Jahn, Manfred_Windows of Focalization

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Michael Simpson

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Manfred Jahn University of Cologne

Windows of Focalization: Deconstructing and Reconstructing a Narratological Concept*In general, focalization theory addresses the options and ranges of orientational restrictions of narrative presentation. Gerard Genette first associated focalization with a "focal character" and the questions who sees? and who perceives? Following Mieke Bal, however, many narratologists now believe that focalization covers a much wider scope than either vision or perception and that the narrator is a potential "focalizer," too. First-generation narratologists like Genette and Seymour Chatman view this expanded scope with considerable skepticism, and despite such convincing recent applications as William Edmiston's Hindsight and Insight, focalization theory at present is caught in a dilemma of conflicting approaches. My attempt to sort out these various approaches begins by reviving the original field-of-vision conception as the basis for defining a general framework and key concepts of focalization. Section 2 deconstructs the major axioms of focalization expounded by Genette. Section 3 traces the theme of "seeing" in fiction to Henry James's "house of fiction" and its million windows: drawing from George Lakoff and Mark Johnson's treatment of natural metaphors, Ray Jackendoff's theory of cognitive interfaces, and Werner Wolf's concept of aesthetic illusion, I reclaim James's window metaphor as a core model of focalization, defined on the basis of cognition and reception. Finally, section 4 considers Chatman's argument against focalizing narrators and the problem of "embedded" focalization. Throughout, my aim is to argue for an interdisciplinary, integrative, and non-dichotomous approach towards focalization.


Let me begin with a few simple vision-related questions. How do we define our "field of vision?" Does it have a specific shape? Does it support the notion of an "angle of vision?" Where in this field does one placeThe author wauls to Ihank Richard Ac/,cl, Lisa C. Bywalers, Helmut Bonhcim, Peler Dieckow, Monika I'ludernik, Robert K Kemp, IX'Iphinc I .ellan, Ansgar Niinning, and the two anonymous readeis lor Slvli' lor a number of |R-iimenl eommcnls and suggestions.


Manfred Jahn

Windows of Focalization