she could identify with Bertha in the story.... Can you point me in the right direction?
A. I think the best strategy for you to pursue is to conduct an MLA (Modern Language Association) research on the topic -- the MLA database isn't on the net, as far as know, but it can normally be accessed via a local University link or perhaps a public library. I addition, you might check the volumes of Short Story Criticism, it is pretty certain that you will find both a crititical survey and some excerpts there.
Q3.10. In the narratology section you offer a test helping us to detect the narratorial strategy in any work. I think A Clockwork Orange by Burgess is a homodiegetic text, Fielding's Tom Jones is an example of heterodiegetic (authorial) narration, whereas Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls is heterodiegetic-figural. If this is so, could you please share with me your experience about how to define a text's narratorial mode in its entirety when it contains differently shaped passages for literature is seldom represented by completely uniform or 'pure' genres?
A. First, your answers are perfectly correct given the framework of Stanzel's and Genette's categories. The crucial factors are (i) the narrator's involvement in the story, (ii) the narrator's knowledge, overtness or presence, and (iii) the text's orientation toward or dependence on a character's (or 'internal focalizer's') point of view. A Clockwork Orange is a fictional autobiography (or anyway part of one) told by Alex himself; Tom Jones has an extremely overt (visible, vocal and omniscient) narrator fully exploiting the privileges of authorial narration (lots of metanarrative commentary, in particular, and this is partly what this text is famous for); and the Hemingway text almost totally foregrounds the perceptual orientation of a single focalizer, at least in the passage given, at the same time backgrounding any narratorial activity or control, seemingly forgetting about the reader altogether (ignoring the maxim of quantity). Over and above these typical scenarios there are many variations and slippages, as you rightly say, and indeed For Whom the Bell Tolls is by no means entirely uniform or constant in its figural mode. Locally, these variations can be described by specifying the change in narratorial involvement, knowledge, focalizer foregrounding etc. The Genettean term 'alteration' also comes in usefully here (see recent addition N3.3.15). Perhaps Stanzel's system is even more useful in this matter because he has a sliding-scale "typological circle" model, in which the three standard situations are buffered by intermediate zones. Hence one gets intermediate or transitional types like authorial-figural, first-person-authorial, and figural-first-person situations, and these might obviously serve as the global categories you need. On this basis, it would be perfectly sensible to speak of an 'authorial-figural novel', for instance.
Q3.11. I have a couple of questions about the demarcation line setting apart authorial from figural narratives. First, let's imagine that at a given point the narrator's story is split for a while to accommodate the embedded tale told by a second-degree narrator. The situation is like this: the ultimate narrator describes by means of insertion how an errant knight tells a most wonderful adventure of his in the company of other knights which urges one of them (the central hero) to set out on a journey and see the marvel himself. Now since the definition of figural narratives says that "such stories are presented as if seen through the eyes of a character," my question is: are embedded narratives of the sort an example of figural narration?
A. I understand that the scenario you are sketching refers to a medieval narrative. At first sight, this would make it unlikely that anything approaching figural narrative could in fact enter the picture -- the first generally accepted example of a figural narrative is Flaubert's Madame Bovary, though admittedly there are incipient figural forms much earlier. (Afterthought: for such incipient forms you might check Irene de Jong on classical authors such as Homer, Herodotus, and Thucydides.)
Evidently, the reader of your text faces some kind of embedded narration, and perhaps a Chinese boxes model would clarify the case (and its possible paradoxes). Judging from your account, it looks as if you have a heterodiegetic/authorial narrator telling a story in which the protagonist listens to a story told by a story-internal second-degree (homodiegetic?) narrator. There is nothing unusual about this (apart possibly from my description of it) -- and since the quotational 'inset' is ostensively an independent narrative, no mixing of modes is involved. A mixed-mode narrative would be one in which, for instance, a first-degree first-person narrator locally transforms into an authorial narrator, or vice versa (these things do occur); or when an authorial narrator gives up his/her authorial privilege and lets a reflector's consciousness become the text's dominant perspectival center, as happens in figural narrative. On the other hand, yes, representing someone as listening to somebody telling a story is a possible figural scenario, and a theoretically challenging one because it shakes the Genettean dichotomy between Who speaks and Who sees.
