Saturday, July 12, 2008
Feeney, Dennis. "Review of I. J. F. de Jong, et al., eds. TIME IN ANCIENT GREEK LITERATURE." BMCR (July 2008).
de Jong, I. J. F., and R. Nuenlist, eds. Time in Ancient Greek Literature: Studies in Ancient Greek Narrative. 2 Vols. Leiden: Brill, 2007. Readers should be advised that the focus is rigorously narratological, so that the title is somewhat misleading: instead of Time in Ancient Greek Literature we might have had Some Results of Applying Narratological Analysis to Ancient Greek Literature. In their Epilogue the editors justify this particular narratological emphasis and make it perfectly plain that there are other approaches to the vast topic of time in narrative texts, such as the "philosophical-historical approach", or "through linguistics" (522). Their own aim has been to enlist contributors who can analyse a wide range of Greek texts through this particular lens, hoping especially to have a diachronic dimension which will throw variations over time and genre into relief (ix): in fact, the main overall conclusion is that "most narratological categories are not bound by genre: the same devices occur in different genres, and genres are not homogeneous where the use of narrative devices is concerned" (522). The risk remains, however, of seeing narratology as an end in itself. Too many of the papers in this volume end up appearing to have a virtually parochial interest in the categories of narratology per se, in a way that makes it hard to keep an eye on the larger picture that such analysis is meant to be elucidating. I kept thinking of the wonderful scene in the movie Shakespeare in Love when the actors have adjourned to the local pub after rehearsing Romeo and Juliet, and the actor playing the nurse is downing a pint as a friend asks him what this new play is all about: with the perspective of the true actor, he replies, "Well, there's this nurse..." I do not mean at all to decry the use of the analytical techniques or terminology of narratology, which can produce extraordinary interpretative results. In the case of Jean Genette, the pater narratologiae, his evolution of terminology in Discours du récit was continually in dialogue with the text of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu, and the new forms of analysis he produced kept generating deep insights into the novel's core themes and concerns. Again, the point is simply that narratology is not an end in itself. There is a certain interest and utility in having it demonstrated in the case of all kinds of texts that they can be analysed in terms of analepsis and so on, but this demonstration would ideally be the beginning of criticism, not the end. The chapters in this book that really sing are the ones in which narratology is regarded as a tool instead of a goal; in these cases one suddenly sees how much light can be shed in unexpected places by the careful consideration of technique. Space forbids discussion of all the chapters, although they may all be recommended for anyone working on the authors in question, since they all succeed in demonstrating that narratological time-analysis has traction in each instance; I shall concentrate on some cases where the narratology seems to be more of a goal, and on some cases where it seems to be more of a tool. . . . Read the rest here: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2008/2008-07-24.html.