The Acts of Presence Negotiated:
Towards the Semiotics of the Observer *

* The text is a slightly modified version of the article published in: SIGN SYSTEMS STUDIES 30.2. Tartu, 2002, pp.529-553. See also: M. Grishakova. The Models of Space, Time and Vision in V. Nabokov's Fiction: Narrative Strategies and Cultural Frames. Tartu Semiotics Library 5. Tartu: Tartu University Press, 2006

In this paper I argue that (1) the notion of the “point of view” (the “observer”) is a theoretical model or metaphor related to the mimetic aspects of semiosis;

(2) the “participatory” character of mimesis distinguishes the work of art from purely speculative forms of knowledge and turns it into an act of individual “vision” of the world;

(3) Genette’s “voice” and “vision”(”perception”) are the two sides of the same process of sense-generation. First, the “narrator” (voice) and the “focalizer” (vision), or, to use Greimas’ terminology, the performative and cognitive aspect of the enunciation, are inseparable: there is no non-focalized narration or narration from “nowhere”. According to Greimas, perception is a non-linguistic site, where the apprehension of the signification takes place (Greimas 1995 (1986): 8): perception is the common root of different modes of sense-production (verbal, visual and others). Second, narrative agent’s “perception” may be recognized only by its “voice” or by narrator’s verbalization of its hypothetical or virtual "voice" (i.e. thoughts or speech). Otherwise there is no reason to speak of a separate “focalization”;

(4) the “point of view” is a unity of “voice” and “vision”;

(5) the basic typology of narrative instances will be based on the distinction between the observer and the actor.

The fictional text arises out of a twofold, linguistic and mimetic, movement. The work of fiction is both a written text and a fictional “world”. This double movement is depicted by W. Iser as the fictionalizing act, where “the real” is transfigured through the interplay with “the imaginary” shaped as a linguistic structure. The fictive both doubles and disrupts “the real” (Iser 1993). Modern theories of mimesis stress transformational and performative character of the mimetic act. Mimesis is rooted in the archaic strata of culture and implies bodily participation in a practical symbolic activity.

Therefore it eludes full theoretical grasp: “In this involvement of the body, in this reference to the I of the actor and to Others, lies the essential difference between mimesis and purely cognitive ways of knowing” (Gebauer, Wulf 1995, 315-316). As a practical activity, mimesis is always a re-making, re-creation, or a “violence”, as R. Girard puts it. A paradoxical unity of imitation and re-making is inherent in mimesis. In this wide interpretation, mimesis is far from a sheer reflection or copying of “reality”. It is understood as an anthropological component of literature, “a specifically human ability, which is characteristic of action in the world, of observations and representations of the world, whether the activity takes place in empirical life or in a fiction” (ibid, 22).

The field of literary theory reproduces the double status of the fictional text. The division is especially noticeable in narratology where scholars’ attention is focused either on linguistic and structural textual aspects or on the author’s, narrator’s and characters’ relationships, their speech and deeds in the fictional world. D. Bordwell defines the two major trends in narratology as mimetic and diegetic approach: “Henry James and Percy Lubbock proposed that the novel be analyzed as a theatrical or pictorial representation”; “Slavic theorists began to rethink fictional prose in linguistic terms”. The latter tradition persists in continental structuralism and semiotics (Foreword in: Branigan 1984, XI). M. Jahn argues that the Jamesian and the structuralist narratological approach are antithetical as “vision-centered poetics” and “textocentered” narratology (Jahn 1996, 262). However, the field of literary theory itself makes part of the broader field of (post)modernist culture and should be positioned within the latter.

