BROOKS, IN THE VERY FIRST
SENTENCE of Reading
for the Plot, states that "This is a book about plots and
which he understands as "the design and intention of narrative,
what shapes a story and gives it a certain direction or intent of meaning"
Brooks is specifically interested in questions of "temporal sequence
and progression" (xi).
Indeed, by "plotting" Brooks means "that which makes
a plot 'move forward," and makes us read forward, seeking in the
unfolding of the narrative a line of intention and portent of design
that hold the promise of progress toward meaning" (xiii).
Brooks therefore sees his own theories as moving away from structuralist
narratologists (like Barthes
or Greimas) who he sees as "excessively static and limiting"
Instead, Brooks turns to "the temporal dynamics that shape narratives
in our reading of them, the play of desire in time that makes us turn
pages and strive toward narrative ends" (xiii).
He is interested in "the motor forces that drive the text forward,
of the desires that connect narrative ends and beginnings, and make
of the textual middle a highly charged field of force" (xiii-xiv).
in S/Z wishes to explode the boundedness of a narrative, Brooks
is interested in exploring precisely a work's boundedness, the ways
it "demarcates, encloses, establishes limits, orders" (4).
As a result, Brooks also reads "plot" in the sense suggested
by a grave plot: a bounded space, one that is, indeed, intimately tied
with questions of death, or at least closure; in other words, Brooks
reads plot as following "the internal logic of the discourse of
mortality" (22). This is not to say that Brooks does not build
he just concentrates on the two codes that Barthes
sees as tied to narrative temporality: the hermeneutic
and proairetic codes. Indeed, Brooks writes that plot "might
best be thought of as an 'overcoding' of the proairetic
by the hermeneutic,
the latter structuring the discrete elements of the former into larger
interpretive wholes, working out their play of meaning and significance"
Brooks argues, that is, that we keep reading (proairetically) in order
to achieve the sense at the end of the narrative that everything finally
makes sense (hermeneutically): "Perhaps we would do best to speak
of the antipation of retrospection as our chief tool in making
sense of narrative, the master trope of its strange logic" (23).
Whereas Barthes dismisses as "readerly" the temporal structures
of the hermeneutic
and proairetic codes, Brooks concentrates precisely on the logic
of that temporal structure in order to make sense of the drive that
keeps us reading (or viewing) until the end of a narrative. Largely
for this reason, Brooks' favorite texts for analysis are from the nineteenth
century (the great period of the classic novel) whereas Barthes tends
to turn to modernist, anti-narrative forms like the nouveau roman.
In addition to seeing a relationship between
and proairetic codes in his understanding of plot, Brooks also sees
plot as the principle by which a narrative organizes the relationship
between story and
discourse. Few narratives present events in a chronological order
but, rather, manipulate the story in various ways (starting in
medias res or jumping back and force, revealing certain facts while
concealing others). This discursive
manipulation of the story
provides the dilation necessary for a story
to create suspense, the dilation that is necessary also to give us a
sense at the end that the narrative has reached a proper closure—that
feeling of "ah yes, of course!" The simple chronological progression
of our lives, by contrast, rarely affords us the same feeling of proper
fullness or correctness, which may be one reason we feel compelled to
keep telling stories that re-order events in more satisfying, narrative,
bounded ways. For this reason, Brooks presents the detective story as
exemplary of narrative logic, for such stories are all about how narrative
makes sense of the traumas of life. The detective's plot also amounts
to "the active repetition and reworking of story
in and by discourse"
Brooks therefore concludes that "all narrative posits, if not the
Sovereign Judge, at least a Sherlock Holmes capable of going back over
the ground, and thereby realizing the meaning of the cipher left by
a life" (34).
Brooks makes sense of the relation between
space and time in narrative (the grave plot vs. the narrative plot)
by mapping that relation onto not only the hermeneutic/proairetic
opposition but also the opposition between metaphor and metonymy or
between the paradigmatic and syntagmatic poles of language. Brooks convincingly
shows that narratives often begin with metaphors of temporality that
are then worked out metonymically through the telling of the story until
we reach a closural metaphor (similar to but perhaps slightly different
from the opening metaphor) that then sums up the whole story that came
before. Brooks thus builds on Roman Jakobson's claim that narratives
tend towards the rhetorical figure of metonymy since narratives tend
to work by moving from one connected thing or event to another. Metonymy
is, similarly, the rhetorical figure by which one names something by
turning to something adjacent in space or time, for example, "the
crown has spoken" in place of "the king has spoken" or
"the pen is mightier than the sword" rather than "writing
is mightier than military action." Metaphor, by contrast, brings
together disparate elements into a single unity outside of temporally
or spatially contingent elements, for example, the dead metaphor "table
leg." A table's leg and a creature's leg are not tied together
because they are contiguously connected in space or time in a particular
situation but because they are similar (though also different). As Brooks
puts it, metaphor is the "substitution... of a present signifier
for an absent one" (59).
According to Jakobsen, poetry is especially dominated by metaphor since
poetry is concerned with tying together all its rhymes and images into
a single atemporal, metaphorical unity. Metonymy is syntagmatic because
it tends to work temporally like the syntax of a sentence; metaphor
is paradigmatic because it ties together disparate things outside of
time as in a graph or paradigm.
According to Brooks, narratives are not solely
dominated by metonymy but, rather, always work out a dynamic interplay
between metonymic and metaphorical forces. Brooks' innovation is to
align metonymy and metaphor respectively with the pleasure principle
and the death drive. The final metaphorical meaning of a narrative retrospectively
orders or makes sense of all the metonymical deviations of the narrative
that came before the end. As Brooks puts it, "the metaphoric work
of eventual totalization determines the meaning and status of the metonymic
work of sequence—though it must also be claimed that the metonymies
of the middle produced, gave birth to, the final metaphor" (29).
Endings and beginnings are automatically related metaphorically, according
to Brooks, a fact that is often underlined in narratives by quite specific,
explicit metaphors. One need only think of the many films that begin
and end with metaphors for their own plots: for example, the closed
gate and "No Trespassing" sign at the beginning and end of
Citizen Kane (see
Lesson Plans: Citizen Kane), the winding road of David Lynch's Mulholland
Drive, even the game of cards being played in the Star Trek: TNG
episode that I analyze with my class under Lesson
Plans: Star Trek.