Q3.12. I am interested in questions concerning the epistolary novel of the eighteenth century and am looking for particular references to this genre.
A. I am no expert on this genre, but I see that the MLA database has masses of titles on the subject. In 1997, at an IALS conference in Freiburg, Mark Turner gave a plenary lecture in which he mentioned epistolary novels as illustrating the notion of "conceptual blending". Perhaps his paper was published someplace. Back to classical narratology, I think the appropriate term might be "intercalated narration" (Prince 1987: 44; that's the dictionary).
Q3.13. I am working on my dissertation and my first text of analysis is Clockwork Orange. I am working through it narratologically and am a bit confused over the term fabula. What is the difference between fabula and story?
A. There is practically no difference, commonsensically (though not necessarily narratologicially :)) speaking, between Shklovsky's concept of fabula and Chatman's (and others') of story (as opposed to 'discourse' or 'syuzhet'). I wouldn't actually say that in a dissertation, though. Rather, I suppose I'd feel obliged to trace all the conceptual variants and all the fine distinctions theorists felt had to be made. You might as well proceed on the assumption that there are as many definitions as there are theorists. As Genette (1988: 139) puts it, Help, Ockham! The best point of entrance into this minefield is the comparative table presented in Fludernik (1993: 62), listing criteria such as Events in chronological order, Events causally connected, Events ordered artistically, Text on page, and Narration as enunciation... Or are we perhaps talking not of *fabula* but of *fable*, as in: "When a fictional work [...] merely indicates that human character is set, stony, unregenerable, then you are out of the field of the novel and into that of the fable or allegory. The American or Kubrickian Orange is a fable; the British or world one is a novel" (Burgess) - ?
Q3.14. I'm wondering if we can say that Woolf uses a combination of focalizing techniques; particularly variable and multiple focalization (i.e. when we "see" various minor characters/focalizers looking at the same scene or person with different perspectives. Granted, this happens but rarely, but in Jacob's Room it does occur.). Also, as Woolf writes in her essay "Women and Fiction" a woman's sentence must take the natural shape of her thoughts without distortion. Perhaps Woolf is able to write in such a flowing, loose but light and connective way due to the deconstructive tools in narratology that she uses. It seems as if these deconstructive terms help us to understand that what actually lay behind Woolf's modernist novels was a post-modernist sensibility. As I understand it, narratology is a methodology as well as a theory, a set of critical terms and ideas with which to investigate the structure of a text, thereby gaining more critical insight into it, allowing the literary critic a way into understanding what the narrator and author were trying to do.
A. Interesting points, but you are moving across some treacherous terrain. To begin with, is it really our task to find out "what the narrator and author were trying to do"? Many narratologists, especially those pursuing a rhetorical approach (Booth, Chatman, Phelan, Rabinowitz, Kearns) will have no problem with this; to me, this sounds like intentionalism and smacks of "implied author" and "authorially intended reception perspective" (Pfister), concepts I personally prefer to do without. (The kind of narratology I much prefer is a constructivist and cognitive one.)
Q. As for my limited understanding of deconstructionism, it also functions as methodology and theory ...
A. ... Can I barge in here to say -- though not a deconstructionist either -- that I fear many cardcarrying deconstructionists will probably deny just that. More likely, deconstructionists think of themselves as anti-theorists (thus Fish -- see my jahn99xa.htm if you want). The main proponent of a postmodernist/deconstructionist narrative theory (oops!), Andrew Gibson, argues that the very axioms of narratology are wholly and outrageously and irredeemably wrong. Against which one might argue that narratology has long ceased to be the essentialist discipline that it used to be. In fact, that's what a "postclassical" narratology is all about. Narratology today is always "narratology plus X", and if you read X as feminism or gender studies or cultural studies or postcolonial studies I think these are all worthy causes. What I am not so sure of is whether X could also stand for deconstruction. I agree that there should be a way of bringing the deconstructionist lesson to bear on narratological practice, but as things stand I don't see how this is to be done. Perhaps if I'd let you finish your sentence ...