According to J. Kristeva, T. Adorno and other theorists of modernity, the function of “negation”, “alterity”, or production of the otherness is a constitutive principle of art: “...the artwork necessarily constitutes itself in relation to what it is not” (Adorno 1997 (1970), 7-8). In modernist art this function begins to be overtly and self-consciously exploited. For Kristeva, it is associated with the “semiotic chora”, manifestation of the instinctual drives and pre-rational forces in the symbolic order of language, or with writing out of “abjection”, a hypothetical undifferentiated state that is “logically preliminary to being and object” (Kristeva 1982, 5; see also Kristeva 1980; Allen 2000, 50-56; Taussig 1993, 36-37). In “Aesthetic Theory” Adorno depicts the negative function of art as mimesis of the world of reified and commodified values, artwork’s immersion into reality with the purpose of eroding it from the inside and liberating things from the “compulsion to identity” (Adorno 1997 (1970): 4). The new art’s accent is “being something made, something produced”, which implies “the pleasure of substituting for the artworks the process of their own production” (ibid, 26) and thus imitation of the modern world of science and instrumental knowledge. However, the process of calculated construction and “baring of the device” is accompanied by the semantic effects of indeterminacy, vagueness or ambiguity. The fictional world of the modernist text is opaque and contains a challenge to “the omnipotence of reason” (Adorno 1997 (1970): 27), a critique of the routinized reality. The self-conscious form of the modernist text embodies the paradox of art, which negates its own origin and separates from its own sources. The direction of mimesis is reversed: aesthetic experience becomes involved in the empirical world whose elements are liberated from the compulsory identification and brought back into the sphere of art.

Thus, one basic tendency of the modernist culture is the re-framing of art and science relationships. As W. Benjamin puts it, new machines create a new sensorium of the modernist age. Modern technology and science is the Other, in relation to which the sphere of modernist art takes shape. The modernist turn leads to a new allocation of borders between art, science, technology, and everyday life. According to Mukaŕovsky, “any object and process, either natural or related to human activity, may become a bearer of the aesthetic function” (Mukaŕovsky 1984: 38). Scientific practices overlapping with art, e.g. optics, physiology, psychology, become involved in the sphere of art and endowed with aesthetic meanings.

Another important modernist tendency is the surfacing of ”the primordial”, “the immediate” (W. Benjamin), or the flux of primary drives and vital energies (J.Kristeva). The nature of modernist art is perceptual: it is deeply involved in what and how we see (Vitz and Glimcher 1984: 7). Philosophers and art theorists relate the modernist turn to the crisis of the Cartesian observer and the system of linear perspective the latter embodies. The break with classical models of vision occurs in different spheres of culture thanks to the invention of photography, cinema and experimentation in painting. As compared to the Cartesian rational, detached and disembodied subject, the modernist observer is actively involved in the interaction with the world and is seen as part of reality, through which reality manifests itself. Therefore its status is ambiguous. It is, paradoxically, both an autonomous individual center of perception and a mobile and heterogeneous perceptual field. Mobile strategies of observation are guided by a constant exchange of information between the observer and the observed. The whole “matrix of identity, predicated on the separation of the interiority of the observer from the exteriority of the object world” (McQuire 1998: 18) is called into question.

The observation is “unconscious” in the sense Derrida employs while speaking of “the fundamental unconsciousness of language (as rootedness within the language)” (Derrida 1997: 68). Likewise, the ordinary observer is immersed into the world, into the “sign medium” (Bakhtin-Voloshinov 1993: 17). He is “unconscious” of his own observation and involved in the process of signification as articulation of “différance”, i.e. inscription of the “outside” into the “inside” and vice versa. The notion of the “unconscious” is, of course, polysemantic. It might be understood either as a suppressed and inaccessible or as semiactive and accessible part of experience. If Freud is inclined to use spatial metaphors and defines the “unconscious” as a locus, e.g. an ancient city or a dark chamber, William James in his “Principles of Psychology” introduces the notion of the “fringes” of attention in contradistinction to its “focus” to underscore mobility of the perceptual field. Likewise, the Lacanian definition highlights both elusiveness and the constitutive function of the unconscious as a gap between perception and consciousness, as “the place of the Other, in which the subject is constituted” (Lacan 1994: 45). The observer is constantly constituted a-new since the border between the self and the Other is unsteady and mobile. Unlike Freud, a number of modern philosophers, psychologists and semioticians put forward a dynamic conception of the unconscious. In their interpretation, the unconscious is actively involved in the processes of memory and perception, which constitute the subjective experience. Thus, modernist “vision” is a complicated multi-modal process, which includes different aspects of subjectivity. Being heterogeneous, mobile, bound by individual bodily rhythms and temporalities, not completely explainable and controllable, prone to error and aberration, it creates an individual perceptual space.

