Archive: January 3rd, 2009

Gerald Prince: A Dictionary of Narratology

[Readings] (01.03.09, 4:28 pm)

It is difficult to write a summary for a dictionary. So, a bit on the context: Gerald Prince developed this as a dictionary of important terms in the study of narrative. Because narratology takes into account many perspectives and has deliberate uses and definitions of terms from normal English, a dictionary is worthwhile in both expounding those terms and contextualizing their theoretical underpinnings. This is a useful source for referencing in pursuit of clear explanation for terms and to find the scholars who popularized their use.

Instead of organizing my discusion into sections, I’ll instead pull out several terms which are relevant for my work, and paraphrase Prince’s take on them.

Actant: An actant is a role in narrative deep structure. This is useful for the structural analysis of narrative, and in this context forms a kind of syntactic unit. It is important to note that an actant is a role, not a character. An actor is a concretized actant, one who occupies the actant role. The actant fits into the “actantial model,” which operates like a narrative version of semiotic communication theory. The actant roles in this model are Sender, Subject, Helper, Object, Opponent, and Receiver. This was primarily developed by Greimas.

Character: One definition is that a character is simply “an existent endowed with anthropomorphic traits and engaged in anthropomorphic actions; an actor with anthropmorphic attributes.” (p. 12) Or alternately, “an actor; an existent engaged in an action.” (p. 12) Characters are classified in terms of flatness and roundness, as well as the spheres of action they reside in, the roles or actants they occoupy or concretize.

Deep Structure is the lowest level of structure, which is in opposition to the surface structure. This defines the meaning of the narrative. The relationship between actants occurs at the level of deep structure, while actors and characters operate at the surface level. The deep structure cooresponds to story, wereas the surface structure corresponds to discourse. In the Greimassian model, the deep structure can be converted into the surface structure by means of transformations.

Diectic is used as a literary term, indicating situating prepositions and adverbs. Diectic terms situate the characters in the diegetic time.

Diegesis: “The (fictional) world in which the situations and events narrated occur.” (p. 20) This is another way of referring to the story world. Normally it is considered in terms of the diegetic level, which can have interdiegetic and extradiegetic dimensions.

Discourse is the expressive part of a narrative, in opposition to the content part. Discourse defines how the story takes place, as opposed to what takes place. Frequently, discourse is used to describe discussion and rhetoric within a conceptual domain, but the definition here is centered on the expression of a narrative alone.

Function: An act which is significant in terms of the narrative action or situation. The strongest use of function comes from Propp. Barthes describes a function as a narrative unit which is related to the others metonymically. That is, the function is related to the situation through consequence (or causality). The function is opposed to the index, which supports the narrative metaphorically. The idea is that the function supports the events, but the index supports the atmosphere.

Narrative Domain: This is defined as the space of possible outcomes within a situation inside of a narrative, or the set of possible moves or functions which charactes may perform. “From a schematic point of view, a narrative domain is governed by a number of maxims or rules establishing what is or could be the case, regulating the character’s knowledge, setting his or her priorities, and, most generally, guiding him or her in assessing a situation and reacting to it.” (p. 62) This seems to represent the idea of the possible generative outcomes of narrative systems.

Narrative World: A set of motifs in a narrative which are considered true and factual within the world. Ryan (1985) distinguishes between actual and possible worlds. My understanding of narrative worlds is much more specific, and covers the cognitive and conceptual dimensions of the world as defined by the author and reader.

Possible World is a sset of affairs and individuals which is complete for a particular narrative. This is defined in terms of what is considered factual in context of a narrative, but also what is non-actual, given by character’s plans, beliefs, or fantasies. The definition as given considers possibility in terms of possible interpretations or ambiguity (Eco style openness), but not genuine possible variance of the course of narrative events.

Schema: A semantic framework which represents the perception and comprehension of reality. Schemata are serially oriented, and work with other cognitive elements, such as plans, frames, and scripts. A plan is considered a goal-oriented schema. Whereas frames are parallel modes of perception and interpretation. Scripts are explained to be interactive schemata intended for situational use, “sterotypical, goal-directed schemata” (p. 86)

Reading Info:
Author/EditorPrince, Gerald
TitleA Dictionary of Narratology
Tagsspecials, media theory, narrative
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon