Monday, 27 August 2012

Structural Analysis of Narrative – by Tzvetan Todorov - a summation of his work

Attitudes and analysis

While Saussure looked at language as a structure, Todorov considered literature a structure. Tzvetan Todorov focuses on the structural analysis of narrative. In to the study and analysis of literature there are two broad attitudes which are the theoretical and descriptive attitudes respectively. When dealing with structural analysis we have a theoretical and non-descriptive approach. Thus, it isn’t merely description of a concrete work that is in focus.
“The work will be considered as the manifestation of an abstract structure, merely one of its possible realizations; an understanding of that structure will be the real goal of structural analysis.” The story or narrative is one of the possible ways an idea that is abstract can be put into some form and it is not the description of this that is the goal but instead, it is the understanding of its structure. Therefore, structure has a logical significance rather than a special one.

A theoretical approach is based on the derivations of general principles and is abstract. Description is concrete for it focuses on a number of details that are added together and applied to a single text.
Manner of approach

In terms on the manner of approach i.e. internal and external; structural analysis leans on the former approach.
A theoretical and external approach will deal not with interest in the knowledge of the work in itself but rather on an understanding of its abstract structure which is manifested in the work. Thus, a Marxist or psychoanalytical viewpoint will focus on the social or psychic structure manifested by the work. An internal approach however, will not deviate from the goal of understanding the work in itself. The result will be a paraphrase that will hit deeper to its meaning than the original work itself.

So, one can say that the external approach is like parole or speech that focuses on the surface while the internal approach is like langue or language which looks within a text.
Structural analysis – the theory

What is important to note is that structural analysis differs from both these methods of study. It is more concerned with the poetics of a work of literature as far as basic tenants go and so, is theoretical. Its objective is literary discourse (communication) than just the works of literature and hence it relies on virtual literature rather than real literature.
In this case, one isn’t interested in getting together a summary of the work or even a paraphrase. What is aimed at is a theory of the structure and operation of the particular literary discourse. This opens up new avenues as a whole set of literary possibilities and the existing works can be seen as such possibilities being realized.

As mentioned above, structural analysis deals with theory but precise empirical knowledge is a must and so the practical aspect creeps in with reference to real works. Real works when analyzed bring out the comparative aspects of genre; periods and the like with other works and so one cannot isolate a particular concept or trait to one work alone. Thus, structural analysis embraces the theoretical and abstract approach and uses general principles to the study of specific works and vice versa. “Literature must be understood in its specificity, as literature, before we seek to determine its relation with anything else.
Literature as a science

Science is objective while literature is a combination of objectivity and subjectivity rather than merely subjective interpretation. The genre of a novel or the voice in a poem are points that don’t stem from a subjective interpretation as they are shared views of the masses showing a certain objectivity. How a poem may affect you is more in tune with the subjective experience.
To quote Todorov: The degree of subjectivity will vary, moreover, when he is examining different strata of the same work. There will be very few discussions concerning the material or phonic scheme of a poem; slightly more concerning the nature of its images; still more with regard to the more complex semantic patterns.

There is no social science that is free from the so-called taint o subjectivity as even the choice of particular theoretical concepts in place of others presupposes a subject decision, the only difference is that the individuals concerned are aware of this and try to limit it as much as possible.
Todorov’s proposal of a new way of looking at criticism in contrast to Henry James

In Henry James’ view when critics talk of description, dialogue or incident and the like, one has to admit that there are no distinct forms of the same as they merge into one another.
“A novel is a living thing, all one and continuous, like any other organism, and in proportion as it lives will it be found, I think, that in each of the parts there is something of each of the other parts. The critic who over the close texture of a finished work shall pretend to trace a geography of items will mark some frontiers as artificial, I fear, as any that have been known to history.” – Henry James

To concisely put it, the critic who confines his study to such binaries of language as description, dialogue or narration will never find the same in a pure state. A novel is a living thing and so, the use of such terms is unnecessary.
Todorov counters this view by refuting these arguments. When looking at structural analysis even though the focus is on description or action and such; there is still no reason to find them in a so-called pure state. One must remember that they are both abstract concepts which cannot be analyzed in an empirical state. Just as language is a theoretical concept, or even temperature falls under the same; description too needs not to exist in its pure state to be considered relevant.

As for a work being a living thing, has a body that contains parts and even though they may be lumped up as a whole doesn’t mean one can’t at an abstract level catagorise the same.
Plot an abstract concept

Plot is a sequential or chronological arrangement of events and an aspect of narrative. In a sense plot is to narrative what sign is to language. In the case of the examples of the four plots provided in the essay the plot construction is along these lines:
E1…  X violates the law      Y must punish X     X tries to avoid being punished     Y violates law/ Y believes X is not violating the law     Y does not punish X…   E2

·         Grammatical interpretation: (Analysing how the clause corresponds to plot)

(1)    The basic function of the minimal unit of a plot is roughly equivalent to the structure of a clause (clause=subject & predicate). Thus, in the case above “X violates the law”.

(2)    Analysis of the narrative clause leads us to the use of two parts of speech (a) X and Y correspond to proper nouns and serve as subject or object respectively and of course permit identification with their reference (b) The predicate is always a verb (violates, punish, avoid) with a semantic characteristic of showing an action that modifies the preceding situation (c) the adjective in other stories interrupts the action without changing the plot; eg: Ebenezer Scrooge was a miser who suffers a change of heart due to the ghosts and so becomes a generous man for the rest of his days.

(3)    Actions (violate, punish) can be in positive or negative form and can be also both of negative status.

(4)    Modality of action that indicates actions that have not yet taken place “Y must punish X” is present only in the virtual state as of yet. Legends are examples of the imperative mode whereas fairytales are examples of the optative mood.

(5)    Perception and nature of action too comes in with verbs like ‘believe’ in “Y believes that X is not violating the law” This point of view is seen in relation between the reader, narrator and characters.

(6)    Relations between clauses exist too as it is the verbs that show the interactions between characters, temporal relations show succession of actions while spatial ones indicate parallelism.

(7)     Many clauses coming together constitute a narrative pattern or sequence while the narrative sequence constitutes a complete story. Cause and effect interplay can be seen through the movement from clause 1 to clause 2. We also have the fact that the initial clause and the last clause are repetitions with slight variations. In this case, the punishment is modally changed and then denied.

(8)    From the individual work we can move to the abstract and also from the abstract go back to the individual through three levels: a) Each clause can be studied at a more concrete level by looking at it as a complete sequence by itself and so the generality would be affected (b) We can see the concrete actions taking place within the abstract pattern like the different laws that are violated in this case (c) The verbal medium o the difference in dialogue/description and figurative/literal discourse and the different points of view of the same action. From these three directions you have three major categories of narrative analysis studied: study of narrative syntax, theme and rhetoric.
The Aim

The aim of structural analysis of a text is not merely to understand it better (though it is one of the indirect consequences) but the real object is the study of narrative mood or point of view and its sequence; not only the story in itself. It seeks to find a typology of plots by devising a system through which we can analyse a variety of plots.
The society is stable though not static and so the plot reflects the period of imbalance between two equilibrium points that is finally resolved. Thus, Equilibrium 1 is modified into Equilibrium 2 by the end of the plot.

“With Boccaccio, the two equilibriums symbolize culture and nature, the social and the individual; the story usually consists in illustrating the superiority of the second term over the first.”
On the surface, structural analysis of literature deals with its literariness – what distinguishes it from all other types of literary production – but then literature is only a mediator, a language through which poetics can manifest itself. Todorov ends with stating that as Freud rightly put it, the facts with what a scientific work is concerned is not the significant but it is the exactness of the method that is of most significance.

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