Q. ... not ending merely with a binary opposition and thus voiding two arguments, but going beyond to another level to put another twist on things. So if we view narratology more as a methodology, as a set of critical tools to see "into" a text, why can't the discovery through these tools be that of a deconstructionist worldview? And thus deconstructionist narratology?--a narratology that enables one to view as its end a questioning rather than nihilistic and void worldview. With feminist narratology the outcome is always that of being able to see, through narratological tools, that the patriarchal, established order is coverty or overtly being subverted by the narrator or characters within the text. Why not apply the same then to deconstructionism?
A. This sounds quite plausible but you'll notice I am virtually squirming, hesitating, and hedging, and wishing I had an emoticon for this. Basically, I want further argument here. For one thing, I don't quite see how that nihilism bit comes in. Are you suggesting that classical narratology was built on, or implied, a nihilistic world view? Perhaps that's not crucial. But then we are back to the dominating discourse of essentialism, which we agree doesn't get us anyplace.
Q3.15. I am writing a short essay on To the Lighthouse, and I would like to know if there is a technical name for this scenario: One character's thoughts are embedded in direct speech in another character's thoughts, which are not in direct speech. Thus Mrs Ramsay, at the very end of "The Window" is thinking "... he had turned his head as she turned: he was watching her. She knew that he was thinking, You are more beautiful than ever. And then felt very beautiful. Will you not tell me just for once that you love me? He was thinking that, for he was roused...".
A. An interesting passage. First, the transition from indirect speech to direct speech -- or since we are talking of mental states and thoughts we are probably dealing with 'indirect thought' and 'direct thought' respectively -- is basically a matter of reportative or quotational mode shifting, not much different from a standard case like "She wondered what Peter would have said in such a situation, "---" perhaps, or "---". On a purely stylistic level, the quotational modes seem to be indifferent to the (potentially infinite) shifting or stacking that happens when modeling the epistemic status of another person (I know you know I know). In a sense, the pattern "A knows that B knows that ..." is like "A sees that B sees that ...", and the latter is traditionally treated as a matter of embedded focalization involving two focalizers and a subordinate focalization embedded in a superordinate focalization ('hypo-' and 'matrix-focalization', perhaps?). The epistemological problem here is that, ordinarily, minds can be considered transparent (Cohn 1978) in three scenarios only: (i) when an omniscient narrator looks into his/her characters' consciousnesses, (ii) when characters introspect their own minds (I remember that I dreamed that I remembered that ...), and (iii) when there are genuine mind readers in a science fiction context. All other cases fall under the 'other minds' rule, or Bal's rule of focalizeds, or Lanser's rule of 'ordinary human limitations', or Cohn's rule of 'nescience': that ordinary humans cannot see or observe 'imperceptibles', and imperceptibles by definition include what goes on in somebody else's mind.
Which is, however, what the Woolf example apparently asserts. Not being a mind reader, Mrs Ramsay can neither observe nor divine Mr Ramsay's thoughts. Perhaps she just imagines, on the basis of situational and/or somatic clues what Mr Ramsay might think (the latter taking the form of 'virtual discourse' -- Sternberg 1982). On the other hand, she does not merely speculate or hypothesize, she "knows". Could we have a case of overlapping, collective minds here (not an unthinkable option in a Woolfian context)? Since To the Lighthouse is a variably, and at times multiply focalized text, there may be clues as to Mrs Ramsay's ability to "read" Mr Ramsay. Variable and multiple focalization are ways of establishing the fictional truth, too, and generally speaking, we have a fair indication of how reliable Mrs Ramsay's perceptions and judgments are. I take it she is no outrageously fallible filter (Chatman's term), though another character, in the hands of another author, might easily be (Bertha, in Mansfield's "Bliss" etc.).
Consider, finally, the verb "know" as the 'factive' verb that it is, meaning that if somebody reports someone as knowing p then the implication is that the reporter takes it as certain that p is indeed a fact. Applied to a heterodiegetic narrative text this means that the narrator (the reporter in charge of the indirect discourse clause) is certain of p's truth, and moreover, since the narrator is omniscient, it would be a judgment that can hardly be questioned. Hence, for the reader, too, p should represent a fictional fact. One is led to conclude then that the direct quote is, factually, the thought that passes through Mr Ramsay's head. Actually, of course, this is far from plausible. But what invalidates the factive value of "know"? Is it that the narrator yields the floor to the character so that she, like all of us, occasionally knows for a truth what isn't a truth? The following tentative answer to your question, then: the quote deals with Mrs Ramsay's modeling of Mr Ramsay's mind. Despite the fact that her epistemic attitude is one of certainty, neither narrator nor reader are compelled to share it. Hence the direct quotation is a piece of virtual discourse representing (modeling) another person's imagined thought. Do you agree?
