Narrative Inviolables in Hemingway and Marquez

Narrative Inviolables in Hemingway and Marquez
Noel C. Canlas
09 September 2017
If I am going to speak of the concept of narrative inviolables in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s
short story “Death Constant Beyond Love,”1 I may need to do so by sitting it beside Ernest
Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” This is not because there is any thematic connection
between two writers whose milieu and stylistic priorities could not be more in contrast, despite
their similar experiences as professional journalists. The comparison will give the benefit of
sharpening what an “inviolable” element might be like, beyond its preliminary description as the
ground on which signs are no longer exchangeable or reversible, a domain beyond structural
play and that allows the generation and maintenance of the formal integrity of the narrative as
Narrative, as the inertial frame of reference without which the narrativity of the Narrative (or any
signification for that matter, like in the case of Marquez) cannot be perceived as performable or
From the very first paragraph, and even from the title itself, Marquez’s story of the last days of
Senator Onesimo Sanchez already lays down the line that cannot be reversed, or the direction by
which Senator Sanchez’s fate had been pre-scribed. If Thanatos and Eros were the archetypal
narrative inviolables in Marquez, I will argue that the inviolable in Hemingway is the absent
fabula, the absence of which nullifies at once also the logical place of a syuzhet as a possible
nomenclature for the text which is “Hills Like White Elephants.” This absent fabula, however, is
the very condition of the textual narratological possibility (or impossibility) of “Hills Like White
Elephants.” Allow me to explain as quickly as possible.
We would think that the dominance of discourse or dramatic dialogue in “Hills Like White
Elephants” would be the candidate for the inviolable in Hemingway, limiting as it does the
mediating nature of traditional narrative markers like psycho-narration and inquit formulae. We
would think that the simulation of immediacy by recourse to the dramatic form (as direct
quotation) is the main stylistic goal of the text (a reinscription of a “Realism” whose vogue has
since passed in their previous formats in 3rd-person omniscient narratives of the 19th century and
through the arrival of modernist techniques like “stream of consciousness” or the use of plain
language versus “purple prose” by Camus or Prévert, or the major development in the novel with
the Nouveau Roman from Nathalie Sarraute onwards), accomplished by a change in its linguistic
codification now as a purely “objective” reporting of heard or overheard dialogues. However,
the artificiality of the dialogues as theater script is quite evident in the almost musical
progression of the tonal tensions between the interlocutors, and in the absence of typical nonlinear conversational flow or the presence of “fillers,” for example. Furthermore, the fact that
this is the batch of dialogues that were overheard and not the simultaneous dialogues of other
people in the vicinity already betrays the presence of the narratorial function as an editorial agent
of selective discourse reporting.
Although the dramatic mode that dominates the “short story” (which is practically a “plotless
plot”) gives us a hint of a possible fabula, it nevertheless deploys the fabula deliberately in the
figure of an ellipsis. For example, we don’t have the luxury of a summary flashback even from
the “players.” Thus, it is left for us to reconstruct an over-arching narrative frame that will
contextualize the dialogical exchanges. The quasi-refusal of a narratorial presence that supplies
the fabula as a dispersed set of inferable data from among the series of periphrases that a syuzhet
normally deploys transfers the burden of narration to the reader who, in reconstructing the
fabula, must do so as an extraneous element of the narratorial field, as the un-signified referent
that can only be alluded to but not narrated explicitly on the textual surface and that merely
evokes it as part of its implicitly larger structure extending beyond the textual surface itself.
Hence, the text navigates itself precariously between the extremes of immediacy without
narration and a narratorial mediation without objectivity or plausibility.
As a Referent kept outside the play of signification, the absent fabula grounds the reality of
the dialogues, their logic, meaning, tension, agon, substance, etc. That is, the dialogues will lose
all their significance, their status as signifying speech, if the absent fabula were really absolutely
absent as their origin and end. This linguistic ground is all the more convincing by being implied
as present somewhere but kept away from us, for to make it textually explicit is to reinsert it into
the realm of signs and to cast doubt on its “objectivity” as the ground before both narrative and
discursive signs. As the version of the classical tension of “Art or Truth,” the predominantly
mimetic mode2 (as dramatic discourse) of the “short story” necessitated the minimalism of
narratorial presence (diegesis) and the promotion of discourse as the figural presentationality of a
language without mediation or narration, complemented by the figural presentationality of an
absent fabula held inviolably away from the mediation of narratorial signs and their infinite
capacity for Art and Illusion.
