What is Narrative ?
Roland Barthes developed a concept that every narrative is interwoven with five codes that drive one to maintain interest in a story. The first two codes involve ways of creating suspense in narrative, the first by unanswered questions, the second by anticipation of an action's resolution. These two codes are essentially connected to the temporal order of the narrative.
The Hermeneutic Code
The hermeneutic code refers to plot elements of a story that are not explained. They exist as enigmas that the reader wishes to be resolved. A detective story, for example, is a narrative that operates primarily by the hermeneutic code. A crime is exposed or postulated and the rest of the narrative is devoted to answering questions raised by the initial event.
The Proairetic Code
The proairetic code refers to plot events that imply further narrative action. For example, a story character confronts an adversary and the reader wonders what the resolution of this action will be. Suspense is created by action rather than by a reader's wish to have mysteries explained. The final three codes are related to how the reader comprehends and interprets the narrative discourse.
The Semic Code
A seme is a unit of meaning or a sign that express cultural stereotypes. These signs allow the author to describe characters, settings and events. The semic code focuses upon information that the narration provides in order to suggest abstract concepts. Any element in a narrative can suggest a particular, often additional, meaning by way of connotation through a correlation found in the narrative. The semic code allows the text to 'show' instead of 'tell' by describing material things.
The Symbolic Code
The symbolic code refers to a structural structure that organizes meanings by way of antitheses, binary oppositions or sexual and psychological conflicts. These oppositions can be expressed through action, character and setting.
The Cultural Code
The cultural code designates any element in a narrative that refers to common bodies of knowledge such as historical, mythological or scientific. The cultural codes point to knowledge about the way the world works as shared by a community or culture.
Together, these five codes function like a 'weaving of voices'. Barthes assigns to the hermeneutic the Voice of Truth; to the proairetic code the voice of Empirics ; to the semic the Voice of the Person; to the cultural the Voice of Science; and to the symbolic the Voice of Symbol. According to Barthes, they allowing the reader to see a work not just as a single narrative line but as a braiding of meanings that give a story its complexity and richness.
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