Pier, John: "Metalepsis". 16 Jul 2018. Hühn, Peter et al. (eds.): the living handbbook of narratology. Hamburg: Hamburg University Press. http://hup.sub.uni-hamburg.de/lhn/index.php?title=Metalepsis&oldid=2056

Metalepsis

Last modified: 13 March 2013

John Pier

   [1]
1 Definition

[2]
In its narratological sense, metalepsis, first identified by Genette, is a paradoxical contamination between the world of the telling and the world of the told: “any intrusion by the extradiegetic narrator or narratee into the diegetic universe (or by diegetic characters into a metadiegetic universe, etc.), or the inverse […]” ([Genette, Gérard ([1972] 1980). Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Ithaca: Cornell UP.1972] 1980: 234–35). Described as “taking hold of (telling) by changing level” (235 n. 51) and thus combining the principle of narrative levels ( Narrative Levels) with the rhetorical figure of metalepsis originating in ancient legal discourse, narrative metalepsis is a “deliberate transgression of the threshold of embedding” resulting in “intrusions [that] disturb, to say the least, the distinction between levels.” It produces an effect of “humor” or of “the fantastic” or “some mixture of the two […], unless it functions as a figure of the creative imagination […]” (Genette [Genette, Gérard ([1983] 1988). Narrative Discourse Revisited. Ithaca: Cornell UP.1983] 1988: 88). Genette (2004) also argues that not only is metalepsis a violation of the separation between syntactically defined levels, but also a deviant referential operation, a violation of semantic thresholds of representation that involves the beholder in an ontological transgression of universes and points toward a theory of fiction ( Fictional vs. Factual Narration).

[3]
More is at issue, then, than localized rhetorical or stylistic devices, for metalepsis has been characterized as “undermining the separation between narration and story” (Rimmon-Kenan [Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith ([1983] 2002). Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics. London: Routledge.1983] 2002: 93), as a “strange loop” (Hofstadter Hofstadter, Douglas (1979). Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid. New York: Basic Books.1979) in the structure of narrative levels or a “short circuit” between the “fictional world and the ontological level occupied by the author” (McHale McHale, Brian (1987). Postmodernist Fiction. London: Methuen.1987: 119, 213), as a “narrative short circuit” causing “a sudden collapse of the narrative system” (Wolf Wolf, Werner (1993). Ästhetische Illusion und Illusionsdurchbrechung in der Erzählkunst: Theorie und Geschichte mit Schwerpunkt auf englischem illusionsstörenden Erzählen. Tübingen: Niemeyer.1993: 356–58), as producing a “disruptive effect on the fabric of narrative” (Malina Malina, Debra (2002). Breaking the Frame: Metalepsis and the Construction of the Subject. Columbus: Ohio State UP.2002: 1), etc. Unlike factual narrative, moreover, fictional narrative betrays “at least the potential for narrative metalepsis” (Nelles Nelles, William (1997). Frameworks: Narrative Levels and Embedded Narratives. New York: Lang.1997: 152). Such considerations raise not only the question of the metatextual status of metalepsis ( Metanarration and Metafiction) and that of rhetorical as opposed to ontological metalepsis together with an array of topics bearing on transmediality ( Narration in Various Media) and transdisciplinarity ( Narration in Various Disciplines), but they also suggest that fictional narrative is by nature metaleptic, bound to the paradox of “a current presentation of the past” (Bessière Bessière, Jean (2005). “Récit de fiction, transition discursive, présentation actuelle du récit, ou que le récit de fiction est toujours métaleptique.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 279–94.2005), or that “[a]ll fictions are woven through with metalepses” (Genette Genette, Gérard (2004). Métalepse. De la figure à la fiction. Paris: Seuil.2004: 131).

   [4]
2 Explication

[5]
Narrative metalepsis as a concept results from the convergence of rhetoric (placing it alongside metaphor and metonymy as tropes of transformation, substitution and succession) and the principle of narrative levels. Genette ([Genette, Gérard ([1972] 1980). Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Ithaca: Cornell UP.1972] 1980: 232–34) explains that metadiegetic (or second-degree) narrative bears either an explanatory, a thematic or an enunciative (rather than content-based) relation to the primary narrative, and it is under the latter that his comments on metalepsis are included, emphasizing “a shifting but sacred frontier between two worlds, the world in which one tells, the world of which one tells” (236). Essentially, metalepsis functions with varying dosages of three parameters: (a) illusion of contemporaneousness between the time of the telling and the time of the told ( Illusion (Aesthetic)); (b) transgressive merging of two or more levels; (c) doubling of the narrator/narratee axis with the author/reader axis. These features are illustrated by Balzac’s “While the venerable churchman climbs the ramps of Angoulême, it is not useless to explain…”—a “minimal” metalepsis (cf. Pier Pier, John (2005). “Métalepse et hiérarchies narratives.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 247–61.2005: 249–50) which, being incipiently transgressive, leaps the boundary between narrator ( Narrator) and extradiegetic narratee on the communicative plane and puts story time on hold while the narrator intervenes with a metanarrative comment, demonstrating the latent metaleptic quality of narrative embedding in general.