Q3.16. I am working on a project concerning on-line author intent inferences by readers of literary texts (as per Graesser et. al 1994 and Gibbs 1999). Recently I have been reading one of your articles on focalization ("More Aspects of Focalization: Refinements and Applications" [MJ: thank you -- jahn99b.htm]) and I am very interested in and enthusiastic about your ideas concerning this subject. Considering focalization as "a matter of providing and managing windows into the narrative world, and of regulating (guiding, manipulating) readerly imaginary perception" (p. 7), is very interesting from my point of view. Especially your categories connected with the concept of 'conceptualization' seem very useful to my project. What I would like to ask you are the following questions: 1. What are your ideas about how a reader, by departing from the text and its focalization, could end up making a connection with the implied author? What elements in the text, concerning focalization, could possibly be indicators for the reader to generate inferences connected to the implied author?
A. Thanks for those references to Graesser and Gibbs, must look them up. I don't quite understand what you mean by "departing from the text and its focalization", but one occasionally encounters scenarios like when a narrator temporarily adopts (restricts him/herself to) an internal focalizer's POV, only to present a superior POV later on, or when a POV presents an obviously distortive view of the fictional reality (James's Maisie etc.). Another point, when you speak of "intent inferences" it sounds to me as if you assume that that is something that is inherent, contained in, and therefore deducible from the text. However, isn't intent posited and attributed rather than inferred? I think texts can make sense even when you do not try to find or attribute authorial intent, and more radically, when you know that the reading you happen to have constructed (are there any others?) goes wholly against some explicitly articulated authorial intent. For example, look at Chomsky's "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously", intended as a patently nonsensical statement, and what readers have made of it. The same train of thought also strongly argues against the term "implied author" if understood as anything else than a purely readerly construct (in which case it is woefully misnamed already). We all know that texts, and literary texts in particular, can be read differently, depending on readers' interpretive strategies. But it makes no sense at all to assume that a text has more than one implied authors. The very idea of setting "my" implied author against "yours" wholly rubbishes the concept.
Q. ... 2. Do you consider that in all cases of focalization (zero ----- strict), there is still some kind of narrator present? Or is it more like: when there is no "Focus 1", there can be no narrator?
A. I used to embrace moderate no-narrator position for figural (strictly focalized) texts once [see jahn83.htm, section 7], but now I see no reason why weak or zero focalization (or, for that matter, strict or ambient focalization) should be indicators of narratorlessness. A narrator is not only a voice but also an organizing principle, and if s/he decides to paint a focusless picture then so be it, that is also an expression of agency, control, and even intent. It does contribute to the narrator's covertness, however, doesn't it?
Q4.1. I am reading your Guide to the Theory of Drama, and find your organizational detail and approach admirable. My interest in theory is real and serves as a guide to productions that I direct. My passion for a precise definition of drama goes back many years. For me, drama must be exactly or sharply defined, have a practical application, and the definition should not be applicable to any other artwork. Drama should stand distinctly alone. I admit to being an Aristotelian, because Aristotle's definition of tragedy so clearly contrasts and compares the differences in forms of poetry. The words narrative and narration used as "storyline" bother me, because I believe that for most people a narrative is a story and a narrator is a story teller. While it is true that actors are storytellers, an actor represents a single character by pretending they are the person they imitate. On the other hand, a narrator tells a story by explaining the details of an event, now assuming one character and then another while keeping the story progressing. Aristotle finds four causes of Poetry, in general, and of Tragedy in particular. The first cause is the object of representation: a tragedy represents a serious action that includes the elemental parts of plot, character, and thought. Tragedy and Epic Poetry have this cause in common. The second cause is the means of representation: For both Epic poetry and Tragedy, the means of representation is language and music. The third cause is the manner of representation, and this is where the differences are noted. Epic Poetry is narrated and Tragedy is acted so that it appears to be happening before your eyes. The fourth cause is the function of the poem. Tragedy imitates a serious action that arouses fear and pity with a catharsis of those two emotions. A definition of drama, then, might go something like this:
Drama is an imitation of action made out of language, with musical accompaniment, acted as though the events are actually occurring to arouse an emotional and intellectual impact in an audience.
