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Defense and Challenge:Reflections on the Relation between Story and Discourse

作者:申丹  来源:网络转摘  浏览量:4705    2009-08-28 17:17:23



      The structuralist distinction between story and discourse, that is, between what is told and how it is told, is regarded as “an indispensable premise of narratology” (Culler 171). Many narratologists have found this distinction helpful in theoretical discussions as well as practical analyses, but its very existence, let alone its absolute status, has been challenged by various critics from different angles. This paper will first offer a consideration of some deconstructive attempts to subvert the distinction, then will present a challenge of its own. Of the five areas of discourse (order, duration, frequency, mood and voice [Genette, Narrative Discourse]), the distinction remains quite clear in the first three, but tends to be blurred in the latter two, especially in terms of (i) narrated speech; (ii) character’s perception when used as the “angle of vision” by the narrator; and (iii) certain homodiegetic narration. The aim of the paper, however, is not only to help clarify the relation between story and discourse, but also to shed fresh light on the nature of fictional narratives through the clarification.



      I’ll first consider two deconstructive attempts to subvert the distinction in question, made respectively by Jonathan Culler and Patrick O’Neill. Each of them sees story and discourse as an absolute binary and as one in which we have to choose one term as privileged. Their efforts, then, in characteristic deconstructive fashion, are to identify the allegedly existing privilege (story over discourse) and then argue for a reversal. Culler goes one step further by adding the point that actually both relations are necessary, thus giving us the classic deconstructive conclusion of incompatibility, if not contradiction.

      Culler depends heavily on concrete examples of narratives to make his point. The first he offers is the familiar narrative of Oedipus, and his basic argument is that “Instead of the revelation of a prior deed determining meaning, we could say that it is meaning, the convergence of meaning in the narrative discourse, that leads us to posit [Oedipus’s murdering his father] as its appropriate manifestation.” (174) Culler’s argument based on Oedipus has been convincingly challenged in detail by Seymour Chatman in “On Deconstructing Narratology”(see also Ryan 261-262; Kafalenos 471-72; Fludernik, Towards 320-321). I’ll skip this example and approach the issue from a different angle, directing attention to the essential difference between fictional events and real happenings, especially to the thematic component of the story itself.

       The second example Culler gives is George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda. Culler quotes Cynthia Chase’s analysis in support of his opinion: “The sequence of events in the plot as a whole presents Deronda’s revealed origins in a different perspective. The account of Deronda’s situation has made it increasingly obvious to the reader that the progression of the hero’s destiny—or, that is to say, the progression of the story—positively requires a revelation that he is of Jewish birth. …” (quoted from Culler 176, my emphasis). Interestingly, Chase’s argument seems to contradict, rather than confirm, Culler’s point. Her words point to the fact that the fictional story itself, in contrast with real happenings, is a thematic construct. It is “the progression of the story,” “of the hero’s destiny,” of the “sequence of events,” rather than “the convergence of meaning in the narrative discourse,” that requires the revelation concerned. It is true that the delay (on the level of discourse) of the revelation of Deronda’s Jewish origin creates much dramatic effect, but the causal relation between the origin and “his present character and involvement with things Jewish” is inherent in the story’s own thematic structure. Further, we should be aware that, George Eliot, who is the creator of the story, could have given Deronda an origin other than Jewish if she had wished to deviate from the principles of narrative coherence. But of course, such a deviation would go against the expectations of the readers, who, at the moment of revelation, would have to readjust their interpretations and would perhaps regard the story as incoherent, unreasonable and unsuccessful unless they can find a good reason for the novelist’s deviation.

      To gain a fuller picture of the nature of the fictional story, I would like to borrow a theoretical framework used by James Phelan, who sees narrative, especially character, in terms of three components: the mimetic, the thematic, and the synthetic (Reading People). A sequence of story events, as opposed to a sequence of real happenings, is an artificial construct created by the writer, hence “synthetic”. But the sequence of story events has in different ways a mimetic function. I say “in different ways” because in different genres, the mimetic function manifests itself in a different form. In interpreting Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” for instance, we would take the protagonist’s transfiguration into a gigantic beetle to be real in the fictional world, although it could never happen in the actual world1. Because of the conventions of modernist writing which allow for the existence of a fantastic story world, we take the “metamorphosis” as a fictional event, rather than as an operation performed by discourse. But because of the mimetic function, whatever narrative we are interpreting, we are always trying to infer the original order of the events based on our knowledge of causality or temporality of events in the real world. And because of the mimetic function, we take the fictional story events as a nontextual given, as independent of the presentation in discourse.

      As for the thematic function, the fictional writer creates a sequence of story events to convey certain theme(s). Because of the thematic function, it is essential for Sophocles to make Oedipus the murderer of Laius in order to produce a tragedy -- in whatever order the story events are presented and in whatever manner the fact is revealed. Culler asserts, “If he were to resist the logic of signification, arguing that ‘the fact that he’s my father doesn’t mean that I killed him,’ demanding more evidence about the past event, Oedipus would not acquire the necessary tragic stature ” (175), since the only witness has said that it was many robbers who killed the King’s party. But given the thematic function of the story, if Oedipus had argued so and if Sophocles’s aim was to produce a successful tragedy, Sophocles would certainly have made the witness give an account to prove that Oedipus (rather than many robbers) is the murderer of Laius, in which case, Oedipus’s tragic stature would remain unaltered. Indeed, because of the thematic function, we can always discuss whether given story events are appropriate or effective in conveying the theme(s) concerned. While focusing on what he takes to be “discourse,” Culler’s discussion seems to highlight, quite unwittingly, the thematic component of the story, which is often neglected by narratologists for different reasons. When narratologists are concerned with the structure of the story, they tend to concentrate on the universal grammar of narratives, overlooking the thematic functions of story events in specific contexts. When narratologists are concerned with the level of discourse, they tend to take the story for granted and pay attention exclusively to how the story is transmitted. But, of course, narratologists, as distinct from literary critics, have their own concerns and principles of inquiry.

      Significantly, once we realize that the fictional story itself has at once synthetic, mimetic and thematic components, the incompatibility or contradiction that Culler sees in the distinction between story and discourse will immediately dissolve into harmony, with the mimetic component accounting for the story’s being “prior to and independent of the given perspective on these events” and with the thematic component accounting for the fact that “these events are justified by their appropriateness to a thematic structure” (Culler 178).

       A more recent deconstructive challenge to the distinction between story and discourse comes from Patrick O’Neill (especially 33-57). A detailed consideration of O’Neill’s challenge may shed further light on the nature of fictitious narratives. As far as the story is concerned, O’Neill’s basic argument is that “for the external observer (the reader, for example), the world of story emerges as not only inaccessible, but always potentially fantastic, and finally indescribable; while for the (internal) actor/participant, it reveals itself as a world that is entirely provisional, fundamentally unstable, and wholly inescapable” (34, my emphasis).

