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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Gerard Genette’s Structuralism and Literary Criticism

Gerard Genette's Structuralism and Literary Criticism

Before trying to attend on the above mentioned essay it is necessary to understand the very term Paratext. None of the students in class could come up with a clear- cut definition and to this Prof. Pinto replies that Paratext refers to that which is not a main text. To make it more simple; contexts, index, reviews, footnotes etc. are paratexts. Therefore, what Gerard Genette is known for is of his attempt to theorize Paratext for the first time. Hence, texts like prologue, epilogue, forward etc. are paratexts.

When Prof. Pinto began with the essay he made it very essential to point out that a reader must literally feel the text and says "if you can read it, touch it." For example if one is asked to write an essay/ paragraph on M A English, one might come up with good number of ideas, but what makes the essay unique in itself is the way how each paragraph is tied up together with coherence. It should be channelized in such a way that it becomes a thesis statement.

As the reading session began, Prof. Pinto made it clear that students must try to sum up or come up with the main idea of each paragraph. To start with, Genette in his first few lines introduces the reader to the word bricolage- "a kind of intellectual bricolage." Bricolage is something made or put together using whatever material is available. Prof. Pinto simplifies it by comparing it with the word collage which is to make an intellectual use of things which is viewed as unuseful or simply waste. Genette describes how literature uses the same material which it studies. It explains the nature of literary criticism and how it is a metalanguage and metaliterature in which discourses uses the discourses or literature uses the literature itself. Prof. Pinto also enlightens his students with an important note that one should always question about what the paragraph is all about- "if you can answer that then you know to read paragraphs."

The second paragraph distinguishes the distinction between a writer and a critic i.e. what a sign (work) is to writer becomes meaning (object of critical discourse) for a critic. The third and fourth paragraph purely defines of structuralism as a method and how it can be compressed into literary criticism, the entire history of literary criticism and how it has handled code and message so far. The fifth paragraph demonstrates how meaning is understood through structuralist study i.e. structural analysis connects the system of form and the system of meanings. In the sixth paragraph focus is on how structuralism is not just confined to smaller elements of language but also its meaning, to make it easier it prepares us to learn how structuralism can be used in literature. Thus, structuralism is a study of 'large units' like narrative, description and other major forms of literary expression i.e. it can be used for higher levels of discourses  as well and as a student of literature one must always try learning and researching such ideas.


·                    Original text of Gerard Genette's essay "Structuralism and Literary Criticism"

·                    Classroom discussions and the lecture

(Notes of the lecture delivered on 09 December 2013 by Dr. Anil Joseph Pinto; prepared by Anagha Asok)

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