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Genette Essay

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Olivia Alter

21/07/2011 Genette

Discuss the contrast Genette establishes between metaphor and metonymy, illustrating these with examples from your own reading as well as with those Genette provides.

In Figures III, Genette proposes 'un renouveau de la théorie littéraire', stating the necessity for 'une discipline' where particular literary works ('critique') are combined with a general study of the literary system ('poétique'). Throughout the four essays, however, is a broader argument about language itself, as he believes a history of literature should not take the literary work as its object, but 'des éléments transcendants aux oeuvres et constitutifs du jeu littéraire que l'on appellera pour aller vite les formes' (pg18). This is especially notable in La rhétorique restrainte and Métonymie chez Proust¸ where Genette establishes the differences between metaphor and metonymy, mainly using examples from Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu to challenge the dominance of the term 'metaphor', and to reintroduce a study of literary forms changing over time. '...le couple figural exemplaire, chien de faïence irremplaçables de notre propre rhétorique moderne : Métaphore et Métonymie.' (pg25)1 Genette begins by discussing the history of rhetorical terms, and how metaphor and metonymy have come to be used for very different things. Before the eighteenth century metonymy was closely linked to metaphor, but two categories for rhetorical devices were decided upon, one for literal meanings, the other for figurative meanings; metonymy was declared non-figurative, and thus is seen as contrasting with metaphor, which is now a more respectable term than rhetoric itself. Both terms involve relationships between two things, yet whilst metaphor is concerned more with 1

Page numbers are from Genette - 'Figures III' (Seuil, 1972)

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