      I’ll first consider the relation between the story and the external observer by discussing one by one the three epithets “inaccessible,” “fantastic,” and “indescribable.” O’Neill regards the story as “inaccessible” to the reader in that “it is accessible to us only through the discourse that brings it into being” (37) and the fictional story therefore by no means constitutes “the primary plane” (35). It is no doubt the case that the reader can only infer the fictional story from the discourse. But when we come to consider the writing process or “the real process of narrating” (see Shen, “Narrative” 124-125), we may gain a tentative picture of the story’s prior existence. To take Oedipus for an example. As far as the basic sequence of events are concerned: Oedipus as a baby is abandoned on Mt Cithaeron - he is rescued by a shepherd - he grows up in Corinth - he kills Laius at the crossroads - etc., it is reasonable to assume that Sophocles conceived this sequence before setting it on paper with various artistic devices. But of course, during the process of writing, the writer may supply various details that he had not previously thought about and may alter or omit certain events as he goes along. But no matter whether the story facts are preconceived or conceived, so to speak, on the spot, one thing is certain: the writer is representing story facts conceived in his mind. While O’Neill does not seem to acknowledge the preexistence of the story in the writer’s imaginary world, what he says does seem to acknowledge unwittingly the “primary” status of the story: “Each narrative, in other words, produces not only a story, which is strictly limited, but also a largely undefined story-world that is in principle limitless, containing an infinity of virtual events and existents of which only the existents and events of the story proper are realized.” (40, my emphasis) To claim that the discourse only realizes part of the virtual events and existents is surely to acknowledge the story’s status as “given,” “prior” or “primary,” a status that is based on the mimetic function of the story as discussed above. Not surprisingly, O’Neill refers with approval to critics of an older school who devoted much energy to investigating things not spelled out in the text, such as the influence of Hamlet’s father on his son (40-41). Indeed, given the mimetic function of the story events, we can make various inferences of things not spelled out in the text. But the inferences should be based on textual clues, otherwise one is usurping the place of the writer in producing another part of the story based on her own imagination.

      In terms of the epithet “fantastic,” O’Neill offers various examples of fantastic story events, such as Beatrix Potter’s talking rabbits and Beckett’s dwellers in garbage cans. O’Neill concludes, “It is to this extent that the world of story, in that it is accessible to us only through the discourse that brings it into being, always potentially exceeds the limits of the realistic, always potentially moves towards the non-realistic, the completely unexpected, the fantastic.” (37) Now, as O’Neill argued earlier, historical facts could also be said to be “accessible to us only through the discourse” (35-36), but the events narrated in history cannot exceed, at least not too far, the limits of the realistic. See in this light, we’d better attribute the “fantastic” not to the fact that the story is accessible to the reader only through the discourse, but to the fictitious nature of novels. The fictional story, is, after all, an artificial construct created by the writer and it can, therefore, contain events not possible in real life. Clearly, such fantastic elements do not affect the distinction between the (fictional) story and the discourse.

      As regards the epithet “indescribable,” which concerns the relation between the story and the writer, O’Neill offers two examples to show that the story world “evades and exceeds description” (38). The first involves summary. Given “the prince slew the dragon and rescued the princess,” we do not know for certain what actually happened: “Did the prince creep cautiously up on it from behind and dispatch it with a single stroke of his trusty sword? Did he rush at it boldly instead and stab it several times with a small dagger?  …” (38-39) Summary, as we all know, is a purposeful means of presentation. The writer uses summary NOT because more specific description is impossible, but because she does not deem it necessary to provide more details. Interestingly, O’Neill’s discussion clearly distinguishes what “actually happened” (based on the mimetic function) and the general presentation in discourse, hence confirming the distinction between story and discourse. The second example O’Neill offers concerns a more specific act “Jim walked to the door.” According to O’Neill, this sentence “involves all of ‘Jim decided to walk to the door,’ ‘Jim shifted his weight to his left foot,’ ‘Jim advanced his right foot,’ … and so on, not to mention an indefinitely large number of even more minutely differentiated activities as well” (39). Here, first of all, it should be born in mind that in writing, the author usually conforms to various conventions of presentation. “Jim walked to the door” is a conventional way of presenting the act concerned. By contrast, descriptions of the component actions emcompassed by “Jim walked to the door” form an unconventional way of presenting the act and constitute a case of what Chatman calls “stretch” (Story 72-73), which conveys an effect very much like that of slow motion in film. In fact, what O’Neill specifies as “‘Jim shifted his weight to his left foot,’ ‘Jim advanced his right foot,’ ‘Jim planted his right foot on the floor,’” and so on, can be readily inferred by the reader from “Jim walked to the door.” Clearly, if the writer does not specify such details or even more minute details, it is not because the specification is impossible, but because she does not deem it necessary and/or does not want to deviate from the conventional way of representation. Interestingly, instead of showing how the story “evades and exceeds description,” O’Neill’s discussion seems to lend itself to the point that the novelist can describe the events as detailed or as general as she wishes and as she sees necessary in fulfilling the mimetic and the thematic design.

     Now, let’s turn our attention to the second part of O’Neill’s basic argument, which concerns the relation between the story and “the (internal) actor/participant.” O’Neill observes,

The world of story is fundamentally unstable, for its entire constitution, as Mieke Bal has pointed out (1985: 149), can be changed by a single word on the part of the narrator who discourses it -- the not unimportant difference (for one of the participants at least) between “John was eventually able to outrun the angry bear” and “John was eventually unable to outrun the angry bear.” And finally, the world inhabited by actors is one that in principle they cannot escape, for like Lear’s flies to wanton boys, they have absolutely no recourse against the essentially arbitrary narrative decisions of the discourse - the narrative abode of those discursive gods that kill them for their sport. (41, original emphasis)

      Clearly, the difference between “John was eventually able to outrun the angry bear” and “John was eventually unable to outrun the angry bear” is not a difference in discourse that points to the instability of story, but rather a difference in event that points to two distinct but very stable stories. O’Neill’s observation highlights the synthetic component of the story, which is, after all, a creation by the writer. Now, although the novelist does have the power to produce the story whatever way she likes, she usually takes into account both various narrative conventions and the work’s thematic design. Further, we should bear in mind that the fictitious narrator is also a product of the novelist, hence possessing no power to alter the story on its/his/her own. Significantly, once a novel is published, the author can no longer alter the story in that given text. When discussing the relation between story and discourse, one is surely concerned with that relation in a published novel, instead of in a draft during the process of creation. Seen in this light, far from being “provisional” and “unstable,” the story (in the published novel) is constant and stable. When it comes to O’Neill’s point that the actors cannot escape from the story world, he seems to have forgotten the essential fact that the actors are not real people but artificial constructs created by the writer. The very talking about the actor’s escaping from the story world is to mix up the mimetic with the real.

