The French Review 60.6 (1987): 855-868.

VAN DEN HEUVEL, PIERRE. Parole, mot, silence: pour une poétique de l’énonciation. Paris: Corti, 1985. Pp. 319.

[Reprinted with the permission of The French Review]

The scope of Pierre Van den Heuvel's extensive "poétique de l'énonciation" consists in linking a dense theoretical development (part 1, 'Théorie et méthode') to six practical analyses (part 11) which nonetheless stand on their own as studies of diverse examples of l’énonciation, i.e., the productive act through which the discursive subject manifests itself in a text. After elaborating his own perspectives based on a thorough review of recent theories of discourse analysis (chapter 1), Van den Heuvel defines the first titular term, parole, as both individual, "en tant que réalisation subjective," and social, "dans la mesure où elle est soumise au fonctionnement conventionnel et idéologique du langage" (23). But, to clarify the difference between oral and written textual manifestations, Van den Heuvel further distinguishes the former as parole and the latter as mot (46-47), and thereby undertakes nn investigation of the problems of orality in discourse as compared and opposed to the traits of l’écrit (48-60). This opposition yields a division of discourse into the subjectivist imitation of the oral form's properties (e.g., literary discourse which emphasizes the phatic function through bavardage) and the objectivist exploitation of the written form's traits. This double movement of discourse reveals the subject's attempts to "déterminer sa place vis-à-vis de l’Autre et de savoir son rapport avec le monde. En cas d'échec, il n'y a qu'une solution: se taire et recommencer" (64), that is, the juncture of impotent parole and mot in silence. Van den Heuvel's treatment of this third aspect is by far the most original since he wishes to explore the "’trous' textuels au niveau de l'acte de parole" (65) as "une non-réalisation d'un acte d'énonciation qui pourrait ou devrait avoir lieu dans une situation donnée" (66-67), an act whose traits the author situates in relation to the aspects of écriture, parole and mot (66-72), and in terms of the act's intentionality (voluntary and involuntary silences, 72-85). In the concluding section of part I and in the first chapter of part II, Van den Heuvel translates the preceding theoretical distinctions into methodological tools: he first elucidates the instances énonciatives and niveaux de l’énonciation et de l’énoncé (88-95), then defines two semiotic categories, les déictiques (specific textual elements of "cet univers du sujet qui établit un rapport entre l’énoncé et l'acte d'énonciation," 95-109) and the indices métadiscursifs (internal textual references which can "refléter la déictisation exteme et renvoyer indirectement au niveau de l’énonciation," 110-14), and in part II, links the elements of parole and mot to the discursive and metadiscursive categories previously suggested.

It should be clear from this outline of Van den Heuvel's theoretical and methodological scaffolding that, by proposing a nearly encyclopedic synthesis of recent semiotic and narratological research, this study is hardly an introductory text of literary critical theory and practice. However, the five studies of specific discursive problems offer useful, if challenging applications of the aforementioned theory of l’énonciation: analyses of parole and mot in Camus's L'Etranger, of "la rhétorique de l'insinuation" in journalistic gossip columns (le potin), and of several facets of Robbe-Grillet's writing (specifically in La Jalousie and in his collaboration with René Magritte, La Belle Captive).While these analyses are amply supported by thorough research on their respective subjects as well as by the author's skillful close readings, one shortcoming of this "poétique de l'énonciation" seems apparent: in explicitly limiting his analyses of the enunciative act to "post-modernist" texts, Van den Heuvel avoids confronting the complex interaction of parole, mot and silence that occurs in narratives of previous literary periods. Such a confrontation would have allowed the author to strengthen the validity of his theoretical insights through their practical application to texts that resist the pluralizing scrutiny to which the post-modernist works seem to open themselves so readily. Nonetheless, this study certainly constitutes a valuable contribution to a domain of the champ narratologique that has heretofore remained unexamined in the detailed and systematic manner that Van den Heuvel ably provides.

Charles J. Stivale
Wayne State University