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2.1 Rhetorical vs. Ontological Metalepsis

[7]
Genette’s remarks, though concise, stake out the key features of metalepsis, one of the least debated of his theoretical innovations for many years. It is with subsequent and more differentiated developments that the scope and import of this narrative practice that goes against the grain of codified narratological categories has come to be more fully appreciated. Following a proposal by Ryan (Ryan, Marie-Laure (2005). “Logique culturelle de la métalepse, ou la métalepse dans tous ses états.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 201–23.2005, Ryan, Marie-Laure (2006). Avatars of Story. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P.2006: 204–30, 246–48), it is now widely acknowledged that metalepsis breaks down into a rhetorical (Genette) and an ontological variety (McHale), parallel to the distinction between illocutionary boundary at discourse level and ontological boundary at story level. “Rhetorical metalepsis,” Ryan claims, “opens a small window that allows a quick glance across levels, but the window closes after a few sentences, and the operation ends up reasserting the existence of the boundaries” (Ryan, Marie-Laure (2006). Avatars of Story. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P.2006: 207). It has been shown by Fludernik, however, that Genette’s narrative metalepsis is in effect an umbrella term containing an implicit typology that integrates Ryan’s distinction (Fludernik Fludernik, Monika (2003). “Scene Shift, Metalepsis, and the Metaleptic Mode.” Style 37, 382–400 (= “Changement de scène et mode métaleptique.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 73–94).2003: 382–89): (a) authorial metalepsis (Virgil “has Dido die”): a metafictional strategy that undermines mimetic illusion, foregrounding the inventedness of the story; (b) narratorial or type 1 ontological metalepsis (in Eliot’s Adam Bede, the narrator invites the narratee to accompany him to Reverend Irwine’s study): transgression from the extradiegetic to the intradiegetic level is illusionary, drawing a fine line between the reader’s immersion and lifting of the mimetic illusion; (c) lectorial or type 2 ontological metalepsis (in a story by Cortázar, the reader of a novel is [almost] killed by a character in that novel): implication of the narratee on the story level or passage of a character from an embedded to an embedding level (also occurs in second-person narration); (d) rhetorical or discourse metalepsis (the Balzac example above).

[8]
Given the fluid transitions between these types, it can be seen that the more pronounced forms of metalepsis are contained embryonically in the fourth variety, suggesting that rhetorical metalepsis covers all four—whence the present author’s proposal to rename Fludernik’s and Ryan’s rhetorical metalepsis “minimal” metalepsis. Rather than two distinct types of metalepsis—one rhetorical, the other ontological—what is at stake are the forms and degrees of violation of the boundary between the telling and the told, two aspects of the effects of narrative discourse and, more generally, the role such violations play in artistic representation (cf. Häsner Häsner, Bernd (2001). Metalepsen. Zur Genese, Systematik und Funktion transgressiver Erzählweisen. PhD Dissertation. Freie Universität Berlin.2001: 40–3 on the “accentuation” of metaleptic relations).

   [9]
2.2 From Figure to Fiction

[10]
Genette’s rhetorical theory of metalepsis highlights the relation between “figural” and “fictional” metalepsis. Both “figure” and “fiction” derive from the Latin fingere (to fashion, represent, feign, invent), such that a figure of substitution (i.e. a trope such as metaphor, metonymy, litote, etc.) forms the “embryo” or “outline” (esquisse) of a fiction (Genette Genette, Gérard (2004). Métalepse. De la figure à la fiction. Paris: Seuil.2004: 16–8). With emphasis on authorial metalepsis as a particular type of metonymy in which cause is expressed for effect or effect for cause and on the figural and fictional transgressions this entails, a fiction, taking form in the passage between figure as a formal but semantically weak verbal schema and figure as a transfer of meaning, is defined as “a figure taken literally and treated as an actual event” (20). In contrast to narrative considered as the “expansion” of a verb (cf. Genette [Genette, Gérard ([1972] 1980). Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Ithaca: Cornell UP.1972] 1980: 30), fiction can be regarded as a figure taken à la lettre, and in the case of metalepsis “fictively literalized,” it introduces into narratology the problem of ontological transgression in representation. The focus falls no longer on metalepsis as a narrative category forming a system with other describable categories (prolepsis, analepsis, etc.), but on the functioning of representation and the intersection of narrative and fiction. Called into question is the Coleridgean “willing suspension of disbelief,” triggering “a playful simulation of belief,” as in the fantastic or the marvelous mode (Genette Genette, Gérard (2004). Métalepse. De la figure à la fiction. Paris: Seuil.2004: 23, 25): with metalepsis, it is the reader’s belief, not disbelief, that is suspended, setting up a reading contract based not on verisimilitude, but on “a shared knowledge of illusion” (Baron Baron, Christine (2005). “Effet métaleptique et statut des discours fictionnels.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 295–310.2005: 298; cf. Macé Macé, Marielle (2007). “Une lecture de Métalepse, Gérard Genette.” Conference “De la figure à la fiction – autour d’un livre.” <http://www.fabula.org/atelier.php>.2007).