The question, then, arises concerning the import of this formal and stylistic manoeuvre in the
economy and history of the Narrative as a mode and generic marker of the literary. The most that
can be said at the moment is that, as a style at the limit of both the Narrative and the Dramatic,
the text structurally explores the very possibility of Narrative in the Discursive, if by
“discursive” we mean not the total absence of Narrative, but the situation of “everyday”
discourse in which an over-arching narrative frame as either fabula or syuzhet is not always
accessible or formulated. At the same time, however, this formal experiment cuts both ways
because it also raises the question of the possibility of the “discursive” as the category of the
everyday, tainted as it is already by traces of the Narrative (and Art).
This is a (meta-) literary and (meta-) structural question that, as we know, has always lingered
in the history of Literature. Since both the Narrative and the Discursive, like the Sign itself, don’t
grow on trees, they cannot exist without themselves being signified; that is, without being
denotated by the strategic deployment of a meta-signifying manoeuvre. In the case of
Hemingway, what we see then is less the absence of Narrative or Discourse than the metaindication of their mutual inter-possibility, interdependence and inter-definition, but as near-
absent modes of narrativity (or discursivity) existing as elliptical horizons, away from the
signs— supposedly—of “vulgar” or overt narration and, by extension, discourse.
“You have the power to strip away many superfluous troubles located wholly in your judgement, and to possess a
large room for yourself embracing in thought the whole cosmos, to consider everlasting time, to think of the rapid
change in the parts of each thing, of how short it is from birth until dissolution, and how the void before birth and
that after dissolution are equally infinite.” (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.32. Italics added.)
We can say that the death of Senator Onesimo Sanchez coincides exactly with the structural
end of the narrative as told in Marquez’s short story, “Death Constant Beyond Love.” Nothing,
as it were, happens by chance; even the encounter between the Senator and the object of his
newly-awakened desire, Laura Farina, seemed only another minor delay in the arrival of the
inevitable. For what we have, in fact, are the two archetypal forces vying for domination in the
narratives of our lives or—which is the same thing—in the lives of our narratives; and where
Marquez’s short story title (serving simply as another moment in the cyclical inversions or
reversions of Thanatos and Eros, or Thanatos in Eros, or vice versa) is as much an unavoidable
symptom in the similar reversible logic of the Sign as it is in the inverted nominal quotation of
Francisco de Quevedo’s (1580-1645) famous poem “Amor Constante Mas Allá de la Muerte.”3
However, as we all know, reversibility must have a limit, the play of signs must have a bar it
cannot cross, or the narrativity of the Narrative will not hold together, cannot take any shape or
structure. If Marquez’s story begins with the predestined date of Senator Sanchez’s death, it is
only to signal to us the over-arching narrative frame against which the last days of the Senator
will be measured or will take value and meaning. This “cosmic” frame which we can call
Destiny or Fate or Nature is the adopted stoic vision that the Senator (a reader of the Latin
classics, specifically of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations 4) understands very well. In this, he is the
inheritor of an ancient semantic structure where Time is divided between the Irreversible and the
Reversible, between the Tragic and the Comic, or the Sacred and the Profane (to use Mircea
Eliade’s terms). In the case of the Homeric universe in which the hero’s tragic condition results
from his/her ambiguous status as half-human, half-divine (Bruno Snell),5 it is the Sacred order
that allows the human world to be delineated in the shadow of the divine. Without the Infinite or
the irreversible order of the gods, the destiny of human beings called “time” cannot emerge as a
perceptible tragic or comic horizon.
