Raymond MONELLE: "Musical uniqueness as a function of the text" (6/17)

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According to this view, "narrative" is a series of events related causally or otherwise, while "description", though it may contain time, describes the event (or the scene, or situation) as a continuous texture. Description, one might say, is lyrical; it presents no juncture, no transitions.
This may be illustrated with a very surprising example, a passage in which the writer prepares us for a passage of evocation, then lurches into a section of plot, treating the descriptive details as events. This illustration shows very dramatically the difference between evocation and plot. It comes from the very first page of Dickens's novel Great expectations. The child Pip is growing up in the desolate Essex marshes, and the opening sentences, set in a deserted graveyard, are read as an evocation of atmosphere. The author is not, apparently, writing of a real occasion, of a point in a series, of an event in a drama; he is merely bringing to life a picture of emptiness, despair, loss, cold. "At such a time..." he writes; this kind of expression is a sign of synchronous verisimilitude, as to say, "This was no particular occasion; life was like this." But suddenly, at the end of this passage, it transpires that it was an actual occasion after all; the convict Magwitch springs up from behind a tomb, with a command to the child to stop crying. The tears were not, it suddenly appears, part of an evocative picture; they were real tears on a real afternoon. The switch from evocative temporal stasis to progressive time, action and plot, could not be more abrupt. It is like a sonata which begins with a lyric theme, then suddenly begins to develop and modulate in an additive phrase-structure that departs from the symmetry of lyric time.
At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.
"Hold your noise!" cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. "Keep still, you little devil, or I'll cut your throat!" (Great expectations, Hazell, Watson & Viney: 355-356).






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AS/SA Nº4, Article 4 : Page 6 / 17


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21.12.1997