[11]
In effect, the rhetorical and the ontological conceptions may represent not so much two types of metalepsis as they point to the two main approaches to the phenomenon, the one based primarily in the (rhetorical) effects produced by representation through discourse or other semiotic means, the other in the problems of logical paradox encountered by modern science. This can in fact be seen in the partially overlapping concerns of the two orientations. Ryan (Ryan, Marie-Laure (2005). “Logique culturelle de la métalepse, ou la métalepse dans tous ses états.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 201–23.2005: 205 n. 3) notes that Genette’s discussion bears on the two types without differentiating them, and also that “figural” and “fictional” metalepsis correspond roughly to “rhetorical” and “ontological” metalepsis (Ryan, Marie-Laure (2006). Avatars of Story. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P.2006: 247 n. 3). It is useful to bear in mind, however, that for Genette fiction is addressed in rhetorical and pragmatic terms, while the ontological approach takes the transdisciplinary ramifications of scientific logic as its reference point.

   [12]
2.3 Metaleptic Affinities

[13]
Originating in rhetoric, later to be integrated into narrative theory, metalepsis is now seen as a more widespread phenomenon than initially thought and also to have affinities that vary according to different factors. Thus metalepsis, being paradoxical, is more likely to be cultivated by the baroque, by romanticism or by certain types of modernism than by mimetically inclined classicism or realism, much as it shows a greater propensity for the comic and the ironic than it does for the tragic or the lyric (cf. Pier & Schaeffer Pier, John & Jean-Marie Schaeffer (2005). “Introduction. La métalepse, aujourd’hui.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 7–15.2005: 10–1; Grabe et al. eds. Grabe, Nina, et al. eds. (2006). La narración paradójica. “Normas narrativas” y el principio de la “transgresión.” Frankfurt a.M.: Vervuert.2006). Furthermore, being restricted by neither genre nor media, metalepsis is manifested in various ways and to different degrees: the theater arts, thanks to the possibilities of audience participation, are metalepsis-friendly; the cinema, with its technical capacity for hypotyposis (what is presented is depicted as though it were before one’s very eyes), can be highly metaleptic, contrary to music, suggesting that metalepsis is bound to the question of representation; the pictorial arts, as demonstrated by the works of Escher and Magritte, possess considerable metaleptic potential, but this is not the case of sculpture, where boundaries between levels are more difficult to define; digital media, with their capacity for generating virtual realities, are fertile terrain for ontological transgressions. And finally, metalepsis is not restricted to high culture, since it is freely resorted to in popular culture, as witnessed by reality TV or by unscripted spectator interventions at sporting events.

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3 History of the Concept and its Study

[15]
It is important to bear in mind that although narrative metalepsis is a recent concept in the history of poetics, the practice itself, under different denominations or none at all, extends back to antiquity. The fact that as a concept it can now be theorized and applied according to definable criteria casts a new light on the theory and analysis of narrative and, more generally, on representation as a cultural phenomenon.

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3.1 The Historical Background

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3.1.1 Rhetoric

[18]
The etymology of metalepsis is disputed, but its sense can readily be grasped from the word’s Latin equivalent—transumptio: “assuming one thing for another.” Metalepsis has a complex history in that it has been regarded either as a variety of metonymy, a particular form of synonymy, or both. As metonymy, it has been identified: (a) in simple form, or expression of the consequent understood as the precedent or vice versa and; (b) as a chain of associations (“a few ears of corn” for “a few years,” the transfer of sense implying “a few harvests” and “a few summers”). Metalepsis can also be understood in Quintilian’s sense as the intermediate step or transition between a term which is transferred and the thing to which it is transferred, resulting in an inappropriate synonym (Morier Morier, Henri (1961). “Métalepse.” Dictionnaire de poétique et de rhétorique. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 673–76.1961; Burkhardt Burkhardt, Arnim (2001). “Metalepsis.” G. Ueding (ed). Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik. Tübingen: Niemeyer, vol. 5, 1087–99.2001; Meyer-Minnemann Meyer-Minnemann, Klaus (2005). “Un procédé narratif qui ‘produit un effet de bizarrerie’: la métalepse littéraire.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 133–50.2005: 140–43; Roussin Roussin, Philippe (2005). “Rhétorique de la métalepse, états de cause, typologie, récit.” J. Pier & J.-M Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 37–58.2005: 40–4; on metalepsis and evidentia, see Häsner Häsner, Bernd (2001). Metalepsen. Zur Genese, Systematik und Funktion transgressiver Erzählweisen. PhD Dissertation. Freie Universität Berlin.2001: 20–7; Cornils Cornils, Anja (2005). “La metalepses dans les Actes des Apôtres: un signe de narration fictionnelle?” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 95–107.2005).

[19]
From the perspective of narrative theory, two positions derive from the rhetoric of metalepsis. Firstly, Genette (Genette, Gérard (2004). Métalepse. De la figure à la fiction. Paris: Seuil.2004: 7–16), drawing on the first two types above, notes that metalepsis shares with metaphor and metonymy the principle of transfer of sense and considers it (following Dumarsais) a metonymy of the simple type; he then expands it (with Fontanier) beyond the single word to include an entire proposition. Metalepsis, he argues, combines cause for effect or effect for cause with substitution of an indirect for a direct expression. He points out the importance, in narrative, of authorial metalepsis, by which an author “is represented or represents himself as producing what, in the final analysis, he only relates” (Fontanier). He draws attention to the proximity for the two rhetoricians of metalepsis and hypotyposis (a figure in which the copy is treated, illusorily, as though it were the original), but particularly to the fact that with metalepsis, the author pretends to intervene in a story which is in fact a representation, so that transgression of the threshold of embedding merges with that of the threshold of representation, affirming the existence of the very boundaries that are effaced.

