The French Review 58.5 (1985): 742-743.

GENETTE, GÉRARD. Nouveau discours du récit. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1983. Pp. 123.

[Reprinted with the permission of The French Review]

Since Gérard Genette devoted his previous critical study, Palimpseste (Paris: Seuil, 1982), to the forms of "second degree" narrative, it seems only fitting that this most recent analysis (abbreviated NDR) should be a palimpsest of one of his own earlier works, the canonic essay "Discours du récit" which appeared in Figures III (Paris: Seuil 1972). Genette's goal is not simply to revise the numerous narratological concepts suggested in 1972, but also, and especially, to examine the meta-critical discussion that "Discours du récit" inspired as well as to determine (meta-meta- critically!) the value of these subsequent contributions and critiques.

Genette introduces this revision by defending and clarifying the use of various terms suggested in "Discours du récit," such as the triad histoire/récit/narration, diégèse, récit minimal, and even the term subsequently developed, narratologie. Genette reviews in astoundingly elliptical fashion the first three chapters of "Discours du récit," on narrative temporality. Thus, in NDR, Genette focuses primarily on the fourth and fifth sections of his initial study, "Mode" and "Voix": Genette continues to approve of his choice of mode in "Discours du récit" (despite ambiguities that subsequently developed) to designate the "régulation d'information narrative," a formula he prefers to représentation since "le récit ne 'représente' pas une histoire (réelle ou fictive), . .. ne peut qu'informer, c'est-à-dire transmettre des significations" (p. 29). In regard to the sub-category of mode, distance, Genette justifies maintaining the opposition diégésis/mimésis which "conduit donc à la répartition événements/paroles'" (p. 31) and thus to a corresponding opposition, récit de paroles and récit d’événements. Genette concludes the examination of mode, first, by considering the concepts of perspective, developing his suggestion that for the question "Qui voit?", we substitute "Où est le foyer de perception?" (to indicate a point of view that may not be linked to any person), and second, by clarifying various aspects left obscure in his initial study of focalisation.

Since the chapter on "Voix" in "Discours du récit" "est sans doute celui qui a provoqué les discussions pour moi les plus cruciales' (p. 52), the second half of NDR is devoted to this category. As in the first half, Genette proceeds through numerous acts of critical fine-tuning (specifically, regarding nveau narratif, personne, situations narratives, le narrataire and auteur/lecteur impliqués), nearly all with reference to recent studies of his theories. Already, in the discussion of mode, Genette had vigorously defended himself against erroneous attributions of "les jusqu'auboutistes du fonctionnalisme," specifically Mieke Bal (pp. 30-33), and again chastised Bal (pp. 48-52) for her (mis)interpretation of Genette's conception of focalisation. In the sections devoted to the discussion of voix, Genette examines, then accepts, qualifies or rejects the various critiques of his positions; occasionally, these critical tête-à-têtes produce significant progress in narratological theory, e.g., the six functions of nveau narratif (pp. 62-63) developed from John Barth's "Tales within Tales within Tales" (Antaeus 42, Autumn 1981), and the twelve-square tableau of situations narratives developed from studies by Franz Stanzel, Dorrit Cohn, and Jaap Lintvelt. However, the second half of NDR clearly reveals to what extent the numerous distinctions and justifications are of scant interest to the casual reader, no matter how well informed. But, in fact, this is the premise of the entire book, stated clearly by its author at the outset: "l’honnêteté m'oblige à préciser ... que ce livre ne s'adresse qu'aux lecteurs de Figures III. Si vous n'en êtes pas et que vous soyez innocemment parvenus jusqu'ici, vous savez ce qu'il vous reste à faire" (p. 8). Thus, while any reader will be charmed by Genette's self-deprecating wit, this thin volume, dense in terminological and conceptual distinctions, is truly destined only for researchers already doing hard time in the prison house of narratology.

Charles J. Stivale
Wayne State University