The crucial moment of contrast or juxtaposition happens at the point of the campaign where
Senator Onesimo Sanchez (meaning “useful saint’s child,” a name quite opposite of the public
image he represents) delivers his speech. In it, he maintains his illusion of control and exercises
his hubris by declaring “"We are here for the purpose of defeating nature," he began, against all
his convictions,”” an assertion that is “the opposite of a fatalistic pronouncement by Marcus
Aurelius in the fourth book of his Meditations.” Right before this, he felt that “the erosion of
death was much more pernicious than he had supposed” even if at the start of the speech he “felt
in full control of his will.” Here, Destiny expresses itself primarily through the figuration of
Nature as an entropic principle that follows a transcendental order, an order which already
overlaid the whole narrative from the very outset as the fixed and irreversible sentence of death
hanging on a finite being (hence, a proleptic6 summary). Nature, for the Senator, is the
expression of the irreversible order that he pretends to defeat, but always reasserts itself as the
overpowering “gust of fire” of the climate that eats away at his circus props or that reduces him
to sweat. Against the background of the Zodiacs (he was born an Aries), the Lord God (in his
exclamation), Marcus Aurelius’ “fatalism” (whose stoic world view he resists but actually
acknowledges), and the cancer or disease that Nature had inflicted on him, he wages his futile
war. However, the coup de grâce was struck by Nature herself in the animal form of the
beauteous Laura Farinas. Eros, as the hidden order of Destiny, is the double of Thanatos, and
appears immediately after the mention of the Senator’s death, as if the opening syntax (which in
Greek meant “moving together”) saw them as necessarily bound, in the same way that the final
phrase in Quevedo (polvo enamorado, or “dust in love” in all its polysemic ambiguities) binds
the two archetypal forces together.
Nothing about all of this is new, literary- or narrative-wise. If the proleptic summary at the
beginning (a death foretold, a species of fortune-telling) casts the narrative flow as an
irreversible cosmic or natural trajectory, this frame of Destiny itself will not have any meaning
without supplementing it with elements belonging to what we can call the category of “NonDestiny.” The elements of this category will be an obligatory technical necessity (ironically) to
reinforce the irreversibility of Destiny without which the whole narrative tension collapses into a
mere secular form of Realism or worse, of Soap Opera. Furthermore, by avoiding the other
extreme of including supernatural beings to concretize the presence of a transcendental order,
Marquez also indicates the literary space he wants to navigate as no longer that of the epic,
Christian, or fairytale type. The irreversibility of Death, however, remains a sacred ground that
cannot be subject to reversibility. In short, Marquez avoids the extremes of Soap and the
Fantastic where the sufferings and love affairs are driven by social or psycho-personal
inviolables for the former and moralistic or ethical inviolables for the latter (Shame or Guilt
cultures, curse and justice tales, transgression and redemption stories). The best proof, I believe,
that Thanatos and Eros are inviolables in Marquez is that he also avoids the Gothic and the
Science Fiction genre where Death is reversible in the forms of vampires, Frankenstein monsters,
ghosts, zombies, clones, cybernetic brain transfers, and other means of resurrection where “real”
death can often only happen through “special” methods. (We should also note the overt or covert
eroticism that usually accompanies them.)
If Thanatos and Eros belong to the irreversible order of Destiny (and “solitude” is not exactly
the reverse of Eros inasmuch as it is simply the metonymy of death), we can then pose the
question of how this transcendental order is kept possible semiotically. If we imagine Destiny as
a straight entropic unidirectional arrow (which we can consider as the fabula) and Non-Destiny
as a double-headed arrow that meets itself back and forth (the syuzhet), this bi-directionality or
reversibility forms the contrastive field that reinforces the irreversibility of Destiny. Hence, it is
just a matter of identifying the elements in the syuzhet with reversible traits (a feature that
recovers the proleptic-analeptic logic in another form or level, a reversion or inversion that the
unidirectionality of the fabula precisely denies) for us to get an idea of a mutual interdependence
that, in a bidirectional mode, generates Destiny and Non-Destiny as actually the result of the
reversibility of the Sign itself.
The first domain where we notice the reversibility of signs at work is the polis, the zone where
the Senator practices his Realpolitik. Not only is the village portrayed as “illusory” at the very
start, but that it is also the stage wherein Senator Sanchez conducts his campaign with all the
props of fake trees, houses, and ocean liner. This is “his fictional world” in the fictional world of
Rosal del Virrey, the utopian city that he promises his potential voters, the reverse image of the
barren and desolate geography of the village. The Senator is himself called the Blacaman of
politics by Nestor Farina, a circus animal hypnotist, a magical act supported by all his “hidden
illusionists who were pushing” the show along. In other words, what the Senator is offering is a
double illusion that has a literal and figurative level in his narrative world. First, the props of his
circus are recognizable illusions on the literal level as seen by the people, but figurative of the
utopian dream the Senator is selling. Second, the real agenda he discusses in secret with the
“important people of Rosal del Virrey [to] sing for them the truths he had left out of his
speeches” disposes of this first level illusion and proposes a different profitable policy, thereby
imputing the same category of a literal illusion as the substance of his campaign and nothing
more, whose sole purpose is to hide the real agenda (that we are able to distinguish
heterodiegetically,7 of course).