[20]
There have also been proposals to refer narrative metalepsis back to metalepsis as use of an inappropriate synonym, notably by Meyer-Minnemann (Meyer-Minnemann, Klaus (2005). “Un procédé narratif qui ‘produit un effet de bizarrerie’: la métalepse littéraire.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 133–50.2005) and Schlickers (Schlickers, Sabine (2005). “Inversions, transgressions, paradoxes et bizzareries. La métalepse dans les littératures espagnole et française.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 151–66.2005) (see also Nelles Nelles, William (1997). Frameworks: Narrative Levels and Embedded Narratives. New York: Lang.1997: 152–57). The emphasis here is not on authorial metalepsis as a type of metonymy, but on the paradoxical transgression of boundaries, of which there are two main types: one at discourse level with breaching of the “me-here-now” of enunciation (in verbis transgression), the other at story level with violation of the coordinates of the enunciate (in corpore transgression). Taking a cue from Genette, this model provides for metalepsis of enunciation and metalepsis of the enunciate in which each functions either vertically (bottom-up or top-down) or horizontally, i.e. without change of level (dubbed “perilepsis” by Prince Prince, Gerald (2006). “Disturbing Frames.” Poetics Today 27, 625–30.2006: 628). To take only a few illustrations: (a) a vertical metalepsis of enunciation (top-down) would be the Balzac example cited above; (b) a horizontal metalepsis of enunciation occurs with the juxtaposition of two communicative situations at the same level; (c) with transgression of the diegetic, ontological, spatial or temporal order, there occurs a vertical metalepsis of the enunciate; (d) a horizontal metalepsis of the enunciate is produced when e.g. Woody Allen enters the world of Madame Bovary. In this system, metalepsis is seen as producing an effect of strangeness, either comical or fantastic, but it is not regarded as a figure of fictionality in Genette’s sense (on the fictionality of paradoxical narration, however, see Meyer-Minnemann Meyer-Minnemann, Klaus (2006). “Narración paradójica y ficción.” N. Grabe et al. (eds). La narración paradójica. “Normas narrativas” y el principio de la “transgresión.” Frankfurt a.M.: Vervuert, 49–71.2006).

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3.1.2 Logical Paradox

[22]
For narrative metalepsis in an ontological perspective, paradox is central, as it involves the logically inconsistent passage between two separate domains through suspension of the excluded middle. At issue is the problem, originating in logic and mathematics, of maintaining distinct levels through avoidance of self-reference by elaborating meta- levels, an endeavor that requires the addition of recursive meta-levels ad infinitum. The inevitable paradox is captured by Gödel’s theorem, although it has long plagued scientific thought in the form of the liar’s paradox (Epimenides is a Cretan and says “All Cretans are liars”); it is also conveyed visually by the Möbius strip, Klein’s bottle and Escher’s drawings. Hofstadter (Hofstadter, Douglas (1979). Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid. New York: Basic Books.1979) has examined various manifestations of this paradox in his important transdisciplinary study, even providing a recursive dialogue (103–26) that illustrates the problem of metalepsis, although the term appears nowhere in the book.

[23]
McHale has integrated these paradoxes into the poetics of postmodernist fiction, a type of writing that “foregrounds ontological issues of text and world” (McHale, Brian (1987). Postmodernist Fiction. London: Methuen.1987: 27). Adopting an ontology taken from possible worlds theory (33–6), he recasts Genette’s narrative levels in terms of ontological levels so that a metalepsis produced by violation of levels raises ontological considerations resulting from recursive embedding (120). In particular, McHale identifies metalepsis with the “Strange Loop,” a phenomenon that occurs “whenever, by moving upwards (or downwards) through the levels of some hierarchical system, we unexpectedly find ourselves right back where we started.” Strange Loops occur within a “Tangled Hierarchy”: “when what you presume are clean hierarchical levels take you by surprise and fold back in a hierarchy-violating way” (Hofstadter Hofstadter, Douglas (1979). Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid. New York: Basic Books.1979: 10, 691; qtd. in McHale McHale, Brian (1987). Postmodernist Fiction. London: Methuen.1987: 119). He also draws attention to the metaleptic function of the second-person pronoun (223–25), as does Genette (Genette, Gérard (2004). Métalepse. De la figure à la fiction. Paris: Seuil.2004: 96–9; cf. Fludernik’s Fludernik, Monika (2003). “Scene Shift, Metalepsis, and the Metaleptic Mode.” Style 37, 382–400 (= “Changement de scène et mode métaleptique.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 73–94).2003: 389 lectorial or type 2 ontological metalepsis); but he does not distinguish between rhetorical and ontological metalepsis, nor does Wolf (Wolf, Werner (2005b). “Metalepsis as a Transgeneric and Transmedial Phenomenon: A Case Study of the Possibilities of ‘Exporting’ Narratological Concepts.” J. Ch. Meister (ed). Narratology beyond Literary Criticism: Mediality, Disciplinarity. Berlin: de Gruyter, 83–107.2005b), whose definition of metalepsis combines ontology with possible worlds theory (93).