J. Crary, however, argues that the modernist “visual revolution” is just a re-contextualization of the counter-elements of the dominant visual regimes (Crary 1992). From this point of view, modernism is not a revolution, but rather a deployment of the elements already present in culture:“<...> visual modernism took shape within an already reconfigured field of techniques and discourses about visuality and an observing subject” (Crary 2000: 6). 19th century empiricist psychology discloses the role of perception in the constitution of the self and works out the philosophical grounds for sensory perception. The progress of physiological optics in the 19th century demonstrates that the world is to a certain extent “created” by the observer. Such phenomena as colors or mirror reflections are devoid of an autonomous physical existence and make their appearance thanks to the observer’s interaction with the external world. Every act of perception changes the reality (Gibson 1940: 40). Therefore, to continue the thought, every observer is a creator of an imaginary world and thus an “artist” in its own right. The question is how separate fragmented observations are related to the continual knowledge of the world if such an integrated knowledge exists at all. The narratological problem of point of view in fiction makes part of a much broader problematics, which arises simultaneously in relativist physics, psychology, painting, cinema and literature of the modernist age: every description is related to a certain “self”, the observer whose observation shapes the observed. Such notions as Walter Pater’s “moment” or Joyce’s “epiphany” refer to a creative perceptual act, “a particular intensity of perception in which the vanishing away is temporarily stayed”, i.e. vision, which is akin to art (Ryan 1991: 28). The usage of creative and sense-generating aspects of perception is part of V. Nabokov’s artistic credo.

The notion of the observer is the focus where different trends of modernist thought meet. The notion functions as both a metaphor and a theoretical model. M. Black (Black 1962) has demonstrated that theoretical models are used in science as “heuristic fictions”. The language appropriate to a certain domain is exploited as a tool to think and speak of the other domain. Interpretation of facts and regularities of the other domain evolves “not by analogy, but through and by means of an underlying analogy” (Black 1962: 229). Thus, the fluid is used as the modeling notion for the investigation of the electric field and the solar system as a model for atom’s structure in physics. M. Black emphasizes that theoretical models are based on metaphorical identification of the two domains. I would add that the identification is incomplete: juxtaposed elements do not merge into a single mental image. Likewise, there remains an iconic “gap”, an opportunity for the twofold “seeing as” in metaphorical juxtaposition. Being used as a theoretical figure, a concept regains its metaphorical, sense-generating potential. As a result, some regularities of the field, which is less comprehensible or less accessible for observation, meet a fuller explanation. The theoretical model or figure allows making inferences about the structure or functioning of the unknown domain.

A number of modern philosophers and scientists, starting from Nietzsche, see the concept as a dead metaphor. Metaphor is an outcome of the translation from sensual experience into the verbal language and therefore a semiotic bridge between the realm of the “pre-cultural”, “immediate” and the sphere of culture. Even having stiffened into the concept, the word preserves a trace of the initial perception, an iconic potential, which revives and starts generating new meanings in certain contexts. Any metaphor, even a dead one, encloses a trace of a perceptual act, which could be activated through the further figurative interplays to shape further perceptions: “…the particular content of a metaphor can be said to constitute an interpretation of reality in terms of mental icons that literally allows us to see what is being talked about” (Danesi 1995: 266). The majority of Lakoff’s examples (Lakoff&Johnson 1981) are anthropocentric metaphors, where human primary experiences with physical objects are projected upon the domain of mental and spiritual processes. G. Lakoff has shown that spatial and visual metaphors belong to the core of human experience and are primarily connected with basic orientations in physical space. In certain periods spatio-visual metaphors are especially active as filters of cultural perceptions. Thus, they fulfil a modeling function in scientific and artistic discourses and shape a new cognitive experience of the modernist age. Visual concepts are used for the elucidating and partial structuring of other domains.

