Narrative across Media: The Languages of Storytelling

By Marie-Laure Ryan | Go to book overview

1
Toward a Transmedial Narratology

David Herman

True to their structuralist inheritance, narratologists such as the early Roland Barthes sought to use linguistics as a “pilot-science” in their efforts to develop new (and revolutionary) techniques for analyzing stories. Thus, in his 1966 “Introduction to the Structuralist Analysis of Narratives” Barthes conceived of discourse as the object of a second linguistics, a linguistics beyond the sentence, with narrative viewed as only one of the “idioms apt for consideration” in this context. Yet, in one of the great ironies of the history of narrative theory, the narratologists tried to elaborate this second linguistics on the basis of a structuralist approach to language that had already proven deficient in the broader context of linguistic inquiry (see Herman, “Sciences”). Notably, the structuralists tried to build a linguistics of discourse on the basis of models unable to account for the complexities of larger, suprasentential units of language. What is more, in founding the field of narratology, theorists such as Barthes, Gérard Genette, A.-J. Greimas, and Tzvetan Todorov focused mainly on literary narratives as opposed to instances of everyday storytelling. Barthes drew on Fleming’s James Bond novels in his “Introduction”; Genette, Greimas, and Todorov used Proust, Maupassant, and Boccaccio as their tutor texts. Here emerges a second major historical irony. One of the foundational documents for structuralist narratology was Vladimir Propp’s investigation of folktales rooted in oral traditions. But the structuralists neglected to consider (let alone mark off) the limits of applicability of Propp’s ideas, trying to extend to all narratives, including complicated literary texts, tools designed for a restricted corpus of folktales. The result was an approach that championed the study of narratives of all sorts, irrespective of origin, medium, theme, reputation, or genre, but lacked the conceptual and methodological resources to substantiate its own claims to generalizability.

Meanwhile, in the Anglo-American tradition, one year after the publica-

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