[24]
A particular capacity for generating feedback loops and hierarchies of levels is demonstrated by the computer, dubbed “metaleptic machine” by Ryan. A case in point is the “Metalepticon,” a computer algorithm designed by Meister (Meister, Jan Christoph (2005). “Le Metalepticon: une étude informatique de la métalepse.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 225–46.2005) to reproduce the recursive structures of Escher’s Drawing Hands: here, however, computational powers are quickly exhausted and “Program Space Full/looping error” is displayed. Meister concludes from this unrealizable abstract formal model that metalepsis annuls the “contract of representation” required for the cognitive and hermeneutic processing of esthetically incarnated metalepses (245–46). Also related to issues of communication is metalepsis as a virtual reality (possibility for the beholder to physically enter the imagined world) and as an existential phenomenon (Emma Bovary modeling her life after the heroine of a sentimental novel) (Ryan Ryan, Marie-Laure (2006). Avatars of Story. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P.2006: 227). On the other hand, the recursive chain is broken when it is recognized, for example, that the creator of Drawing Hands occupies a space outside the representation in question, even though that creator can in turn be portrayed in a (meta-) representation (cf. “Authorship Triangle”; Hofstadter Hofstadter, Douglas (1979). Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid. New York: Basic Books.1979: 94–95, 688–89)—a situation not unlike that of authorial metalepsis.

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3.2 Typologies

[26]
As seen in 2.1 and 2.2 above, Genette’s original conception of narrative metalepsis hinted at a typology without actually proposing one. Since then, a number of typologies have been elaborated, a survey of which reveals that to varying degrees theories of metalepsis discriminate between minimally and conspicuously transgressive changes of level. Ontological approaches tend to focus on the latter while rhetorical approaches also take account of the metaleptic potential of e.g. the apostrophic “gentle reader.”

[27]
Nelles (Nelles, William (1997). Frameworks: Narrative Levels and Embedded Narratives. New York: Lang.1997: 152–57), referring narrative metalepsis back to metonymy as trope (Quintilian), differentiates “unmarked” (at discourse level) from “distinctly marked” (at story level) metalepsis and, for the latter, “intrametalepsis” (movement from the embedding to the embedded level) from “extrametalepsis” (movement in the opposite direction), subdividing each type into analeptic and proleptic forms on the temporal plane (on “inward” vs. “outward” metalepses, see Malina Malina, Debra (2002). Breaking the Frame: Metalepsis and the Construction of the Subject. Columbus: Ohio State UP.2002: 46–50). The degree of transgression—knowledge of the other world as opposed to physically penetrating it—is characterized as either epistemological (verbal) or ontological (modal). According to Pier (Pier, John (2005). “Métalepse et hiérarchies narratives.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 247–61.2005: 253), there is a tendency in intrametaleptic movements to favor the narrator/narratee relation, and in extrametaleptic movements the character/narrator relation.

[28]
Wagner (Wagner, Frank (2002). “Glissements et déphasages: note sur la métalepse narrative.” Poétique 33, No. 130, 235–53.2002: 243–48), for whom the metatextual nature of metalepsis signals the constructedness of narrative along the lines of the Russian formalist notion of “defamiliarization,” emphasizes the reversibility of metaleptic displacements between extra-, intra- and metadiegetic levels. He also draws attention to circulation, at a given level, between collateral fictive universes, not unlike the “horizontal” metalepses included in the Meyer-Minnemann/Schlickers model. And finally, Wagner takes up the question, largely neglected, of the compositional distribution of metalepses: their location, amplitude and frequency can have a significant impact on the strategy and readability of a narrative (cf. Häsner Häsner, Bernd (2001). Metalepsen. Zur Genese, Systematik und Funktion transgressiver Erzählweisen. PhD Dissertation. Freie Universität Berlin.2001: 40–3).

[29]
Defamiliarization and composition point to the Russian formalists’ use of metalepsis, although the term was not employed by them. At issue was neither a rhetorical figure nor an ontological paradox or a typology of its use, but “laying bear the device”: the deliberate distortion of form aimed at highlighting the artificial relations between “form” and “materials,” between sujet and fabula, and the fact the art is “made” of devices. As shown in particular by Šklovskij (Šklovskij, Viktor (Shklovsky, Victor) ([1921] 1990). “The Novel as Parody: Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.” V. Š. Theory of Prose. Elmwood Park: Dalkey Archive P, 148–71.1921) in his essay on Tristram Shandy, the numerous digressions, etc. “lay bare” the relations between the time of the telling and the time of the told, thus conflating narration and action in a seemingly unmotivated way and drawing attention to the idea that form, not the world, is the content of the novel (cf. Schmid Schmid, Wolf (2005). “La métalepse narrative dans la construction du formalisme russe.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 189–95.2005).

[30]
Herman (Herman, David (1997). “Toward a Formal Description of Narrative Metalepsis.” Journal of Literary Semantics 26, 132–52.1997: 133–36) analyzes metalepsis firstly by identifying the textual markers that, in the formal sense, signal “illicit movements up or down the hierarchy of diegetic levels structuring narrative discourse” and, from the functional perspective, “transgression of the ontological boundaries.” In terms of possible worlds theory, metalepsis solicits temporary entry of the reader into a re-centered modal system. Since, in this account, metalepsis abolishes the distinction between storyworld and the world(s) from which addressees relocate, Herman adopts Goffman’s concept of frame analysis as a set of expectations about narrative universes in place of diegetic level.