If Marquez stopped here, he would be reinstituting a Reality principle that only the privileged
vision of the narrator can identify and separate from the proliferating illusions of politics, a
Master Subject capable of revealing to us the Truth in the manner of the narrative mode called
Social Realism. The abandonment of such a privileged vision will, of course, entail a mise en
abyme of illusions within illusions, the endless reversal of signs within signs, a theater within a
theater (the central motif of the Baroque) where we lose all points of reference that separate the
“real world” from the circus of images and farce. As with the question of Thanatos, Marquez
must once more navigate between extremes of narrative modes. The first one will revive an old
literary style marked by Leftist or Humanist undertones, a reprisal of the role of the writer as
social critic with a presumed access to a higher morality or utopian methodology. The second
option, on the other hand, would be to surrender to a total state of relativism where no judgement
of Truth or Falsity is possible. Thus truth judgement will only replicate the very illusion the
writer wanted to expose in the first place. Singling out the inauthentic from the authentic or
fiction from reality becomes impossible because all the signs look the same in all directions. Art
and Truth become indistinguishable because the sign of the real is the same as the sign of the
unreal. In short, these two signs—and here we already note the paradox—should be separable by
some way and should not be reversible.
Narrative “ontological” levels in “Death Constant Beyond Love”
To settle the question of ontological levels in the narrative, there will be a need for a specific
function that we can, for now, call the “semiotic verifier.”8 The semiotic verifier is basically an
indexical function that displays an awareness of ontological level distinctions. To see how this
works, we can imagine the levels as a series of embedded contexts. The innermost we can call
Circus, the next one City, then Realpolitik, and the outermost one the Syuzhet. (To skip the use of
varying narratological terminologies that inform the debates in this area, I am opting for the use
of letters a, b, c, and d, to designate these “levels.”9) In a necessary way, the semiotic verifier
presumes a theory of Truth since it can distinguish signs from one another in terms of varying
coefficients of the Real. The semiotic verifier can be deployed via at least two avenues. The most
obvious, of course is the Narratorial function which, as the primary mediatory voice, has the
authority to execute what I will call the privilege of performing a “transcendental attribution”
(TA). Next, we have the Actorial function which can either also be the narrator or just plainly be
any “participant” in the fictional world(s). However, as a semiotic agent endowed with speech,
the actor can also generate a secondary narrative, or simply deploy a “corroborative
commentary” (CC) on the nature of the events in which he, she, or it is involved.
1. The illusory nature of the Circus is identified via both TA and CC. The words “circus,”
“artificial creatures,” “prop,” “cardboard facade,” “make‐believe houses,” and “his fictional
world” are overt ontological designations. When Nelson Farina blurted out after the final
applause of the crowd, "C'est le Blacamen de la politique," he executes a CC that not only
designates the circus show but also extends beyond it.
2. The village of Rosal del Virrey is designated by TA as “an illusory village.” It is illusory at
least in a triple sense: in its present actual state; in the future “utopian” state as dramatized by the
Senator’s circus program; and as the fictional setting for Marquez’s story. From this alone, we
are already on very unstable geographical grounds. The referred City is semiotic through and
through, although not necessarily unreal. In fact, this is the very boundary that keeps getting
blurred. It’s as if the very material substance of their world was as insubstantial as the signs that
they deploy to speak of it.
3. Nelson Farina represents the more politically aware fraction of the populace familiar with
the Senator’s Realpolitik as a disjunction between overt campaign platform and covert under-the-
table agenda. Hence, he is a major semiotic verifier via CC, reinforcing all the ontological
attributions in the narrative. His status as a fugitive of the law (“He had escaped from Devil's
Island”) and his request for a false identity card can be seen as a muted extension of the
Senator’s own image (operating above the law, presenting a facade). Like the Senator, he knows
how to play the political game, and this is proven by how he later manipulates the Senator’s
weakness to his advantage.