Modernist art is highly self-reflexive and theoretical. Properties of the fictional space, the very situation of writing, relations between the author, narrator and character are explored by means of spatio-visual models common for modernist fiction and theory (observer, perspective, mirror, window, lens, etc.). These theoretical figures function as both thematic and structural principles of the modernist work. The history of these concepts unveils, first, tropological connotations present in semiotic and narratological terminology and, second, rootedness of theory within the practice of art. Metaphor links the “ocularcentric” (“mimetic”) and “logocentric” (“diegetic”) poles of narratology thanks to its structure of double reference: it is both a “concept” and a juxtaposed mental “image”. The two trends have never been fully detached due, first, to insufficiency of only spatio-visual or only lingustic analysis of the work of fiction and, second, to the tropological (iconic) constituent of literary-theoretical terminology.

Theory of the observer. Physical (Einstein) and linguistic (Whorf) relativity calls existence of a unique external reality into question and shows that observations of different observers within different frames of reference result in mutually exclusive and irreconcilable, but equally valid pictures of the universe (Weltanschauungen). The Esinsteinian observer is just a symbol that stands for a certain type of space-time. However, Einstein himself has often jokingly substituted the terminological meaning for the mimetic one, as, for example, in the following melancholic remark on the experimental observers in the elevator: “Sooner or later the whole lift will collide with the earth destroying the observers and their experiments!” (Einstein, Infeld 1938: 227-228).

Bakhtin’s work belongs to the phenomenological-semiological tradition that focuses on the problem of accessibility of subjective worlds and observation as communication. Both Husserl’s phenomenological “Ego” and Uexküll’s “Umwelt” denote the world of lived experience, which is opaque for the outside observer and serves as a mediator for any perception and knowledge. Communication becomes possible thanks to the common sign medium where observers interact. The “Umwelt” is both a closed autonomous system and a fragment of the “outside” reality. The sign “no longer signifies an object to a subject, but it signifies the reaction of a subject to an object” (Uexküll 1984: 192). The participant observation means the observer must reconstruct the meaning a situation has for another observer while observing the other’s behavior and placing himself into the other’s position (Husserl’s “appresentation”). Bakhtin has recourse to the Husserlian notions of “intersubjectivity” and “appresentation” while speaking of the author and the character relationships (Bakhtin 1979: 7–180). He, however, translates the philosophical discourse into figurative one and thus strengthens a mimetic aspect of his argument. To explain the phenomenological relation between the self and the Other, Bakhtin exploits a number of visual figures. Totality of my own body is outside of my field of vision. I am on the border between the visible world of objects and the world of my inner experience. To translate myself from the language of inner experience into the language of external expression I need a transparent screen of the other person’s reactions (Bakhtin 1979: 26–29). The other’s role is that of the author: thanks to his “surplus” of vision in respect to myself I am placed into the world as a character among the other characters (Bakhtin 1979: 30). Likewise, thanks to my “surplus” of vision, I am in the author’s position in respect to others. The other is given to me as an opaque body: it is my own inner experience, which turns him into a meaningful entity. The self is always incomplete: the other is part of my experience (Bakhtin 1979: 22–24).