[31]
Wolf, considering the forms of disturbance of mimetic illusion caused by the failure to observe ontological boundaries, sets the mixing of extra-fictional reality with textually produced fiction off from violations of levels in inner-fictional boundaries (Wolf, Werner (1993). Ästhetische Illusion und Illusionsdurchbrechung in der Erzählkunst: Theorie und Geschichte mit Schwerpunkt auf englischem illusionsstörenden Erzählen. Tübingen: Niemeyer.1993: 349–72). The latter, metalepses, are a metafictional technique characterized as a “narrative short circuit” and are likened to Hofstadter’s (Hofstadter, Douglas (1979). Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid. New York: Basic Books.1979: 134 passim) “heterarchy,” a structure distinct from hierarchy in that it possesses no single “highest level” (cf. McHale McHale, Brian (1987). Postmodernist Fiction. London: Methuen.1987: 120). Metalepsis occurs (a) between the extradiegetic and the intradiegetic levels or (b) between the intradiegetic and one or more hypodiegetic (metadiegetic) levels (on “exterior” vs. ”interior” metalepsis, see Cohn Cohn, Dorrit (2005). “Métalepse et mise en abyme.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 121–30.2005). Both (a), marked by punctual violations of levels by characters and/or their words, and (b), punctual short circuits between intradiegetic “reality” and “fiction,” are found in minimal and conspicuous forms and can take place either bottom-up or top-down. In its complex form, metalepsis combines the previous two types, setting in motion a recurrent contamination of levels, as in the Möbius strip, and whose effects are distributed throughout a given narrative.

[32]
Where the above typologies can be grouped under the heading “meta-,” situating metalepsis on the same conceptual plane as metanarrative, metadiegesis, etc., another typology, the most elaborate to date, is built up around the suffix “-lepsis” in the sense of “action of taking” (Lang Lang, Sabine (2006). “Prolegómenos para una teoría de la narración paradójica.” N. Grabe et al. (eds). La narración paradójica. “Normas narrativas” y el principio de la “transgresión.” Frankfurt a.M.: Vervuert, 21–47.2006; cf. Meyer-Minnemann Meyer-Minnemann, Klaus (2006). “Narración paradójica y ficción.” N. Grabe et al. (eds). La narración paradójica. “Normas narrativas” y el principio de la “transgresión.” Frankfurt a.M.: Vervuert, 49–71.2006). Narration is paradoxical when, in violation of the principle “either one or the other” (cf. the liar’s paradox), coherence (Coherence) is undermined. On this basis, Lang provides a typology of paradoxical narration divided into devices that cancel out boundaries (syllepsis, epanalepsis, the latter term designating specular devices including the mise en abyme) and those that transgress boundaries (metalepsis, hyperlepsis, the latter equivalent to Genette’s pseudodiegesis: a metadiegetic narrative presented as though it were diegetic). As in the Meyer-Minnemann/Schlickers typology, each of these devices is analyzed into vertical (bottom-up or top-down) and horizontal relations of discourse and story, respectively. In contrast to the other models presented, this typology includes metalepsis among other forms of paradoxical narration.

   [33]
3.3 Related Concepts

[34]
As shown, inter alia, by Lang’s typology, the scope of paradox-producing devices is not restricted to metalepsis. Thus the effects of pseudodiegesis (or hyperlepsis), also studied under the term trompe l’œil by McHale (McHale, Brian (1987). Postmodernist Fiction. London: Methuen.1987: 115–19), can produce “variable realities” as destabilizing as those of metalepsis. As for mise en abyme, it shares with metalepsis the feature of embedding, but it additionally includes resemblance between levels (e.g. a story within a story) and reduplication and is characterized by reflexivity rather than by transgression of levels. Only in the case of “aporistic reduplication” (“fragment supposedly including the work in which it is included”; Dällenbach Dällenbach, Lucien (1977). Le récit spéculaire. Essai sur la mise en abyme. Paris: Seuil.1977: 51) does mise en abyme coincide with metalepsis (called “pure” mise en abyme by Cohn Cohn, Dorrit (2005). “Métalepse et mise en abyme.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 121–30.2005: the reader has the impression of belonging to an infinite series of fictions; cf. McHale McHale, Brian (1987). Postmodernist Fiction. London: Methuen.1987: 124–28). And finally, while metalepsis is generally found within a given text, violating that text’s system of diegetic levels, infringement of boundaries can also take place across texts. Such is the case in horizontal metalepsis of enunciation, studied by Rabau (Rabau, Sophie (2005). “Ulysse à côté d’Homère. Interprétation et transgression des frontières énonciatives.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 59–72.2005) under the term “heterometalepsis,” but it also occurs in horizontal metalepsis of the enunciate, a phenomenon that coincides with “transfictionality” as when, say, Sherlock Holmes appears in the fictional universe of Madame Bovary (cf. Lavocat Lavocat, Françoise (2007). “Transfictionalité, métafiction et métalepse aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles.” R. Audet & R. Saint-Gelais (eds). La fiction, suites et variations. Quebec: Nota bene; Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 157–78.2007 on metaleptic and intrametaleptic transfictionality). This dimension of metalepsis opens up issues of transtextual relations (cf. Genette Genette, Gérard ([1982] 1997). Palimpsests. Literature in the Second Degree. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P.1982), but it also touches on the numerous implications of metalepsis for fictionality and metafictionality.

