Monday, August 29, 2011


So I'm taking this class a friend of mine is teaching at Lenoir Rhyne University on Storytelling. Part of the class is to summarize weekly readings and blog about them, and I'll be posting that here. If you follow me, I hope you're ready for a resurgence of posts and listening to my irreverent banter in the realm of the study of narrative. For those of you in the class, please don't use me as a model for summaries, I'm doing my best, but have forgotten most of what I knew about formal writing...too many sermons and lesson plans. Ms. Bennett: It'll get better.
So I'm reading this article written by Susana Onega and Jose Angel Garcia Landa entitled: Narratology: An introduction. The article seems to be essentially divided into three parts. The first is an explanation and definition of Narratology in general (I know you're dying to hear that part, but patience is a virtue), a brief but wordy walk throught the various means of analysis used in Narratology (I read it with my dictionary app open, no kidding), and the ways that this realm of study has manifest through history.
Narrative, in a nutshell, is the "representation of a series of events." My favorite description from the reading is paraphrased as: "Using signs and symbols, either visual or aural, to represent a series of events connected through time and [the rules] of cause and effect." Narratology, therefore, is the study of the narrative using analytical approach. Forms of narrative are defined by history, culture, and method, and every narrative medium, from campfire stories to novels to movies to drama and beyond, requires a specific analytical approach. The narrative itself can be identifed by various parts. This includes the Text, or the actual written, drawn, filmed, dramatized or whatever method by which the story is told, the Fabula, the general gist of the story broken down to its basic elements, and the story itself, the concrete chain of events that keeps you up past bedtime and dreaming of your lunchbreak.
A fascinating concept I had never really thought about came in the analysis of the narrative. On one side is a horizontal approach to understanding the story. This means you pick apart the beginning, middle, and end, and find out what the story is saying. But more importantly (to me, at least) is a vertical analysis of the story. Vertical analysis requires seeing how deep you can go in finding parallels and meaning to the narrative itself. It opens up a world of meaning in the simplest of stories. From there, you delve into all sorts of ways to analyze a narrative: the person telling the story, the voice used, culture, etc.
As always, to understand narratology, we must understand where it came from. And these two very intelligent people went as far back as Plato, and came through modern understandings of studying the narrative. It was interesting to see the parrallels between literary analysis and artistic analysis, even so much as some of the movements are similar: Classical, Modernism, Formalism, Contemporary, etc. There was a common vein of argument about the difference between telling the story versus showing the story. Aristotle said, "an action should be treated artistically before it becomes a plot." Some people later tried something different, some people expounded on that concept, focusing on characters and experience or structure and complexity. It was very interesting to parallel the style of analysis as a reaction to world events at the time. Ancient Narrative was as epic as it could be made to be. The rise of the Industrial Revolution through the second World War brought a more complex, structured approach to narrative, more modern styles posit a myriad of theories behind various aspects of narrative.
It is ironic that the single fact in this article that raised my eyebrows the most is that Freud himself reasoned that "the whole process of the development of the self, as well as psychoanalytic therapy, was narratively structured." Now when I ask someone what their story is or someone asks me mine, it is a grand thing to think of the scope of research boiled down into one little question. I've never been a fan of Freud, but here he is at the center of my day to day work with youth. What's your story?
So based on all this, I'd really be interested to know if all of these mechanisms have changed your perspective on how you look at the narrative, at the stories around you. Which is most important to you, the structure of the work, or the effect on the reader? Which method excites you more, the horizontal analysis of a narrative, or a more vertical one?
(All quoted phrases taken from Narratology: An Introduction)