I am sure that I offer you nothing new, and no doubt my offering can be improved upon. I simply want you to understand the basis of my response to the definition of drama put forth in your "Guide." (Forest D. Feighner)
A. Thanks for this comment on the "narratological" definition of drama as given in D1.2 as well as for your own alternative definition. I can see that things present themselves differently from an Aristotelian and production-oriented point of view. In D1.5 I make an attempt, following Pinter, to acknowledge the existence of various approaches and definitions of drama. Among these, I prefer a specific approach, for particular reasons, but rather than go into all that here I think it might be a good idea to ask the readers of this page to comment on the pros and cons of divergent drama definitions, especially "yours" and "mine", but possibly others, too. In other words, anyone who has a comment on this, brief or short, learned or intuitive, is cordially invited to mail it in (at email@example.com) -- and space permitting I will publish it here.
Q4.2. I have to answer a question on John Millington Synge's Playboy of the Western World, whether this play is a romantic comedy or a farce? So, would you please explain more about "farce"?
A. <grumble>I honestly don't know :( </grumble> ... but offhand it would seem there are four possibilities, assuming that that "or" isn't exclusive: the one, the other, neither, or both. Usually, the point of such exercises is to weigh all options and then argue an answer. So in all likelihood your question demands attention not only to the definition of farce but to that of romantic comedy as well. A definition of "farce" you get in D7.9, ditto of "comedy" in general. A romantic comedy is a comedy with a central love plot (memo: must add that to the drama script). OK now, what was Synge's play all about ...?
Q4.3. Can you pinpoint a text or other source not online that would be a helpful introduction to the theory of drama?
A. Obviously, my personal preference is Pfister (1977 and later editions, see detailed bibliographical reference in the Drama doc). Other good intros are Scanlan (1988, not exactly strong on sources, though), also Wallis and Shepherd (1998).
Q5.1. I am writing a final paper regarding focalization in cinema. I found your information particular useful. My case study will be Max Ophuls's Letter From an Unknown Woman...but I was in an impasse about whose focalization is that flashback? Lisa's, Stephens? The narrator's or the FCD's? Can you give me some opinion?
A. Sounds like an interesting problem; unfortunately, I haven't seen this particular film -- which probably goes to show what kind of a film expert I am. Sorry!
Q5.2. I read your articles on Narratology in Fiction and Film. I found them quite useful in getting introduced to the objectives of Narratology. However, I have certain problems in the following areas. 1. How does one identify and differentiate the Narrator's voice and the Focaliser in a movie? 2. What exactly is 'discourse space'? 3. What is the difference between implicit auto-characterization and explicit auto-characterization?
A. Thank you, very pertinent questions. (1) In order to identify the narrator's voice in film one pays particular attention to those sections in which one can hear 'voice-over narration' (in the film script, this would usually be attributed to a speaker, not necessarily an actor, identified as NARRATOR or NARRATION). In Genette's terms, the relevant analytic question is "Who speaks?". Focalization, by contrast, aims at identifying the agent or agents "who see" and on this basis orient the current presentation -- for instance, you get a chunk of (or I would say, a "window" of) internal focalization when a shot presents exactly the perceptional input of a story-internal character. This is usually accomplished by a POV shot (and that is why the concept of POV shot is so useful in the analysis of prose narrative, too). Very few films stick to (i.e., use consistently) what Genette terms fixed internal focalization, however. Indeed, often the camera provides visual information which is inaccessible to any of the characters, possibly to the voice-over narrator as well. Hence the functional slots of voice-over narrator and focalizer may be filled by the same or by different agents, or may even not be instantiated at all (meaning, a film can happily do without them). Moreover, both a voice-over narrator and a focalizer may only be minor cogs in an intricate information-generating mill involving the weaving or composition (hence, I argue, a super-compositor agency, or "FCD") of many sources and channels of information. Amazingly, spectators handle the plenitude of filmic information absolutely competently and effortlessly -- the everyday miracle of human cognition that has become so interesting to what is now generally known as "natural narratology".
