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Genette, Gérard (Raymond) 1930–

Genette, Gérard (Raymond) 1930–

PERSONAL: Born June 7, 1930, in Paris, France; son of Gaston and Rose (Darnon) Genette; married Raymonde Debray, June 18, 1959; children: Christine, François; Nathalie. Education: Sorbonne, University of Paris, degree, 1954, Litt.D., 1972.

ADDRESSES: Home—7 rue Saint-Gilles, 75003 Paris, France.

CAREER: Teacher in LeMans, France, 1956–63; Sorbonne, University of Paris, Paris, France, assistant professor, 1963–67; École Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, professor, 1967–94.

WRITINGS:

Vertige fixé, bound with Dans le labyrinthe, Dans les souloirs du Métropolitain, La chambre secrète, by Alain Robbe-Grillet, Union Générale (Paris, France), 1964.

Figures: Essais, five volumes, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1966–2002, translation by Dorrit Cohn published as Essays in Aesthetics, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2005.

Mimologiques: Voyage en Cratylie, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1976, translation by Thais E. Morgan published as Mimologics = Mimologiques: Voyage en Cratylie, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1995.

Introduction à l'architexte, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1979, translation by Jane E. Lewin published as The Architext: An Introduction, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1992.

Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, translation by Jane E. Lewin, 1980, revised edition of the original French published as Nouveau discours du récit, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France) 1983, published as Narrative Discourse Revisited, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1988.

Figures of Literary Discourse, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1982.

Palimpsestes: La littérature au second degré, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1982, translation by Channa Newman and Claude Doubinsky published as Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1997.

Seuils, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1987, translation by Jane E. Lewin published as Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Fiction et diction, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1991, translation by Catherine Porter published as Fiction and Diction, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1993.

L'&oeuvre de l'&art, two volumes, Éditions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1994–97, translation by G. M. Goshgarian published as The Work of Art, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1997–.

The Aesthetic Relation, translation by G. M. Goshgarian, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY) 1999.

Métalepse: De la figure à la fiction, Éditions de Seuil (Paris, France), 2004.

Cofounder of journal Poetique.

SIDELIGHTS: Gérard Genette has earned a reputation as one of the foremost modern literary theorists, and is associated with the Structuralist school of thought, which originated in the mid-twentieth century with the ideas of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. One of the main tenets of structuralist thought is that words are only a part of a greater symbolic system, and as such, can only be understood in relation to each other; they have no intrinsic meaning of their own.

Genette considers another linguistic viewpoint, that of Plato, in his book Mimologics = Mimologiques: Voyage en Cratylie. According to Plato, words have a logical, universal relationship to the things they name. He argued that the essence, or form, of the named object will dictate the name, or mimic it. Genette's study is, John Sturrock wrote in the Times Literary Supplement, a "masterly account [of] a doomed but often laudably ingenious movement to go against the linguistic grain and rediscover a truly natural language: a language of Nature or of God, as it were, the appropriateness of whose signs there could be no denying."

One of Genette's best-known works is his exposition on narrative and literature, Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. To illustrate his points, the author uses the works of French novelist Marcel Proust, author of the multi-volume work The Remembrance of Things Past. "There is no doubt," stated Julia Epstein in a Washington Post Book World review, "that Genette produces a useful and revealing methodology for analyzing fictional narrative discourse and locating its strategies. As methodology, the book breaks new ground and opens up a great work to new interpretations and to an enlarged understanding of Proust's genius." Another reviewer, Ann Jefferson, stated in the Times Literary Supplement that "on almost every issue Genette's study demonstrates (if only by implication) that narrative discourse is not a vehicle for representation; it proves time and again to have an immensely powerful fictive potential and it is in this, rather than in any mimetic capacity that its charm and its strangeness lie. "The reviewer concluded, "This study is indispensible reading for anyone interested in any aspect of fiction."