      After this general discussion, O’Neill goes on to consider the specific aspects of time, place, character, and their interaction. O’Neill bases his discussion on Genette (Narrative Discourse), Rimmon-Kenan, Mieke Bal, and Chatman (Story). The treatment of “time” is very much an explication, with concrete examples, of the categories “order,” “duration,” and “frequency” as discussed by Genette, and O’Neill’s discussion of space is no less structuralist. As for character, O’Neill draws on Rimmon-Kenan’s distinction between direct definition and indirect presentation but goes beyond that in two senses. First, he offers an insightful, yet by no means deconstructive, discussion of the reader’s reconstruction of characters and “a process of pre-construction by contextual constraints and expectations” (49). Secondly, in discussing “speaking names”, i.e. names directly indicating character’s nature or role, he defines it as “an ostentatious indication of the priority of discourse over story: what is primarily important is the narrative point being made, not the process of characterization” (52). What I see in this view is a neglect of the thematic component of the story, and a confusion of story with discourse2. The author, in creating a character, gives the character a “speaking name” in order to make the character more effectively fulfil her part in the story’s thematic design. The author’s choosing to use “speaking names” instead of more mimetic names is not a matter of giving priority to discourse over story, but a matter of giving priority to the story’s thematic function over its mimetic function.

       O’Neill concludes his discussion by drawing attention to Queneau’s Exercises in Style,

which tells a single story in no less than ninety-nine different versions, employing ninety-nine different narrative styles to increasingly hilarious effect. …The story of any one of the microdiscourses is the unchanging story of the irascible but fashion-conscious young commuter; the story of the text as a whole [i.e. the ninety-nine versions considered as a whole], however, is the story of the narrator’s bravura performance. The discourse, in other words, is the story. For while ostensibly presenting the story no less than ninety-nine times - and who could reasonably ask for more than that? - the discourse (shades of Zeno) has in fact managed to push the story out of the way altogether, has triumphantly succeeded in usurping its place entirely in the reader’s attention. (56-57, my emphasis except for “is”)

When faced with Queneau’s work entitled “Exercises in Style,” the reader would concern herself solely with an artificial experiment on style.3 The story in the “ninety-nine different versions” is an invariant element that merely forms the basis for the experiment to proceed. In reading each version, the reader would only be interested in finding out how this style differs from the other styles used in presenting that “single,” “unchanging” story. The point is that the reader’s exclusive interest in the differences among the numerous styles does not have the power of turning the discourse into the story, since “story” is not to be defined according to readerly interest, but as the narrated events and existents. In claiming that the discourse is the story, O’Neill is actually taking readerly interest as the sole criterion of story, which apparently cannot hold. Interestingly, O’Neill’s discussion seems to lend much support to the distinction between story and discourse since it affirms that a story can be presented in different ways, and, moreover, the story remains the same despite the differences in the discourse.4



      I call my challenge a “non-deconstructive” one because my intention is not to subvert the distinction between story and discourse, but to investigate certain areas where this distinction is not tenable. First of all, it must be made clear that this distinction is based on the mimetic component of the story. Without the mimetic component, there will be no story separable or distinguishable from the discourse. Rimmon-Kenan says, “ ‘Story’ designates the narrated events, abstracted from their disposition in the text and reconstructed in their chronological order, together with the participants in these events.” (3) This definition of “story,” in my view, is reader-oriented and focuses on the story’s synthetic component, neglecting to a certain extent the mimetic component. To gain a fuller picture, we need to take into full account both the synthetic and the mimetic component (the thematic is irrelevant here), and both the reader as the interpreter and the author as the creator of the story facts. As discussed above, because the story has a mimetic component, it is taken to be a nontextual given, independent of the presentation in discourse. This separability or distinguishability of story from discourse is a prerequisite for the discussion of unreliable narration. We say a narration is unreliable precisely because we have come to the conclusion that things are not as the narrator represents them, a judgement very much based on our experience of the world, as well as on literary conventions. In commenting on “denarration” in Samuel Beckett’s Molloy, Brian Richardson observes, “Of course, if the causal and temporal relations are so easily negated, the solidity of the other figures becomes considerably less firm. Is it certain that there was, in fact, a cow, and not instead a sheep, a bird, or a boy? … Other disclaimers more generally subvert the entire narrative: ‘and when I say I said, etc., all I mean is that I knew confusedly things were so, without knowing exactly what they were about’ (118). In the end, all we can be sure of is that ‘what really happened was quite different’ from anything we are told… ”(“Denarration” 169-170). In my view, so long as we are trying to distinguish “things we are told” from “what really happened,” the distinction between story and discourse is working, no matter how difficult or impossible it is to determine “what really happened.” In the case of unreliable narration, we believe that the author knows the story facts, facts that could be or could have been revealed by a reliable narrator. Mimesis works here in an implicit way, implying a stable story (“what really happened”) behind the veil of the unreliable, fallible, or what Richardson calls “duplicitous” narration. I would argue that the distinction between story and discourse will collapse only when a work is neither explicitly nor implicitly mimetic, when we no longer make any effort to find out “what really happened,” when we attribute the impossibility of determining story facts (including fantastic or absurd story facts) not only to the narrator but also to the author (i.e. there is no relevant gap between the narrator and the author). This would happen in texts containing only a non-mimetic language game or narration game, as in certain parts of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake or certain parts of Samuel Beckett’s Worstward Ho. In such cases, what is highlighted is the fragility of the mimetic component of the story itself, which can be discarded or subverted by the fictional writer, leading to “none-story” in relation to the writer as the creator.

       When a work contains, explicitly or implicitly, mimetic story facts (whether miming sequential events or mental states), we can draw a line between story facts and the narrative discourse. Of the five aspects of discourse: order, duration, frequency, mood and voice, the distinction in question, in my view, is quite safe in the first three. As we all know, in the fictional world, story order, duration and frequency are based not only on the writer’s and reader’s experience of the world, but also on literary conventions. Just as a human being can metamorphosize into a giant beetle in Kafka’s work, fictional time can deviate from that of the actual world. In his “‘Time is out of Joint’,” Richardson observes, “The starting point of the Structuralist model is the distinction between the order of a story’s events and the order in which they appear in the narrative. …Several of the plays I will examine, however, resist or even preclude this theoretical demarcation. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a particularly daring violation of story and its temporality occurs; in this play, Shakespeare creates two internally consistent but mutually incompatible time schemes.” (299) In that play by Shakespeare, four days pass for the queen, the duke and Egeus in the city, while, at the same time, one night passes for the lovers, fairies and workmen in a wood only a few miles from the city. Nevertheless, this does not seem to present any real problem for the story-discourse distinction, for we can simply take the incompatible time schemes as fictional “facts” in that Shakesperean “textual actual world” (Ryan 24-25), where magic works and where humans and fairies co-exist. Then we can go on to discuss whether the discourse functions to rearrange the story time as such.