(2) On the notion of 'discourse space': 'discourse' basically refers to the narrative discourse taking place in a narrative situation, i.e., the situation in which a narrator tells a story to a narratee at a particular time in a particular place. This "particular place" (if established -- the none-too-rare alternative is that the narrator is present as a wholly disembodied voice only, and the spatio-temporal coordinates of the narrative situation are left indeterminate or nonexistent) is the discourse-HERE, and the environment of the discourse-HERE (also the sum of these environments) is the discourse space -- the space in which the narrator writes his or her book, for instance, or tells his/her story to a narratee. Remember Milos Forman's adaptation of Shaffer's Amadeus? Sitting in a darkened invalid's room (= discourse space), old Salieri (= narrator, at discourse-NOW) tells the story of how he "killed" Mozart to a young priest (= narratee). As Salieri tells his story, the film flashes back to "the palace of Schönbrunn" (story-HERE, story space) some forty years earlier (story-NOW), and the contrastive scenarios thus established are essential to the basic framework of the film's overall structure. (In the play, Shaffer uses a slightly different scenario, however.)
(3) Finally, on explicit vs implicit autocharacterization, here is a snippet of dialogue (qtd Suzy Kalter, p 145) from a MASH episode which I treat in more detail in version 1.6, out in April. Consider what characterizing information we get when Doctor B.F. Pierce, the field hospital's chief surgeon, addresses a patient as follows:
Hi there, I'm Captain Pierce. I want to peek under your bandage. Army regulations. Okay, what I'm going to do is take that shrapnel out of your neck and put a tube in so you can breathe easier. When the swelling goes down, your voice should come back. I know you're thinking, 'This guy looks as if he couldn't fix a bicycle tire.' Well, I can't, but I'm gonna get you through this.
The speaker explicitly admits is that he is so inept as to be unable to fix a bicycle tire (= explicit autocharacterization). On the other hand, the fact that he is somebody who freely admits this kind of fault, plus the way he talks to his patient and the way he prepares him for the difficult operation in hand show that he is a confident, considerate, and (in all likelihood) competent physician, as well as a witty and likeable character. All this comes across via implicit autocharacterization. Had he actually said, "Hey, I'm an excellent surgeon and also an extremely witty and likeable person", he would have implicitly autocharacterized himself as a conceited and arrogant fool. Indeed, laudatory explicit autocharacterization has a nasty habit of backfiring on the implicit level ("I am a fully qualifeid proofreader").
Q6.1. What is the meter of Poe's "Annabel Lee"? And is it a regular meter or a mixed meter?
A. Thanks for asking a metrical question for a change, two questions, actually. (Often, I wish I knew in what context these things come up -- is this an assignment, or do you want to settle a bet?) Your first question looks like a question of fact (it isn't actually), similar to asking How many feet does a hedgehog have. Your second question expects a ready-made answer like The Former, The Latter or None of the Above. OK, it's your question, so here we go. The meter is what I suggest it is in P1.8 (surprise?); and the answer to the second question is The Latter. I have to say that very few scholars, let alone examiners, would be happy with this, everybody prefers questions that require a nontrivial argument. Try this for an essay topic: When, how, and to what effect does Poe deviate from the predominant pattern in "Annabel Lee"? Do you agree with the editor of the Poems and Essays that "Annabel Lee" is a "metrical marvel"? (Hint: say, yes, because ...). What I find more worrying at present is, how many feet does a hedgehog have?
Q6.2. I am researching erotic imagery in mystical poetry of the Judeo-Christian, Muslim and Hindu canons. There are many points in common from a mystical-religious and a poetic standpoint (I will not go on) and I've been fascinated lately on the possibilities of a development from a cognitive point of view. Would you be able to give me any information (bibliography and/or contacts) for a cognitive development of my study? Any suggestions?
A. Apart from being interested in cognitive approaches in general, I don't really know a lot about this. For what it's worth, have a look at the work of Professors Reuven Tsur and Patrick Hogan. Just run a Google search on them, and download their biblios.