4. As actorial participants, Nelson Farina and Senator Sanchez, however clever they may be,
do not have access to the higher ontological level of the Syuzhet. They are aware, of course, of
the fictitious nature of the political worlds they inhabit or that inhabit them. This unbreakable
wall is what prevents the short story from becoming “metanarrational” from our point of view,
that is, extradiegetically (which does not preclude it having a “metafictive” import10). However,
the question arises concerning the ontological place of Destiny in the narrative. It can be
considered as existing outside or above all the constructed lives they know they are living in, at
least from the point of view of Senator Sanchez, a level that the reversibility of the signs of
reality with the reality of signs cannot touch. Should we then add it as a fifth ontological level
called Destiny that even the Senator’s capacity as a spin doctor cannot manipulate, the final and
transcendental order beyond reversibility?
Before I answer this question, I must emphasize the mutual interdependence of ontological
levels: they are inter-constitutive and define themselves solely through difference from other
levels. The level of Realpolitik is what it is only because it is not Circus. This is why, to stop the
infinite regress, the narrative needs an inviolable element of an irreversible type, an “absolute”
semiotic verifier. If not, the ontological series will not have one strict hierarchical order, but will
look equally the same in any reversible direction—and they actually do extradiegetically, since
a, b, c, and d are all part of the fictive dimension made of signs, and one is higher than the other
only as a function of the (contra-) indexical act of the semiotic verifier. This endless reversion is
then halted only temporarily (and we must add: a procedure by which “temporality” itself also
emerges as the possibility of plot movement) by a chain of semiotic verifiers, whose own ground
must be higher in relation to a lower ontological order, but not absolute since, like Nestor Farina,
the semiotic verifier is still part of the fiction whose illusions it identifies. If this sounds like it is
going to burst outward as Metafiction, implicating as it does the role of the extradiegetic reader
as itself another ontological semiotic verifier, it seems it nearly does, but covertly.11
This is where the second domain of reversibility becomes crucial in Marquez’s metafictive
play where he “flattens” the ontological coefficient for all the levels, but without neglecting to
provide a reversible loop (like a yoyo effect) that becomes the semiotic thread which activates,
deactivates, and reactivates the fictional possibility of the different levels themselves. This is the
domain of the physis where the animate and the inanimate exchange places via the
transformative or metaleptic12 violation of physical dimensions carried out by the paper birds, the
butterfly, and the paper bills. As the “clusters of paper birds [flew] into the air [,] the artificial
creatures took on life” but afterwards “went out to sea.” When “the senator had torn a sheet off
the calendar and fashioned a paper butterfly out of it with his hands. He tossed it with no
particular aim into the air current coming from the fan and the butterfly flew about the room and
then went out through the half‐open door.” Later on, after Laura sees it, “the large lithographed
butterfly unfolded completely, flattened against the wall, and remained stuck there.” The same
goes for the money bills, thereby also effectuating a reversion of the classic Marxist binary of
use-value vs. exchange value. The metamorphosis of a two-dimensional inanimate object into a
four-dimensional animate being and back again is the very process whereby fiction and life
exchange ontological places in the act of reading. (Through this device of the inter-dimensional
loop, we can begin interrogating the ontological constitution of the Sign itself beyond its
conceptualizations and reifications before and after différance.) This is the part where Marquez
avoids falling into the Fantastic or the Realistic completely by de-animating what he has
reanimated, but at the same time evades the full affirmation of the total illusory nature of Art and
the World (the Baroque mode). This defines the nature of perception and knowledge (and
political economy) as essentially structured by a metaleptic process, as a necessary violation of
levels expressing itself in and as the reversibility of signs.
To conclude, let us answer the question in the previous paragraph: Should we then add a fifth
ontological level called Destiny that even the Senator’s capacity as a spin doctor cannot
manipulate, the final and transcendental order beyond reversibility? Destiny, which is the
irreversible arrow of Thanatos and Eros, is the final ground that Marquez seems to place in that
fifth level, an inviolable ontological level that contains (in all senses) all the reversible levels and
allows them to be exchangeable amongst themselves, but not with Destiny. However, we must
also note that this doctrine of Destiny is something that our dear fictional Senator Sanchez
inherited from a “real” historical figure, Marcus Aurelius, from having read Meditations, a
philosophical memoire written between the years 161 to 180 AD. This is a “real” historical
figure and a “real” historical text that are in Marquez’s text, a fact which allows us to say that, as
opposed to being an absolute ontological dimension that escapes reversibility, the inviolable
level of Marquez’s text actually turns out to be just another text, that the absolute level is not
Destiny, but a text about Destiny.