   [35]
3.4 Metalepsis and Trans-/Intermediality

[36]
The violation of levels and boundaries is not limited to narrative, and while metalepsis in its narrative form was originally studied in verbal narratives, it is not a media-specific phenomenon. This is confirmed by a number of contributions in Pier & Schaeffer (eds. Pier, John, & Jean-Marie Schaeffer eds. (2005). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS.2005) as well as by Genette (Genette, Gérard (2004). Métalepse. De la figure à la fiction. Paris: Seuil.2004), much of which is devoted to metalepsis in theater, film, television, painting and photography (see also Genette Genette, Gérard (2009). Codicille. Paris: Seuil.2009: 176–80), and Wolf (Wolf, Werner (2005b). “Metalepsis as a Transgeneric and Transmedial Phenomenon: A Case Study of the Possibilities of ‘Exporting’ Narratological Concepts.” J. Ch. Meister (ed). Narratology beyond Literary Criticism: Mediality, Disciplinarity. Berlin: de Gruyter, 83–107.2005b) which, additionally, looks at comic strips. It would seem, then, that metalepsis has a significant role to play in transmedial narratology (e.g. Ryan Ryan, Marie-Laure (2006). Avatars of Story. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P.2006: 3–30, ed. Ryan, Marie-Laure, ed. (2004). Narrative across Media: The Languages of Storytelling. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P.2004) and in intermediality (e.g. Wolf Wolf, Werner (2005a). “Intermediality.” D. Herman et al. (eds). Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory. London: Routledge, 252–56.2005a), although to date this connection remains largely unexplored.

   [37]
4 Topics for Further Investigation

[38]
More than a rhetorical flourish, metalepsis raises the question of the porosity of levels and borders in cultural representations, but not their dissolution. Originating in structuralist narratology, it calls for re-examination of the theoretical basis of established models and thus merits serious consideration in charting out transdisciplinary approaches to narrative theory. Among topics requiring further study are: (a) relative weight of local vs. global effects of metalepsis; (b) metalepsis and fictionality (breaking/intensification of mimetic illusion, immersion, etc.); (c) metalepsis and related practices in historical poetics going back to biblical narrative as well as a historical inventory of artistic movements and corpuses employing these devices; (d) the role of metalepsis in trans-/intramediality with regard in particular to multimedia and popular culture.