      In the same essay, Richardson later comments, “Finally, one wonders what a Structuralist would do with the following stage direction from Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano: ‘The clock strikes seven times. Silence. The clock strikes three times. Silence. The clock doesn’t strike’ (1958:11). These are the very elements of literary time that a narrative poetics should probe and explain, rather than preclude and ignore.” (306) Significantly, to explain such a phenomenon, we must keep in mind the essential difference between the novel and the theatre. In theatre, the stage direction “The clock strikes seven times. Silence. The clock strikes three times. Silence”5 will be performed, and the audience who hear this with their own ears will just take it as a fictional fact, real in that absurd literary world. Indeed, direct access of the audience to the performance in the theater makes it much easier to determine “what really happened.” 6 No matter how far a thing on the stage deviates from the actual world, as soon as the audience see it with their own eyes or hear it with their own ears, it would stand firm as “what really happened.” When it comes to the novel, however, “The clock strikes (stroke) seven times. Silence. The clock strikes (stroke) three times. Silence. The clock doesn’t (didn’t) strike” will most probably be taken as what Richardson calls “denarration.” As indicated earlier, whether “denarration” blurs the distinction between story and discourse depends on whether the work is still implicitly mimetic – including the miming of a fantastic or absurd “textual reference world” (Ryan 24-25).

      When a work is mimetic, we can usually distinguish between story order/duration/frequency and discourse order/duration/frequency. We may have various kinds of discordance or contrast between story time and discourse time, but the latter usually does not have the power of changing the former, so the distinction between the two is kept clear. As we all know, a discourse choice is different from a choice of fictional fact. The choice between “John kissed Mary” and “John killed Mary” is a choice of fictional fact, while the choice between “John kissed Mary” and “Mary was kissed by John” is merely a choice of presentational mode, a choice that does not affect the represented action. The distinction between story and discourse will be blurred when a discourse choice leads to a change in the fictional reality, or when one element belongs at the same time both to the level of story and to that of discourse. Such blurring of the distinction in question tends to occur in the areas of “mood” and “voice,” especially in the case of (i) narrated speech; (ii) character’s perception when used as the “angle of vision” by the narrator; and (iii) homodiegetic narration when the I’s narrator function and character function converge.


(a) Narrated Speech

      As distinct from temporality, speech presentation is an area involving two voices/consciousness (the character’s and the narrator’s), as well as two speech situations with different addresser-addressee relationships. If the mode chosen is as indirect as “narrated speech,” the embedded speech or thought will be raised to the narrative plane. Due to the submerging of the character’s voice/consciousness by that of the narrator, various distortions can occur. The following is a simple case in point:

(1) “There are some happy creeturs,” Mrs Gamp observed, “as time runs back’ards with, and you are one, Mrs Mould …” (Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, chapter 25)

(2)  Mrs Gamp complimented Mrs Mould on her youthful appearance.

      The second version is Norman Page’s transformation of the original into “submerged speech” (35) or what Genette calls “narrated speech” (Narrative Discourse 171). Clearly, the form of presentation in this version makes the narrator unwittingly committed to “her youthful appearance,” a phrase appearing on the narrative plane. Such a commitment surely would not occur in free indirect speech, not even in indirect speech (Mrs Gamp observed that …). The point is that, if Mrs Gamp no longer looks young, the narrated speech, in making what is non-factual factual (a narrator, unless unreliable, is supposed to report the facts), would unwittingly distort the fictional reality.7 And if a change in presentational mode itself leads to a change in fictional reality, it would necessarily blur the distinction between story and discourse.

       To put things in perspective, let’s examine an interesting case of narrated speech in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice:

Mrs Bennet was in fact too much overpowered to say a great deal while Sir William remained; but no sooner had he left them her feelings found a rapid vent. In the first place, she persisted in disbelieving the whole of the matter; secondly, she was very sure that Mr Collins had been taken in; thirdly, she trusted that they would never be happy together; and fourthly, that the match might be broken off. Two inferences, however, were plainly deduced from the whole; one, that Elizabeth was the real cause of all the mischief; and the other, that she herself had been barbarously used by them all; and on these two points she principally dwelt during the rest of the day.  (102; chapter 23)

      From the expressions “a great deal” and “her feelings found a rapid vent,” as well as from what we know about Mrs. Bennet, we can imagine what a flood of abusive and complaining words has come out from her mouth. But her words are summarized and made to appear as ‘mental processes’: “she persisted in disbelieving... she was very sure... she trusted… .” The impression of ‘thought’ is deepened by the cognitive “Two inferences, however, were plainly deduced from the whole,” while the ambiguity between thinking and speaking potentially present in the term “dwell” also seems to lend support to the effect. What underlies this transformation is the intention to convey irony, irony generated primarily by the sharp contrast between the logical appearance created by the added ordinals (from “in the first place” to “fourthly”) and the blatantly contradictory attitudes (“she persisted in disbelieving the whole of the matter” while “she was very sure that Mr Collins had been taken in”). Here we see a sober, logical reporting voice punctuating, so to speak, an incoherent reported content, with the ‘logical markers,’ which ostensibly seek to tidy up the character’s speech, bringing into comic relief the disorder or absurdity involved. Now, while speech is marked by linearity, different thoughts can be held simultaneously in the mind. Austen’s transformation of speech into ostensible ‘persistent thought’, coupled with her addition of the ordinals which normally refer to co-existing or parallel processes of reasoning, creates something of the impression that Mrs. Bennet is holding the conflicting beliefs simultaneously and persistently in her mind, which contributes greatly to the ironic effect. (cf. Shen, “On the Aesthetic” 628-631).

      In terms of the relation between story and discourse, we need to examine the position of the author and the reader respectively. As regards the author, she is supposed to know, based on the mimetic component of the story, the exact words uttered by Mrs Bennet, who is after all, her own creation. As for the reader, she will infer from the context that what is presented is not ‘conflicting thoughts,’ but grumbling spoken words, perhaps suspecting that “disbelieving the whole of the matter” is a cover for some ruder remarks like “It’s all nonsense!” But significantly, since Mrs Bennet’s words are not presented elsewhere in the narrative, the readers are in no position to know what Mrs Bennet has exactly uttered. As the narrator is reliable, the readers would take on trust the narrator’s summary; and the gaps the readers find between the presentation and the ‘reality’ as inferred from the context tend to be attributed to the novelist’s discourse strategies for achieving certain thematic effects.

        In the light of the above discussion, it is not surprising that, although modes of speech presentation have attracted extensive attention since the 1960’s, hardly any attention has been paid to how the mode of narrated speech operates to distort the actual words of fictional characters. Now, it should be made clear that the issue of “distorting” goes beyond that of “being less mimetic.” As we know, the more indirect a mode is, the less mimetic a mode becomes. The different degrees of mimesis of modes of speech, with different semantic and pragmatic implications, have been thoroughly investigated by numerous linguists, stylisticians and narrative theorists. Critical attention has been given to the non-transformability between direct and indirect or free indirect discourse (see, for instance, Banfield), but this is a matter of not being able to retrieve specific words, rather than a matter of distorting the character’s words. Some critics have even paid attention to the “direct discourse fallacy,” where the narrator invents words that were not actually spoken, or deliberately distorts the original words for certain purposes (Sternberg; Fludernik, The Fictions). But this kind of distortion is to be attributed to the narrator’s giving non-authentic information rather than the use of the direct speech mode in itself. The fact that the use of narrated speech as a mode in itself can lead to distortions of character’s words seems to have escaped critical attention. This is not surprising. As the Austen passage shows, given the fictitious nature of the narrative, if a character’s words are presented only in narrated speech, the reader is in no position to determine to what extent the narrator has distorted the character’s words by adopting this mode. The only thing that the reader can make certain is whether the narrator is committed to what is now reported on the narrative plane.