And what can we say about the stubborn and enigmatic presence of the rose all throughout the
text? In the name of the rose, I will propose the other term of a “categorical singularity.”
1. The citations for Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Muerte constante más allá del amor” are from
“Death Constant Beyond Love,” translated by Gregory Rabassa and J.S. Bernstein.
2. The ancient distinction between mimesis and diegesis comes from Plato and Aristotle, a
distinction which roughly corresponds to “direct” presentation like in drama and mediated
presentation where there is an overt narrator present. The problematic status of the realism of
dialogues as an “unmediated” presentation and closer to “reality” is criticized in Brian McHale
as follows:
An unexamined assumption throughout much of the discussion of speech representation has been that
mimesis in the sense of speaking for the character should correlate with mimesis in the sense of
faithfulness of reproduction―that the more direct the representation was, the more realistic or life-like it
would be (Sternberg 1982). Thus, DD should be the most faithful to reality, and ID the least, with FID
somewhere in between. Nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, speech representation is a classic
illustration of what Sternberg (1982) decries as the fallacy of “package deals” in poetics whereby forms
and functions are bundled together in one-to-one relationships. Actually, the forms of speech
representation stand in a many-to-many relationship to their reproductive functions: some instances of
DD are highly imitative of “real” speech, while others are deliberately stylized and un-mimetic; some
instances of ID or FID are more imitative of “real” speech than DD often is, while other instances are less
Quoting Monica Fludernik, McHale adds: “In short, the mimesis of speech in fiction is a
“linguistic hallucination.””
See Brian McHale, “Speech Representation,” in Handbook of Narratology, eds. Peter Hühn,
John Pier Wolf Schmid, Jörg Schönert ( Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, 2009), p.
3. The poem by Francisco de Quevedo is reproduced below from A.Z. Foreman, poems found in
translation (blog), March 2016,
Love Constant Beyond Death
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Amor Constante Mas Allá de la Muerte
Francisco de Quevedo
That terminal shadow may with darkness seal
my eyes shut when it steals white day from me,
and in an instant, flattering the zeal
of this my eager soul, let it go free.
But on this hither shore where once it burned
it shall not leave behind love’s memory.
My flame can swim chill waters. It has learned
to lose respect for laws’ severity.
This soul that was a god's hot prison cell,
veins that with liquid humors fueled such fire,
marrows that flamed in glory as I strove
Cerrar podrá mis ojos la postrera
sombra que me llevare el blanco día,
y podrá desatar esta alma mía
hora a su afán ansioso lisonjera;
mas no de essotra parte, en la riuera,
dexará la memoria, en donde ardía:
nadar sabe mi llama l'agua fría,
y perder el respeto a lei severa.
Alma qu'a todo un dios prissión ha sido,
venas qu'umor a tanto fuego an dado,
medulas qu'an gloriosamente ardido,
shall quit the flesh, but never their desire.
They shall be ash. That ash will feel as well.
Dust they shall be. That dust will be in love.
su cuerpo dexarán, no su cuydado;
serán ceniça, mas tendrá sentido;
polvo serán, mas polvo enamorado.
4. “Meditations is a series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180
AD, recording his private notes to himself and ideas on Stoic philosophy.” Wikipedia, s.v.
“Meditations,” Last edited 22 August 2017.
“Marcus' reputation as a philosopher rests upon one work, the Meditations. The Meditations take the form
of a personal notebook and were probably written while Marcus was on campaign in central Europe, c.
AD 171-175.... “Of all the philosophical exercises in the Meditations the most prominent centers around
what might be called 'the point of view of the cosmos.' In a number of passages Marcus exhorts himself to
overcome the limited perspective of the individual and experience the world from a cosmic perspective.”
John Sellars, “Marcus Aurelius (121—180 C.E.),” in Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,, 05 September 2017.
5. See Bruno Snell, The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought (New
York: Harper & Brothers, 1960).
6. Prolepsis and analepsis correspond to the popular figures for “flashforward” and “flashback”
in the plot. They represent the “predictive function” and the “explanatory function” of the
narrative. I find these figures interesting not only because they call attention to the artificiality of
the plot but also to the temporal horizon simulated by narrative whose “events” can only exist as
coordinates on the time axis they draw. I think time travel plots can be read as the bi-play of
these figures.
