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19. Why Won't Our Terms Stay Put? The Narrative Communication Diagram Scrutinized and Historicized

Harry E. Shaw

Subject Literature » Literary Theory

Key-Topics communication, narrative

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405114769.2005.00021.x


I would hazard the guess that few teachers and few students of narratology or narrative poetics have failed to use the Narrative Communication Diagram, in one of its familiar guises or another — for instance, the one proposed by Seymour Chatman ( Chatman 1978 : 151) many years ago, which runs as follows: Versions of the diagram differ, but in whatever form, it has proven its usefulness. Perhaps for that very reason, it seems fitting to subject it to some scrutiny. I believe that the diagram has gained wide acceptance and use in part because its terms are malleable. Critics with quite different views of narratology and of narrative itself can avail themselves of the diagram, simply by giving its various terms rather different meanings. Some, echoing a familiar criticism of narratology, might conclude that such critics are simply finding devious ways around a system that is too abstract and constraining. This, however, is not my own view, even though I do not hope to find a way of ironing out the differences and coming up with a definitive, all-purpose diagram. My hope instead is to uncover the conditions of possibility for disagreements, overt and latent, about the diagram and in doing so to suggest what is at stake in different ways of imagining its terms. Along these lines, I'll make two local suggestions: first, that users of the diagram bring to it two different implicit models ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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