       In the field of translation, however, it is possible to see how the mode of narrated speech functions to distort a character’s words. It is not rare that a translator chooses to change a direct form in the original into a narrated form, with the belief that this merely involves an alteration in presentational mode. But a comparison between the actual words in the original and the narrated speech (or thought) in the translation may tellingly reveal how a change in presentational mode leads to various changes of the fictional reality, as in the following case.8

Literal translation of the Chinese original:

(Cao)  Daiyu tingle zhehua,        bujue              you xi  

  1. Daiyu heard such remarks, she could not help feeling both delighted


 you jing,    you bei  you tan.           Suoxizhe:    

and surprised, both sorrowful and regretful. 2. With what she was delighted


     Guoran  ziji  yanli  bucuo,          suri ren ta

was: As expected my own judgement is correct, I always have regarded him


shi ge zhiji,             guoran shi ge zhiji.                          Suojingzhe:

as an understanding friend, he really is an understanding friend. 3. At what she


      Ta zai renqian yipian sixin chengyang yu wo,  qi qinrehoumi

was surprised was: He in front of others with all his heart praised me, its


jin bubi xianyi.                                                         Suotanzhe:

warmth affection intimacy go so far as to not avoid suspicion.  4. For what she


                     Ni ji wei wode zhiji,            ziran wo yi kewei

was regretful was:  Since you are my understanding friend, naturally I also can


 nide zhiji,                        ji ni wo wei zhiji,

be your understanding friend, since you and I are understanding friends,


you hebi you     “jinyu” zhi lun ne?                      Ji you “jinyu” zhi lun,

why there should be the talk of “gold and jade” ?  Since there is that talk of


ye gai ni wo you zhi,       you hebi lai yi Baochai? ...   (chapter 32)

“gold and jade,” it should be you and I who have them, but why should have come a Baochai? ...


Translation: This surprised and delighted Tai-yu but also distressed and grieved her. She was delighted to know she had not misjudged him, for he had now proved just as understanding as she had always thought. Surprised that he had been so indiscreet as to acknowledge his preference for her openly. Distressed because their mutual understanding ought to preclude all talk about gold matching jade, or she instead of Pao-chai should have the gold locket to match his jade amulet...  (Trans. Yang and Yang 469-470) 

This passage is taken from the most famous classic Chinese novel A Dream of Red Mansions written in the mid-18th century. The novel very much centers on the relationship between the heroine Daiyu (Tai-yu) and the hero Baoyu, who are deeply in love with each other. But because of feudal ethics, the love is never expressed and Daiyu is never sure of Baoyu’s love. The two have many things in common, including not being interested in officialdom and other worldly pursuits. Just before the quoted passage, Daiyu hears another cousin Xiangyun lecturing Baoyu on worldly pursuits, and Baoyu replies, “Cousin Lin [Daiyu] has never talked that sort of nonsense. If she had, I would have fallen out with her long ago.” This immediately gives rise to complex feelings in Daiyu’s heart. In the original text, we have several parallel slippings from narrative report to free direct thought. The translation has replaced the parallel slippings by the consistent mode of narrative statement. Superficially, this is only a change in presentational mode, but actually, it involves various alterations of fictional facts.

      In a classic novel like the present one, the authorial narrator and the characters present the two opposite poles of fictional objectivity and subjectivity. The slipping in the original displays an artistic alternation between the narrator’s neutral reporting voice and the protagonist’s emotive inner thoughts. The translation’s integration of the embedded thoughts into the narrative plane leads to the objectification of the former to a certain degree. It is arguable that in the translation’s narrative report, the original thoughts now take on the appearance of facts which impinge on the character and which are perceived and reported by the omniscient narrator (a change that would not occur in free indirect speech, not even in indirect speech). Consequently, the character's mind is made to appear much less active. It is notable that in the original the thoughts constitute integral processes of the emotive states (delighted, surprised, etc.) with the beginning of the thoughts marking the beginning of the emotive states; and it is the free direct thought that plays the essential role in directly revealing the complex feelings of the heroine. In the translation, as the thoughts are made to appear as “facts,” the focus of interior portrayal falls back on the emotive states, of which the “facts” do not constitute an integral part but form the causes that exist prior to the emotive states. Compared with the free direct thought in the original, the translation’s “facts” have a much poorer or much less direct role to play in conveying the feelings of the heroine. Moreover, the translation’s integration of the embedded thoughts into the narrative plane leads to (at least a possible) commitment on the part of the authorial narrator. What is most regrettable is the narrator’s commitment to “so indiscreet as to,” since in the original the hero's words would not be regarded as too indiscreet but for the extreme sensitivity and sense of propriety of the heroine; and it is precisely through this unreliable evaluation that the heroine's disposition is subtly revealed.  

       It will be clear that in the original, the “he” and “you” share the same referent, namely, Baoyu, the hero. By referring to the hero as “he” (2,3), the heroine treats him as one of the others. By addressing him as “you” (in the earlier part of 4), the heroine separates him from others and draws him near to herself; by referring to the two of them together as “you and I” (in the later part of 4), which is the natural equivalent of the inclusive “we,” the heroine identifies herself with the hero as a component part of the implied “we.” This dynamic change in reference within the static situation lends to the subtle bringing out of the complex feelings of the heroine. Being suspicious, the heroine is seldom sure of the hero's love for or understanding of her, so she is delighted with and surprised at “his” preference. Being deeply in love with him however, she cannot help subconsciously taking the two of them as being one. One may regard the development from differentiation (“he”) to identification (“you and I”) as being of thematic importance for the growth of their mutual love and common struggle forms one of the major themes of the novel. This significant feature is unavoidably lost in the translation’s narratorial statement, a mode that does not permit the switch from “he” to “you.” This limitation is, of course, also shared by indirect speech and free indirect speech. But the dynamic change in reference within a static situation in the original is a very rare case. In usual cases, the conventional switch from the first or second person in the direct mode to the third person in the indirect mode does not amount to a distortion of the fictional reality.

       The change in mode made by the translation has yet another regrettable consequence, that is, limitation of modes of expression. In the translation, there is no room left for representing the change in the original from the declarative mood to the interrogative (a change that can be preserved in free indirect speech and, in a less direct way, in indirect speech). This, coupled with the related consequences referred to above, notably suppresses the character's SELF and leads to a fall in emotional key. Indeed, the uncertainty or puzzlement that underlies the character's reasoning is drastically undercut by the translation’s straightforward “their mutual understanding,” an expression to which the narrator is clearly committed and thus unwittingly made factual.

      As shown by the above analysis, in the area of speech presentation involving both the character’s and the narrator’s voice/consciousness and two different speech situations, if the mode chosen is as indirect as “narrated speech,” the content of the character’s speech or thought will be summarized and reported on the narrative plane. Consequently, it becomes subjected to many limitations and may be made to serve quite different functions, which, coupled with the narrator’s commitment to what is non-factual, may unwittingly distort the fictional reality, thus blurring the distinction between story and discourse.