In his book Palimpsestes: Literature in the Second Degree, Genette presents a trilogy of texts that offer a structuralist interpretation of the elements of transtextuality. "Genette posits two types of hypertextual relation, transformation and imitation," explained a reviewer for the Journal of European Studies. "Each of these has a playful, a satirical, and a serious mode. Playful transformation is parody, satirical transformation travesty, and serious transformation transposition. Playful imitation is pastiche, satirical imitation is caricature, and serious imitation forgery. The book then mixes poetics and criticsm to form an expanded commentary on and analysis of this six-fold division." Robert T. Ivey, writing in Library Journal, found the book marred by the author's rambling style, which may appear "incoherent and disorganized to the unfamiliar reader." Ivey recommended the book, however, to those "comparative literature scholars familiar with Genette's style."

In his sweeping two-volume text The Work of Art: Immancence and Transcendence, Genette moves beyond pure literary criticism and attempts to define art in general. He analyzes the difference between "autographic" arts, which exist in one object, such as a painting or sculpture, and "allographic" art, which can be easily reproduced and repeatedly performed, such as a book, play, or piece of music. According to Style reviewer Harold F. Mosher, Jr., "Whether or not one concedes his premises or agrees with his conclusions, one must admire these books for their interesting and well-chosen examples, drawn from a wide-ranging experience in practically all the arts, and for their well-informed thoughtfulness." Cecilia J. Hynes-Higman, discussing The Work of Art in the British Journal of Aesthetics, explained that it "takes the form of an intellectual journey, or perhaps more exactly the development of Genette's ideas. It is as if he were working out his ideas as he writes, defining, developing, commenting and then moving on to the next stage." She concluded that "All in all the impressive detail of this book, together with the perennially interesting questions it raises, makes it compulsive and rewarding reading."

Genette also won praise for his book Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation. Philippe Carrand, a reviewer for Style, called it "in many respects an outstanding piece of work. Genette, as he did with narrative discourse and intertextuality, brings order to an area whose components had been investigated separately (there are valuable studies by other people of such subjects as notes, titles, and prefaces), but never surveyed in a comprehensive manner." Carefully examining the evolution and structure of paratext, Genette also explains its effect on readers. Carrand noted that Gennette enlivens his weighty material by frequently making "ironic, wittily self-reflexive comments about his own endeavor."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

British Journal of Aesthetics, July, 1996, Cecilia J. Hynes-Higman, review of L'oeuvre de l'art, p. 327; January, 2001, Jason Gaiger, review of The Aesthetic Relation, p. 95.

Choice, October, 1980, Julie Ann Lepick, "Structuralism and After: Contemporary French Thought and Its Impact on Anglo-American Literary Theory," pp. 203-212; July/August, 1989, R. R. Warhol, review of Narrative Discourse Revisited, p. 1831.

Journal of European Studies, September, 1999, review of Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree, p. 324.

L'Espirit Créateur, spring, 1983, Seymour Chatman, review of Figures of Literary Discourse, p. 109-111.

Library Journal, January, 1998, Robert T. Ivey, review of Palimpsests, p. 99.

London Review of Books, October 7-20, 1982, Frank Kermode, review of Figures of Literary Discourse, pp. 8-9; November 16, 1995, John Sturrock, review of Mimologics = Mimologiques: Voyage en Cratylie, pp. 13-14.

Modern Language Review, April, 1991, Margaret Atack, review of Narrative Discourse Revisited, p. 387.

Style, summer, 1997, Steve Miskinis, review of Mimologics, p. 353; summer, 1998, Philippe Carrand, review of Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, p. 365; summer, 1999, Harold F. Mosher, Jr., review of The Work of Art: Immanence and Transcendence, p. 336; spring, 2000, David Gorman, review of Figures, p. 152; winter, 2003, Monika Fludernik, "Scene Shift, Metalepsis, and the Metaleptic Mode," p. 382.

Times Literary Supplement, September 17, 1976, John Sturrock, review of Mimologiques: Voyage en Cratylie, p. 1177; October 3, 1980, Ann Jefferson, review of Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, p. 1110.

Washington Post Book World, February 24, 1980, Julia Epstein, review of Narrative Discourse, pp. 11, 14.

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