Academic journal article Style

Style, the Narrating Instance, and the "Trace" of Writing

Academic journal article Style

Style, the Narrating Instance, and the "Trace" of Writing

Article excerpt

I begin this essay with two passages--one from Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants,' the other from Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses--representative of two of the most influential prose stylists of the twentieth century:

   He picked up the two heavy bags and carried them around the station
   to the other tracks. He looked up the tracks but could not see the
   train. Coming back, he walked through the barroom, where people
   waiting for the train were drinking. He drank an Anis at the bar
   and looked at the people. (214)

   Gibreel, the tuneless soloist, had been cavorting in moonlight as
   he sang his impromptu gazal, swimming in air, butterfly-stroke,
   breast-stroke, bunching himslf into a ball, spread-eagling himself
   against the almost-infinity of the almost-dawn, adopting heraldic
   postures, rampant, couchant, pitting levity against gravity. (3)

Approaching these two passages in terms of voice, narratology would allow us to classify both as subsequent narration by extradiegetic heterodiegetic narrators. But it would provide little scope to say anything about the palpable stylistic difference between Hemingway's terse, declarative sentences, and Rushdie's pyrotechnic, "chutnified" language that attempts to absorb the rhythms of Indian speech into the cadence of English prose. My first question, then, is what understanding of voice would result from narratological attention to an author's individual style?

As a result of the foundational distinction between author and narrator, narrative theory has traditionally been less concerned with prose style--how a narrative is written--than with storytelling methods--how a story is narrated. When narratology has addressed style it has either been in the broadest sense of the "how" as opposed to the "what" of narrative, drawing upon stylistics to highlight the linguistic phenomena that facilitate narrative discourse, or, in the more restricted sense, to identify expressive features of language that will help distinguish a narrator's voice from a character's, particularly in represented speech and thought. Discussing style in An Introduction to Narratology, Monika Fludemik writes: "the use of register, idiolect and dialect is a surface-structure strategy which, at a deeper level, allows us to differentiate between the narrator's and the character's discourses" (70). She goes on to point out that: "A literary critical analysis of the style of an author, on the other hand, which is the kind of investigation of individual style we meet most frequently in literary studies, is to a large extent narratologically irrelevant" (71).

Given recent attention to the "real" author, I think individual style is not so much irrelevant as it is methodologically challenging for narrative theory. (1) My goal in this paper is not to prosecute a case for style as an analytic category of narrative poetics. Instead I want to investigate the various ways in which style has been invoked to renovate Gerard Genette's key concept of narrative voice in the wake of critical theory--similar in its rejection of authorship, but different in its critique of formalism--while still keeping at bay the traditional function of style as a marker of authorial identity. I will focus, in particular, on how voice and style oscillate around the concept of "trace."

As is well known, Genette claims that narrative discourse, which he equates with "the text itself' (27), is an intermediary through which we gain access both to the signified story and the act that produces the narrative. This producing activity, however, is not that of the author's writing, but the narrator's enunciating. Genette argues that while the instance of writing is unknowable, the narrating instance can be recuperated through textual analysis of the "traces" that it leaves in the narrative discourse: "our knowledge of the two (the events and the action of writing) must be indirect, unavoidably mediated by the narrative discourse, inasmuch as the events are the very subject of that discourse and the activity of writing leaves in it traces, signs or indices that we can pick up and interpret" (28). …

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