(b) “Character Focalization”

By “character focalization,” I mean a character’s perception adopted by the narrator as the angle of vision in transmitting the story. To put things in perspective, let’s start with two different definitions given by Genette:

(i)   the question [is] who is the character whose point of view orients the narrative perspective? (Narrative Discourse 186)

(ii) For me, there is no focalizing or focalized character: focalized can be applied only to the narrative itself, and if focalizer applied to anyone, it could only be the person who focalizes the narrative—that is, the narrator … (Narrative Discourse Revisited 73)

 These two definitions, though superficially contradictory, actually point to the same thing: narrative perspective is controlled by the narrator (as a surrogate of the author), who can, however, adopt a character’s point of view in filtering the story. Given this, we may still use the phrase “character-focalizer,” but understand it as “the character whose perception is adopted by the narrator in transmitting the story”. Character-focalization can function  temporarily in a narrative, especially in a traditional omniscient one, as in the following case:

Tess still stood hesitating like a bather about to make his plunge, hardly knowing whether to retreat or to persevere, when a figure came forth from the dark triangular door of the tent. It was that of a tall young man, smoking. He had an almost swarthy complexion, with full lips, badly moulded, though red and smooth, above which was a well-groomed black moustache with curled points, though his age could not be more than three- or four-and-twenty. Despite the touches of barbarism in his contours, there was a singular force in the gentleman's face, and in his bold rolling eye. “Well, my Beauty, what can I do for you? said he, coming forward. And perceiving that she stood quite confounded: “Never mind me. I am Mr d’Urberville. Have you come to see me or my mother?” (Hardy, Tess of the d'Urberbvilles, chapter 5, my emphasis)

Norman Friedman in his “Point of View in Fiction” makes the following comment on the passage: “Now, although Tess is standing there and observing, Alex is described as seen by Hardy and not by his heroine.... I have re-written the passage by placing this description more directly within Tess's sensory frame: ‘She saw a figure come forth from the dark triangular door of the tent. It was that of a tall young man, smoking. She noticed his swarthy complexion, his full lips ... Yet despite the apparent touches of barbarism in his features, she sensed a singular force in the gentleman's face and in his bold rolling eyes’.” (123-124) Now, let’s make a comparison between Friedman’s version and the following version: “Tess saw Mr d'Urbervilles come forth from the dark triangular door of the tent but she did not know who it was. She noticed that Mr d’Urbervilles was a tall young man, with swarthy complexion. ... she sensed a singular force in Mr d’Urberville's face and his bold rolling eyes.” Here, although “Tess saw,” “she noticed,” “she sensed” are used, the perspective is still the narrator’s, because only the omniscient narrator knows that the man coming out of the tent is Mr d'Urberville. Clearly, Tess's perception processes here only form the narrator's object of observation. By contrast, in the original, although there are no such expressions like “she saw,” “she noticed,” the angle of vision in effect belongs to Tess, who is ignorant of the identity of the young man coming out of the tent. Hence, instead of having “Mr d’Urbervilles,” we have “a figure,” “a tall young man,” “the gentleman,” as well as the conjectural “could not be”, all signaling Tess’s angle of vision. Since Tess’s limited focalization is adopted here, the reader is made as ignorant as her concerning the identity of the young man. Thus momentary suspense is created and the reader's curiosity is aroused, adding to the dramatic effect of the work. The reader can only discover the identity of the young man together with Tess. The point is that, although Tess’s perception, like her words and action, belongs to the level of story, it is adopted by the narrator at this moment as a means of transmitting the story. And in the latter sense, i.e. in its role as temporary “angle of vision,” it also takes on a discourse function.

      If one would like to dismiss such momentary “character-focalization” as being too transient to deserve consideration in the discussion of the relation between story and discourse, one would have to take the issue seriously into account when it comes to third-person center of consciousness, where the focal character’s perception consistently takes on a dual nature. As the sensory activity of a character, the perception forms an element of the narrated story in the same way as the character’s words or action. But at the same time, the character-focalizer’s perception, in its role as angle of vision consistently adopted by the narrator in transmitting the story, also belongs to the level of discourse. Precisely because of the discourse function of the focal-character’s perception, we get from the discourse a subjective picture of the story world related by a third-person heterodiegetic narrator.

      Up to now, the dual nature of “character focalization” has received no critical attention. Narrative theorists usually treat point of view or focalization as a function of the discourse, either as a “question of method” (Lubbock 251), or as the “prime means of manipulation” (Bal 50), or as a “textual factor relating to both story and narration” (Rimmon-Kenen 85). But Seymour Chatman confines focalization to the realm of the story: “If we are to preserve the vital distinction between discourse and story, we cannot lump together the separate behaviors of narrator and character under a single term, whether ‘point of view,’ ‘focalization,’ or any other…. Only characters reside in the constructed story world, so only they can be said to ‘see,’ that is, to have a diegetic consciousness that literally perceives and thinks about things from a position within that world.” (Coming 145-146) But significantly, focalization is part of “the means through which the story is transmitted,” which is Chatman’s definition of discourse (Story 9). When a character’s “diegetic consciousness” is adopted by the narrator in rendering the story, it will unavoidably take on a dual nature, constituting at once part of what is narrated and a means of presentation. Clearly, with this dual nature, “character-focalization” forms an area where the distinction between story and discourse is blurred.


©  Homodiegetic Narration When the I’s Narrator Function and Character Function Converge

     Let me start by making clear why I preclude heterodiegetic narration from the discussion. In my view, in the case of heterodiegetic narration, the borderline between narrator and character is unlikely to be blurred, since a heterodiegetic narrator, by definition, can not literally enter the story world as a character, otherwise what we have would be a homodiegetic narrator or a character instead of a heterodiegetic narrator. Now, let’s consider the following points, some of which are quite obvious, but some of which are absolutely necessary to assert in face of the arguments made by Seymour Chatman (Coming to Terms) and Harry Shaw.

i)      A heterodiegetic narrator is not a character in the story, but a narrative device. He/She/It functions as a story-teller, and sometimes also a commentator, especially in traditional omniscient novels.

ii)   A heterodiegetic narrator can be personalized/humanized and historicized in varying degrees, or can be an impersonal “disembodied voice.” Similarly, a heterodiegetic narrator can be emotionally engaged and actively commenting on the story by making analogies or whatsoever, or just neutrally reporting the story.

iii) Based on narrative conventions, a heterodiegetic narrator can either transmit the story with his/her/its own perspective or by adopting a character’s perception. If, for instance, the narrator is omniscient, he/she/it can perceive the story from a god-like vantage point (any angles) and can penetrate into any character’s mind.

iv)  A heterodiegetic narrator can only enter the story as a metaphorical presence (i.e. as if he/she/it were a character), or in Shaw’s words, only as an “honorary” character (102) or an “invisible character” (103) who is “best described as imitating the role of someone who has happened upon the scene” (99, Shaw’s emphasis). When metaphorically present in the story, the heterodiegetic narrator still plays a discourse function, for the narrator can merely report, observe, and comment on the story--he/she/it cannot participate in the story events, cannot talk to any of the characters but the narratee or the readers outside the story. Indeed, no matter how personalized or historicized a heterodiegetic narrator is, and no matter what imaginative, verbal and perceptual power a heterodiegetic narrator possesses, his/her/its metaphorical entering into the story does not affect the distinction between story and discourse.

