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Todorov Structural Analysis of Literature

Todorov Structural Analysis of Literature

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Structural Analysis of NarrativeAuthor(s): Tzvetan Todorov and Arnold WeinsteinSource:
NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction,
Vol. 3, No. 1 (Autumn, 1969), pp. 70-76Published by: Duke University PressStable URL:
Accessed: 04/08/2009 11:33
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StructuralAnalysisofNarrative
TZVETANTODOROV*
The themeIproposetodeal withis so vast that the fewpageswhichfollow willinevitablytake the form of a resume.Mytitle,moreover,containstheword"structural,"aword moremisleadingthanenlighteningtoday.To avoidmis-understandingsas muchaspossible,Ishallproceedin thefollowingfashion.First,IshallgiveanabstractdescriptionofwhatIconceive to be thestructuralapproachto literature. Thisapproachwill then be illustratedbyaconcreteprob-lem,that ofnarrative,andmorespecifically,that ofplot.Theexampleswill allbetaken fromthe Decameron of Boccaccio.Finally,Ishallattemptto makeseveralgeneralconclusions aboutthe natureof narrativeandtheprinciplesof itsanalysis.Firstofall,one can contrast twopossibleattitudes towardliterature: atheoreti-calattitude andadescriptiveattitude.The nature ofstructuralanalysiswillbeessentiallytheoreticalandnon-descriptive;inotherwords,the aimofsuch astudywill never be thedescriptionofaconcretework.Theworkwillbecon-sideredas the manifestationofan abstractstructure,merelyone of itspossiblerealizations;anunderstandingofthat structure will be the realgoalofstructuralanalysis.Thus,the term "structure"has,in thiscase,alogicalrather thanspatialsignificance.Anotheroppositionwillenableusto focus moresharplyonthecriticalpositionwhich concernsus.Ifwe contrast the internalapproachto aliterarywork withtheexternalone,structuralanalysiswouldrepresentan internalapproach.Thisoppositionis well knowntoliterarycritics,and WellekandWarrenhave usedit as the basisfor theirTheoryofLiterature. It isnecessary,however,torecallithere, because,inlabelingall structuralanalysis"theoretical,"Iclearlycomeclose to what isgenerallytermedan "external"approach(inimpreciseusage,"theoretical"and"external,"on theonehand,and"descriptive"and"internal,"on theother,aresynonyms).Forexample,whenMarxists orpsychoanalystsdealwitha work ofliterature,theyare not interested in aknowledgeof the work it-self,butin theunderstandingof an abstractstructure,socialorpsychic,whichmanifestsitselfthroughthat work. This attitude istherefore boththeoreticalandexternal. On the otherhand,a New Critic(imaginary)whoseapproachisobviouslyinternal,willhave nogoalother than anunderstandingofthe workitself;the resultofhis efforts willbeaparaphraseofthework,which issupposedtoreveal themeaningbetter than the workitself.Structuralanalysisdiffersfrom bothofthese attitudes. Here wecan be satisfiedneitherbyapure descriptionof theworknorbyitsinterpretationintermsthatarepsychologicalorsociologicalor,indeed,philosophical.Inotherwords,struc-turalanalysiscoincides(initsbasictenets)withtheory,withpoeticsof literature.Itsobjectistheliterarydiscourse ratherthan works ofliterature,literaturethat is virtual rather than real. Suchanalysisseeksnolongerto articulate a
*TranslatedbyArnold Weinstein.
 
TZVETANTODOROVISTRUCTURALISM
paraphrase,arational resume ofthe concretework,buttoproposeatheoryofthestructure andoperationof theliterarydiscourse,topresentaspectrumofliterary possibilities,in sucha manner that theexistingworks ofliteratureappearasparticularinstancesthathave beenrealized.Itmustimmediatelybeaddedthat,inpractice,structuralanalysiswillalsorefer torealworks: the beststepping-stonetowardtheoryis that ofprecise,empiricalknowledge.But suchanalysiswill discoverin eachworkwhat it hasincommonwithothers(studyofgenres,ofperiods,forexample),orevenwithallotherworks(theoryofliterature);it would be unabletostatethe individualspecificityof each work. Inpractice,it isalwaysaquestionofgoingcontinuallybackandforth,from abstractliterary propertiestoindividualworksand viceversa.Poeticsanddescriptionare infact twocomplementaryactivities.Ontheotherhand,toaffirmthe internalnature of thisapproachdoes notmeanadenial ofthe relationbetweenliterature andotherhomogeneousseries,suchasphilosophyor social life.Itisratheraquestionofestablishingahier-archy:literature must beunderstood initsspecificity,asliterature,beforewe seekto determineits relationwithanythingelse.Itiseasilyseen thatsuch aconceptionofliterary analysisowesmuchto themodernnotionof science.It can be saidthatstructuralanalysisofliteratureis akindofpropaedeuticfora future scienceof literature. Thisterm"science,"used withregardtoliterature,usuallyraises amultitude ofprotests.Itwill there-foreperhapsbefittingtotrytoanswer some ofthoseprotests rightnow.Let usfirst of all rereadthatpagefromHenryJames'sfamousessayon "TheArtofFiction,"whichalreadycontains several criticisms:"Nothing,forinstance,is morepossiblethan that he[thenovelist]be of aturnof mindforwhichthisodd,literaloppositionofdescriptionanddialogue,incident anddescription,haslittlemeaningandlight. Peopleoftentalk of thesethingsas iftheyhad akindofinternecinedistinctness,instead ofmeltingintoeachother ateverybreath,andbeing intimatelyassociatedpartsofonegeneraleffortofexpression.Icannotimaginecompositionexistinginaseries ofblocks,norconceive,inanynovelworthdiscussingatall,of apassageofdescriptionthatisnot inits intentionnarra-tive,apassageofdialoguethat is notin itsintentiondescriptive,atouch of truthofanysortthatdoes notpartakeof thenature ofincident,or anincident that de-rivesits interest fromanyothersourcethanthegeneralandonlysource of thesuccessof awork ofart-that ofbeingillustrative.Anovel isalivingthing,alloneandcontinuous,likeanyotherorganism,and inproportionasit liveswillit befound,Ithink,that ineach ofthepartsthereissomethingof each of the otherparts.Thecritic whoover the closetexture of afinished work shallpretendto traceageographyof itemswillmarksomefrontiersasartificial,Ifear,asanythat havebeen known tohistory."In thisexcerpt,the critic whouses such termsas"description,""narration,""dialogue,"isaccusedbyHenryJamesofcommittingtwo sins.First,there willnever befound,ina realtext,apuredialogue,apuredescription,andso on.Secondly,theveryuseofthesetermsisunnecessary,evenharmful,sincethe novelis"aliving thing,alloneandcontinuous."71

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