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Gérard Genette

(b. 1930)


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(1930–)

French, structuralistliterary theorist. Born in Paris, Genette studied at the École Normale Supérieure, where his classmates included Jacques Derrida and Pierre Bourdieu. After an obligatory period of teaching in lycées, Genette obtained a position at the Sorbonne in 1963 and then a more permanent post at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in 1967. Together with Tzvetan Todorov and Hélène Cixous, he founded the journal Poétique in 1970, which became a key organ of the structuralist and post-structuralist movements in Paris and a significant rival to Tel Quel. Genette's work focuses on the question of how literary writing works, that is, what sets it apart from other forms of non-literary writing, but also how does it achieve certain of its effects. His approach, consistent with Lévi-Strauss's original geological inspiration for structuralism, tends to be stratified: he investigates the ways different parts of the literary text interact and devotes considerable attention to identifying and analysing these parts. He enlarges the Russian Formalist binary of fabula and sjužet to a trinity by adding what he calls the narrative instance, namely the act of telling the story itself, thus taking into account its performative dimension. Genette's star has waned in recent years with the movement away from such purely formal questions towards more politically motivated problems in literary theory. His key works are collected in a series of volumes entitled Figures I (1966), Figures II (1969), and Figures III (1972), a selection of which has been compiled and translated into English as Figures of Literary Discourse (1984).

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.


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