      The above points are called forth by the critical debate between Chatman and Shaw. In his “Loose Narrators,” Shaw challenges the distinction between story and discourse by arguing that heterodiegetic narrators can enter the story space, thus melting away the distinction in question. But, as quoted above, Shaw’s “loose narrators,” however personalized, historicized, or emotionally engaged, enter the story only as a metaphorical presence, as an “invisible character” or an entity “imitating the role of ” an observer in the story. The metaphorical nature of such entering is also reflected in Shaw’s question: “Why might critics find themselves describing a narrator as if the narrator were human and could enter story space? ” (98, my emphasis). Apparently, such loose narrators, who can never literally act in the story (unless turning into a character or a homodiegetic narrator) and who cannot address the characters but the readers outside the story, still belong to the level of discourse.

      Shaw’s challenge was evoked by Chatman’s argument that narrators cannot enter the story space (Coming 119-123 & 139-160). The narrator, in Chatman’s view, “can only report events: he does not literally ‘see’ them at the moment of speaking them. The heterodiegetic narrator never saw the events because he/she/it never occupied the story world” (144). Significantly, what Chatman denies is only the “literal” entering of narrators into the story, not the metaphorical entering. In commenting on Henry James’ novels, Chatman says, “The story is narrated as if the narrator sat somewhere inside or just this side of a character’s consciousness and strained all events through that character’s sense of them. …Even for so-called ‘camera-eye’ narration it is always and only as if the narrator were seeing the events transpire before his very eyes at the moment of narration (144-145, Chatman’s emphasis). And in the case of omniscient narration, we may add, it is as if the narrator were anywhere and anytime in the story or above the story, able to “utilize a perceptual point of view possible to no character, for example when he describes a bird’s-eye view, or a scene with no one present, or what the character did not notice.” (Chatman, Story 158) Despite the difference in critical stance (whether formal or socio-historical), it is not, I believe, difficult for everyone to agree that the heterodiegetic narrator can and can only enter the story as a narrative device, a metaphorical presence--however humanized, historicized, or emotionally engaged. Clearly, this metaphorical entering does not, as argued above, blur the distinction between story and discourse.

       In homodiegetic narration, however, the borderline between story and discourse may dissolve when the I’s narrator function (which belongs to the level of discourse) and character function (which belongs to the level of story) converge or cannot be distinguished. As the narrator is narrating her own story, sometimes it is, for instance, difficult to distinguish the narrator I’s view (belonging to the level of discourse) from the character I’s view (belonging to the level of story) in narratives where there is little gap between the two. Moreover, as the narrator is narrating her own story, the narrator’s view may bear on the story in various ways, especially when the story relations extend to the time of the narration. A typical case in point is Hemingway’s “My Old Man,” a story told by a first-person narrator Joe, who is as naïve as his former self as a character. While Joe is narrating his father’s life as a jockey, the relationship between father and son forms a principal interest of the tale. Not surprisingly, how Joe the narrator views what his father Butler did bears on the father-and-son relationship (see Phelan, Narrative 92-104). At the end of the story when Joe’s father Butler dies of an accident in a horse racing, Joe hears two bettors’ resentful comments on his father, which shatters his admiration for his old man:

…and he said, “Well, Butler got his, all right.” The other guy said, “I don’t give a good goddam if he did, the crook. He had it coming to him on the stuff he’s pulled.” “I’ll say he had,” said the other guy, and tore the bunch of tickets in two. And George Gardner looked at me to see if I’d heard and I had all right and he said, “Don’t you listen to what those bums said, Joe. Your old man was one swell guy.” But I don’t know. Seems like when they get started they don’t leave a guy nothing. (129, my emphasis)

The narrative ends by suddenly shifts to two sentences in present tense. These two sentences seem to convey at once Joe-the-character’s immediate reaction to the other characters’ words and Joe-the-narrator’s present view on the situation, the former belonging to the level of story and the latter that of discourse. The merging of the two blurs the distinction under discussion.

      In autodiegetic narration, if “I” at the time of narration still functions as a protagonist in the story, or more precisely, in a sort of epilogue to the main events, then “I” would take on at once the role of the narrator at the level of discourse and the role of the older protagonist at the level of story. Nabokov’s Lolita is a case in point. In this novel, it is difficult to draw a line between the past story (with “I” as the experiencing protagonist) and the present discourse (with “I” merely as the narrator), since the story hasn’t come to an end at the time of Humbert’s narration. Humbert’s bing in legal captivity and making projections about his impending trial etc. are part of the story of the whole narrative. The present Humbert is the older protagonist facing the consequences of his past deeds, while also functioning as the narrator, writing the impassioned confession.

       But the two roles – narrator and protagonist – are not always balanced. What Humbert narrates mainly falls into three categories: 1) the past events where he interacted with Lolita and other characters; 2) his present situation, including his imprisonment and his thoughts concerning the impending trial; 3) his ways of narrating the story, including his opinions on and feelings towards the past events. Insofar as the first category is concerned, if Humbert narrates without commenting on his present thoughts and feelings, our attention will be focused on the past happening (or on how to reconstruct the story facts from Humbert’s often unreliable narration). Consequently, Humbert’s role as the older protagonist is suppressed and his role as the narrator foregrounded. In such cases, the distinction between story and discourse is more or less clear. As regards the second category, Humbert’s role as the older protagonist is highlighted. But since the imprisoned Humbert is not only the protagonist but also the narrator, the distinction between story and discourse still tends to blur especially when this category appears in close adjacency with category 1 and/or 3:

[1st] Everything between the two events was but a series of gropings and blunders, and false rudiments of joy. Everything they shared made one of them. [2nd] I have no illusions, however, my judges will regard all this as a piece of mummery on the part of a madman with a gross liking for the fruit vert. Au fond, ca m’est bien egal. [1st] All I know is that while the Haze woman and I went down the steps into the breathless garden, my knees were like reflections of knees in rippling water, and my lips were like sand, and – ‘That was my Lo,’ she said, ‘and these are my lilies.’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘Yes. They are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!’  (part I, chapter 10, 41) 

