Seminar in Literary Genres (LSE)

Narratology and the Dynamics of Text

Instead of focusing
on an area of interpretive study, this course will examine theories of
narrative as methodologies for reading narrative text as text.  This allows for constructing new
interpretations of even established literary works, which might otherwise
appear exhausted, and for reenergizing established theoretical approaches
already attached to those works.  Using
narratological theory, we will also analyze the dynamics of textual narrative
activity in specific recent and canonical novels, exploring the various ways
that this activity complicates, expands, even contradicts, hermeneutic readings
of works by recognizing, and talking about, how texts are “made”—how cultural,
ethical, literary contexts are rhetorically constructed rather than representative
of the world outside the book.  


By definition,
narratology concerns itself with the linguistic and organizational structures
that make up a work of literature.  Since
the 1970’s, when the field was identified with the structuralist theories of
Propp, Greimas, Levi-Strauss, Todorov, and Barthes and then in the 80’s with
Gennette, Bal, Prince, Rimmon-Kenan, and Chatman, “narratology” has
fundamentally involved that process of identifying and labeling structures for
the different kinds of narrative devices
that produce “story,” limiting focus to the effects of those devices on the
text itself.  The exciting theoretical
work being done in the field lately, however, is a concerted effort to enlarge
that theory, to include social and ideological contexts without transforming
narratology into hermeneutics.  For that
reason, we will begin the course examining Genette, Bal, and Todorov, who
defined the field in the 1980’s but who have in recent years tried to expand
the parameters of their own narratological theory while still maintaining its
structuralist base.  Along these lines we
will also study contemporary theorists such as David Herman and Monika
Fludernik, who, by extension, are redefining the term “structure” to include
methods by which literary works reproduce identifiable patterns of literary
structuring of the world outside the text.  


The primary
theoretical focus of this course, however, will be on concepts of narrative as discourse which, used in conjunction
with structuralist terminology, offer a more dynamic approach to narratology as
a method of analyzing text.  The work I
have been doing on narrative—including my 2002 book on feminist metafiction and
a new project theorizing the textual activity of “first person”
narrations—explores the ways that the rhetoric constituting narrative, and the
spatial structuring of narrative, operates independently of plot (and
plot-based structuralist readings) to incorporate larger social, ideological
ethical, and cultural contexts into the “narratology” of a work.  We will study the concepts that ground this
narratology— Bakhtin, Kristeva, Iser, theories of parody, reader response,
metafiction, and textual feminism—as they provide methods for investigating how
meaning is rhetorically constructed and simultaneously deconstructed by the
activity of narrative text.  We will
alternate these works of theory with specific works of fiction, examining how
the act of recognizing narrative strategies in each work complicates the
interpretive process.  In particular, we
will discover how the interaction of text with “reader” as process introduces new contexts, producing ever new levels of


Requirements:  one oral report, a short analytical paper,
and a 20-page research paper.

Required Texts


  • M.M.
    Bakhtin. “Discourse in the Novel” andThe
    Problem of the Text”
  • Mieke
    Bal.   The Narrating and the Focalizing”
  • Roland
    Barthes. “Work and Text”
  • Nilli
    Deingott. “Narratology and Feminism”
  • Gerard
    Genette, From Narrative Discourse
  • David
    Herman. From Story Logic: Problems and
    Possibilities of Narrative
  • Wolfgang
    Iser. “Interaction between Text and Reader”
  • Julia
    Kristeva. “The Semiotic and the Symbolic,” “Word, Dialogue, and the Novel,”
    “Woman Can Never Be Defined.”
  • Susan
    Lanser. “Toward a Feminist Narratology” and “Shifting the Paradigm”
  • Margaret
    Rose. From Parody/Metafiction
  • Tzetan
    Todorov, “Structural Analysis of Narrative”
  • Selected
    very recent theory and criticism.



  • Margaret
    Atwood. Alias Grace
  • William
    Faulkner. As I Lay Dying
  • D. H.
    Lawrence.  Lady Chatterley’ Lover
  • Ian
    McEwan. Atonement
  • Toni
    Morrison. Home
  • Jean
    Rhys. The Wide Sargasso Sea
  • Leslie
    Marmon Silko. Ceremony
  • Jeannette
    Winterson. Written on the Body
  • Virginia
    Woolf. To the Lighthouse