   [39]
5 Bibliography

   [40]
5.1 Works Cited

  • Baron, Christine (2005). “Effet métaleptique et statut des discours fictionnels.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 295–310.
  • Bessière, Jean (2005). “Récit de fiction, transition discursive, présentation actuelle du récit, ou que le récit de fiction est toujours métaleptique.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 279–94.
  • Burkhardt, Arnim (2001). “Metalepsis.” G. Ueding (ed). Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik. Tübingen: Niemeyer, vol. 5, 1087–99.
  • Cohn, Dorrit (2005). “Métalepse et mise en abyme.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 121–30.
  • Cornils, Anja (2005). “La metalepses dans les Actes des Apôtres: un signe de narration fictionnelle?” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 95–107.
  • Dällenbach, Lucien (1977). Le récit spéculaire. Essai sur la mise en abyme. Paris: Seuil.
  • Fludernik, Monika (2003). “Scene Shift, Metalepsis, and the Metaleptic Mode.” Style 37, 382–400 (= “Changement de scène et mode métaleptique.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 73–94).
  • Genette, Gérard ([1972] 1980). Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Ithaca: Cornell UP.
  • Genette, Gérard ([1982] 1997). Palimpsests. Literature in the Second Degree. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P.
  • Genette, Gérard ([1983] 1988). Narrative Discourse Revisited. Ithaca: Cornell UP.
  • Genette, Gérard (2004). Métalepse. De la figure à la fiction. Paris: Seuil.
  • Genette, Gérard (2009). Codicille. Paris: Seuil.
  • Grabe, Nina, et al. eds. (2006). La narración paradójica. “Normas narrativas” y el principio de la “transgresión.” Frankfurt a.M.: Vervuert.
  • Häsner, Bernd (2001). Metalepsen. Zur Genese, Systematik und Funktion transgressiver Erzählweisen. PhD Dissertation. Freie Universität Berlin.
  • Herman, David (1997). “Toward a Formal Description of Narrative Metalepsis.” Journal of Literary Semantics 26, 132–52.
  • Hofstadter, Douglas (1979). Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid. New York: Basic Books.
  • Lang, Sabine (2006). “Prolegómenos para una teoría de la narración paradójica.” N. Grabe et al. (eds). La narración paradójica. “Normas narrativas” y el principio de la “transgresión.” Frankfurt a.M.: Vervuert, 21–47.
  • Lavocat, Françoise (2007). “Transfictionalité, métafiction et métalepse aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles.” R. Audet & R. Saint-Gelais (eds). La fiction, suites et variations. Quebec: Nota bene; Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 157–78.
  • Macé, Marielle (2007). “Une lecture de Métalepse, Gérard Genette.” Conference “De la figure à la fiction – autour d’un livre.” <http://www.fabula.org/atelier.php>.
  • Malina, Debra (2002). Breaking the Frame: Metalepsis and the Construction of the Subject. Columbus: Ohio State UP.
  • McHale, Brian (1987). Postmodernist Fiction. London: Methuen.
  • Meister, Jan Christoph (2005). “Le Metalepticon: une étude informatique de la métalepse.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 225–46.
  • Meyer-Minnemann, Klaus (2005). “Un procédé narratif qui ‘produit un effet de bizarrerie’: la métalepse littéraire.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 133–50.
  • Meyer-Minnemann, Klaus (2006). “Narración paradójica y ficción.” N. Grabe et al. (eds). La narración paradójica. “Normas narrativas” y el principio de la “transgresión.” Frankfurt a.M.: Vervuert, 49–71.
  • Morier, Henri (1961). “Métalepse.” Dictionnaire de poétique et de rhétorique. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 673–76.
  • Nelles, William (1997). Frameworks: Narrative Levels and Embedded Narratives. New York: Lang.
  • Pier, John (2005). “Métalepse et hiérarchies narratives.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 247–61.
  • Pier, John & Jean-Marie Schaeffer (2005). “Introduction. La métalepse, aujourd’hui.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 7–15.
  • Pier, John, & Jean-Marie Schaeffer eds. (2005). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS.
  • Prince, Gerald (2006). “Disturbing Frames.” Poetics Today 27, 625–30.
  • Rabau, Sophie (2005). “Ulysse à côté d’Homère. Interprétation et transgression des frontières énonciatives.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 59–72.
  • Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith ([1983] 2002). Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics. London: Routledge.
  • Roussin, Philippe (2005). “Rhétorique de la métalepse, états de cause, typologie, récit.” J. Pier & J.-M Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 37–58.
  • Ryan, Marie-Laure (2005). “Logique culturelle de la métalepse, ou la métalepse dans tous ses états.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 201–23.
  • Ryan, Marie-Laure (2006). Avatars of Story. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P.
  • Ryan, Marie-Laure, ed. (2004). Narrative across Media: The Languages of Storytelling. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P.
  • Schlickers, Sabine (2005). “Inversions, transgressions, paradoxes et bizzareries. La métalepse dans les littératures espagnole et française.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 151–66.
  • Schmid, Wolf (2005). “La métalepse narrative dans la construction du formalisme russe.” J. Pier & J.-M. Schaeffer (eds). Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation. Paris: Éd. de l’EHESS, 189–95.
  • Šklovskij, Viktor (Shklovsky, Victor) ([1921] 1990). “The Novel as Parody: Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.” V. Š. Theory of Prose. Elmwood Park: Dalkey Archive P, 148–71.
  • Wagner, Frank (2002). “Glissements et déphasages: note sur la métalepse narrative.” Poétique 33, No. 130, 235–53.
  • Wolf, Werner (1993). Ästhetische Illusion und Illusionsdurchbrechung in der Erzählkunst: Theorie und Geschichte mit Schwerpunkt auf englischem illusionsstörenden Erzählen. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
  • Wolf, Werner (2005a). “Intermediality.” D. Herman et al. (eds). Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory. London: Routledge, 252–56.
  • Wolf, Werner (2005b). “Metalepsis as a Transgeneric and Transmedial Phenomenon: A Case Study of the Possibilities of ‘Exporting’ Narratological Concepts.” J. Ch. Meister (ed). Narratology beyond Literary Criticism: Mediality, Disciplinarity. Berlin: de Gruyter, 83–107.

   [41]
5.2 Further Reading

  • Lodge, David (1977). The Modes of Modern Writing: Metaphor, Metonymy, and the Typology of Modern Literature. London: Arnold, esp. 239–45.
  • Pier, John (2005). “Metalepsis.” D. Herman et al. (eds). Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory. London: Routledge, 303–04.
  • Ryan, Marie-Laure (1991). Possible Worlds, Artificial Intelligence, and Narrative Theory. Bloomington: Indian UP, esp. chap. 9.
  • Ryan, Marie-Laure (2005). “On the Theoretical Foundations of Transmedial Narratology.” J. Ch. Meister (ed). Narratology beyond Literary Criticism: Mediality, Disciplinarity. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1–23.
  • Saint-Gelais, Richard (2001). “La fiction à travers l’intertexte: pour une théorie de la transfictionnalité.” A. Gefen & R. Audet (eds). Frontières de la fiction. Quebec: Nota bene; Bordeaux: Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, 43–75.

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John Pier is Professor of English at the Université François-Rabelais de Tours and co-director of the seminar “Narratologies contemporaines” at the Centre for Research on the Arts and Language (CRAL) at the National Centre for Scientific Research in Paris. He has published numerous articles on narratology and literary semiotics. Among the books he has edited or co-edited are Métalepses. Entorses au pacte de la représentation (2005), Théorie du récit. L’apport de la recherche allemande (2007), Theorizing Narrativity (2008). Co-editor of the Handbook of Narratology (2009), he is also a member of the steering committee of the European Narratology Network (ENN).


Contact: mailto:j.pier@wanadoo.fr

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