7. “Heterodiegetic,” “homodiegetic,” “extradiegetic” correspond roughly to 1) a narrator who is
not part of the action; 2) a narrator who is also a character, figure, actor, or participant in the
narrative world; 3) the level outside the narrative where real readers can also reside. However,
these terms from Gérard Genette have been the subject of reinterpretation. See Didier Coste &
John Pier “Narrative Levels,” in Handbook of Narratology, eds. Peter Hühn, John Pier Wolf
Schmid, Jörg Schönert ( Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, 2009), pp. 295-308.
8. As far as I can tell, this term has not been used in narratology, but it will definitely fall under
any metadiegetic indicator whose main function is to alert us of differing ontological levels. The
main emphasis of the term has the advantage of underlining the veridical or non-veridical
determination of a level.
9. The succinct discussion by Coste and Pier (op. cit.) gives us an idea of how the notion of
narrative levels has been formulated in varying and sometimes confusing terminology:
By reformulating narrative embedding in terms of the enunciative threshold in the transitions between
levels, Genette opened up a debate with far-reaching implications as to the nature of the relations between
levels, a debate centered, at least initially, on the prefix meta-. If understood analogously to
metalanguage, metanarrative (métarécit or récit métadiégétique) would correspond to the embedding
narrative—a primary narrative on or about the second-level narrative. But in fact metanarrative (or better:
metadiegetic narrative) corresponds to the events related within diegetic narrative. Genette insisted that
just as the narrating instance of the primary narrative is extradiegetic, so that of a metadiegetic (second-
level) narrative is diegetic. In order to resolve the potential terminological ambiguity, Bal points to three
usages of meta-: (a) a quoted discourse is metalinguistic in the sense of being fictional in relation to the
quoting discourse (a sense close to Genette’s); (b) from a functionalist perspective, the quoted discourse is
a metanarrative commentary on the quoting discourse (metalinguistic textual devices, etc.); (c) an abusive
extension of meta- to cover commentary of any kind.
10. “Metanarration” and “metafiction” are distinguished Birgit Neumann and Ansgar Nünning in
the article “Metanarration and Metafiction,” in Handbook of Narratology, eds. Peter Hühn, John
Pier Wolf Schmid, Jörg Schönert (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, 2009), pp. 204211.
11. Hutcheon distinguishes between “overt and covert forms of metafiction. While overtly
metafictional texts disclose their self-awareness in “explicit thematizations […] of their diegetic or
linguistic identity within the texts themselves,” covert forms “internalize” this process: They are “selfreflective but not necessarily self-conscious.”
Birgit Neumann & Ansgar Nünning, “Metanarration and Metafiction,” in Handbook of
Narratology, eds. Peter Hühn, John Pier Wolf Schmid, Jörg Schönert ( Berlin: Walter de Gruyter
GmbH & Co. KG, 2009), p. 206.
12. A brief definition of metalepsis is given below:
In its narratological sense, metalepsis, first identified by Genette, is a paradoxical contamination between
the world of the telling and the world of the told: “any intrusion by the extradiegetic narrator or narrate
into the diegetic universe (or by diegetic characters into a metadiegetic universe, etc.), or the inverse.
Described as “taking hold of (telling) by changing level” and thus combining the principle of → narrative
levels with the rhetorical figure of metalepsis originating in ancient legal discourse, narrative metalepsis
is a “deliberate transgression of the threshold of embedding” resulting in “intrusions [that] disturb, to say
the least, the distinction between levels....” Genette (2004) also argues that not only is metalepsis a
violation of the separation between syntactically defined levels, but also a deviant referential operation, a
violation of semantic thresholds of representation that involves the beholder in an ontological
transgression of universes and points toward a theory of fiction.
There is also a basic distinction between two types proposed by Ryan: rhetorical and ontological:
Following a proposal by Ryan, it is now widely acknowledged that metalepsis breaks down into a
rhetorical (Genette) and an ontological variety (McHale), parallel to the distinction between illocutionary
boundary at discourse level and ontological boundary at story level. “Rhetorical metalepsis,” Ryan
claims, “opens a small window that allows a quick glance across levels, but the window closes after a few
sentences, and the operation ends up reasserting the existence of the boundaries.”
John Pier, “Metalepsis,” in Handbook of Narratology, eds. Peter Hühn, John Pier Wolf Schmid,
Jörg Schönert ( Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, 2009), pp.190-192.
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