In the parts marked as belonging to the first category, our attention is attracted to the past happening (especially in the latter part). This is particularly the case when we have long stretches of such narration, where the present Humbert functions very much just as the narrator. The middle part marked as belonging to the second category, however, has to do with the impending trial, hence drawing attention to Humbert’s role as the older protagonist. But since this part is narrated by Humbert, concerned with the future effect of Humbert’s previous narration, and, moreover, sandwiched in the sentences narrating past happenings, our attention is also attracted to Humbert’s role as the narrator – it is the protagonist-narrator who is thinking about the forthcoming trial, thus blurring the story-discourse distinction. As for the 3rd category, Humbert’s struggling with the narration, his playing with words, his self-justification, repentance or condemnation of himself etc. are all part of the mental working of Humbert the protagonist. To see things more clearly, let’s look at the following passage: “I leaf again and again through these miserable memories, and keep asking myself, was it then, in the glitter of that remote summer, that the rift in my life began… When I try to analyze my own cravings, motives, actions and so forth, I surrender to a sort of retrospective imagination which feeds the analytic faculty with boundless alternatives… I am convinced, however, that in a certain magic and fateful way Lolita began with Annabel.” (part I, chapter 4, 14) Those mental activities occur during Humbert’s process of writing, hence belonging to the level of discourse. But, at the same time, they are part of the mental activities of the present protagonist Humbert, hence belonging to the level of story as well. The same applies to metafictional references to Humbert’s writing, e.g. : “When I started, fifty-six days ago, to write Lolita, first in the psychopathic ward for observation, and then in this well-heated, albeit tombal, seclusion… .” (part II, chapter 36, 327) This metafictional reference provides us with information not only about Humbert’s activity as the narrator,9 but also about what Humbert the protagonist did while kept as a patient or a prisoner (story facts). In Lolita, the narration of the past events constitutes the major part of the novel, and so the distinction between story and discourse is generally clear; however, the novel contains numerous cases where the same element of narration pertains both to Humbert the narrator and Humbert the present protagonist, thus at least locally melting away the distinction between story and discourse.


       In the past 20 years or so, the distinction between story and discourse, as “an indispensable premise of narratology,” has attracted a lot of critical attention, leading to challenges, defenses, as well as applications. The heatedness of the critical debate is in part attributable to the fact that the nature of the distinction and what it involves are not yet fully clarified. The present paper joins in the discussion with a view to helping clarify the picture and to shedding new light on the nature of fiction, so as to pave the way for more meaningful investigations in the days to come.



My thanks to James Phelan, Marie-Laure Ryan, Emma Kafalenos, Seymour Chatman, J. Hillis Miller, Gerald Prince, Brian Richardson, and Liya Wang for helpful comments on earlier drafts of the paper. I’m also grateful to Emma Kafalenos, Seymour Chatman, and Brian Richardson for sending me some helpful reference materials from the States.

1.     We may trace the tradition of the creation of a fantastic world to primitive times when people believed in supernatural happenings and when people created various myths to “imitate” the supernatural. In modern times, although people no longer believe in the existence of the supernatural world, many authors still resort to the literary/imaginative tradition and various modern conventions of fictional writing to create a fantastic or absurd world to convey their ideas, and readers take that world to be fictively real. An admirable discussion of the ontological difference between the actual world and the fictional world is offered by Ryan (Possible Worlds).

2.     O’Neill’s confusion of story with discourse here has to do with Mieke Bal’s putting “actor” and “character” on two different planes, which I have discussed in detail elsewhere (see Shen, “Narrative” 128n).

3  It should be noted that, in reading Queneau’s Exercises in Style, the reader’s interpretive frame is quite different from that involved in reading an ordinary narrative containing a mimetic story. In the latter case, the “narrative audience” (Phelan, Narrative as Rhetoric 218) readily enters a world which she takes to be real, and the effect of the reading to a great extent depends on the mimetic illusion or suspension of disbelief. When reading Queneau’s work entitled “Exercises in Style,” however, the reader is consciously aware that the story merely forms an artificial basis for the experiment on style to proceed. The mimetic illusion will, most probably, not come into being.

4         It seems to me that the root of the discrepancy between O’Neill’s deconstructive claim and his structuralist discussion lies in his misunderstanding of Zeno’s philosophy in terms of the relation between story and discourse. O’Neill presents, as a theoretical basis, the three famous paradoxes of Zeno: the Achilles Paradox, the Dichotomy Paradox, and the Arrow Paradox (4-7). The first, in simplest terms, is that suppose Achilles and a tortoise are having a race, no matter how much faster Achilles can ran than the tortoise, so long as the tortoise starts earlier, Achilles can never catch up with the tortoise. The latter two both argue in different forms that there can never be motion in the world. In terms of the Arrow Paradox, “For anything that occupies a space just its own size, Zeno’s argument runs, is stationary. At each moment in its alleged flight an arrow does in fact occupy a space just its own size. Thus at each moment of its flight the arrow is stationary, and since what is true of each moment is true of all moments, the arrow is obviously not moving at all but in fact remains completely stationary throughout its entire apparent flight.” (O’Neill 6). Now, that Achilles can never catch up with the tortoise, movement does not exist, and arrows do not fly is what really happens to Zeno, though not to O’Neill, nor to us. In other words, what we have here are stories in Zeno’s “textual actual world” (Ryan 24), a world with laws of motion different from those in our world. And “that Achilles wins, movement exists, and arrows fly”(O’Neill 6) is what really happens to O’Neill and to us, but not to Zeno. Given O’Neill’s negative opinion of Zeno’s stories (6), if O’Neill had realized that what we have in Zeno’s case is by no means a matter of the discourse’s subverting, amazingly and fascinatingly, the story, but merely a matter of having different stories in Zeno’s “textual actual world,” he would not, I am sure, have adopted the so-called “Zeno Principle” in the first place.

5  As for “The clock does not strike,” it is indistinguishable from the preceding “Silence” in relation to the audience in the theatre. This sentence seems specifically intended for readers of the drama text (see Feng and Shen).

6  Dramatic conventions work in their own ways. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the “Pyramus and Thisbe” episode contains a scene where three hours are said to have passed during an uninterrupted stretch of dialogue which takes no more than twenty minutes to enact. Richardson takes this “dramatic contradiction” between the period of time the dialogue is said to last and the number of minutes it takes to stage the scene as presenting a challenge to the story-discourse distinction (“‘Time’” 299-300), but here we do have a very clear demarcation between story time (3 hours) and discourse time (20 minutes). Indeed, as Richardson points out, “the often hazy controversy over what Genette calls “duration,” that is, the time it takes to read the text [or the time used to present the event], would be significantly clarified by shifting the locus of discussion to the drama where time of reception [or enacting] may be (and often is) measured with a stopwatch. (“‘Time’” 300 fn). Nevertheless, such drama scenes do present a challenge to Genette’s formula for “scene”: narrative time = story time (Narrative Discourse 95). Even according to the classical drama convention “three unities,” about two hours’ performing time is allowed to correspond to 24 hours of action/story time.

7           As I argued elsewhere (Shen, “Distorting” 234-235), certain linguistic constructions lay potential traps of commitment for the narrator, such as “vi + prep + n” (e.g. He swore at her rudeness; He complained about the dampness in the room) .

8           I used a version of this example in another paper to illustrate the distorting power of the linguistic medium (see Shen, “Distorting” 232-234).

9           For a fuller picture of the nature of the metafictional writing, see my discussion of Tristram Shandy elsewhere (Shen, “Narrative” 124).



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