The problematics of the “subjective worlds” may be traced in modernist literature as the latter takes the “perspectival” turn and focuses on the representation of other’s consciousness and perceptual world. Protagonist’s illness in V. Nabokov’s short story “Signs and Symbols” might be understood in the light of the “Umwelten” theory as a case of expansion of the “subjective-self-world” up to the limits of the physical world. The young man is given a diagnosis of “referential mania” since everything that happens in the physical world seems to him “a veiled reference to his personality and existence”: “Everything is a cipher and of everything he is the theme” (Nabokov 1995: 599). He feels himself absolutely transparent as if his inner movements would be observed and repeated in the external world. In the beginning of Proust’s “Du côté de chez Swann” the narrator depicts the process of adaptation the body undergoes to accommodate the borders of the perceptual self to the room until the objects (clocks, mirrors, door-handles, etc.) become invisible since the space of the inhabitation coincides with inhabitant’s inner space. Bakhtin-Voloshinov labelled modernism the “relativist individualism”, according to the forms of speech interference or the incorporation of the “alien word” into the author’s speech (Bakhtin-Voloshinov 1993: 31). As modernist painting explores means of representation of illusory depth of pictorial space, likewise modernist literature focuses on exploration of the illusory depth of the represented consciousness. Individual worlds of consciousness are opaque, inaccessible for the outside observer: the omniscient narrator’s direct intervention is rejected as an artificial device. Modernist literature plays up an insistent, almost paranoiac desire to know “what is inside”. It either hands the narration over to the suspicious narrator who attempts to imagine and prognosticate other people’s opinions and reactions or introduces multiple perspectives without a complete synthesis of auctorial omniscience. As if summarizing the modernist quest for the object of knowledge, M. Merleau-Ponty writes about a hypothetical “absolute object” which “will have to consist of an infinite number of different perspectives compressed into a strict co-existence, and to be presented as it were to a host of eyes all engaged in one concerted act of seeing” (Merleau-Ponty 1981(1945): 70). Further developments of the nouveau roman are based, on the contrary, upon the viewpoint sliding along the surface and the world’s optical resistance to the observer.

Problems of fictional form and point of view are closely scrutinized in the modernist literary theory. Forms of the “alien” word and indirect speech in fiction or, otherwise, of the representation of other consciousness are the touchstones, where interests of major theorists meet and clash. The Formalist theory is based upon the linguistic criteria: the artistic speech is seen as a function of the ordinary language, a “creative deformation” of the latter. A new work of art is first and foremost a new form (Shklovsky 1929: 31). However, to motivate the “content” the Formalists resort to the mimetic criterion: the “content” is defined through the generic choice (ustanovka) and through the transposition of non-literary generic features (e.g. those of rhetoric or documentary genres, the anecdote, diary, letter, oral speech, etc.) into the literary system. Thus, in his article “How Gogol’s Overcoat is made”, B. Eikhenbaum analyses Gogol’s skaz as a system of “mimetic-articulational gestures”, i.e. as a transfer of oral speech forms into the written text (Eikhenbaum 1986: 46). Bakhtin approaches the “alien speech” as a site of intersubjectivity and dialogism. On his opinion, the word is originally dialogical or “double-voiced” as a reaction, a response to the other’s word or reflection of it: the language lives within the dialogue (Bakhtin 1994: 396–399). V. Vinogradov occupies a middle position between the formal-linguistic and phenomenological approach. Being himself a linguist, he defends poetics from the formalist linguistic totalitarianism and criticizes Eikhenbaum’s formal analysis of Gogol’s skaz. A formalist-structuralist tinge of Vinogradov’s work is counterweighted by the priciples of continuity, dynamics and interference of levels of the multidimensional textual whole. For Vinogradov, the “alien speech” is a constructive element of the “natural” textual architectonics, i.e. its composition. While highly appraising Bakhtin’s analysis of the “alien speech” in fiction, Vinogradov criticized his notions of “polyphony” and “dialogism” as applied to the relations between the author, narrator and character (“plurality of equal consciousnesses with their own worlds” — Bakhtin 1994: 14). In Vinogradov’s opinion, neither the character nor the narrator is ever equal to the author or able to enter the full-fledged “dialogue” with the latter: the forms of the “alien speech” are manifestations of auctorial “masks”, “agents” or “actors”, which all belong to the author’s consciousness. The narrator is only a metaphor, a manifestation of the relationship between the auctorial image and the fictional world (see A. Chudakov’s commentary in: Vinogradov 1980: 302–303, 327). “…the author’s artistic world is presented not as objectively reproduced in the verbal medium (”v slove”), but as peculiarly mirrored in the plane of narrator’s subjective perception or even transfigured within a series of strange mirror reflections” (Vinogradov 1980: 42). Therefore the narrator as well as the character of skaz-forms is a unique blending of subjectivity and objectivity. Both are only to a certain degree differentiated or personified, serving at the same time as “shadows” or manifestations of the higher-order subjectivity (Vinogradov 1980: 328).

The Anglo-American narratological tradition descending from H. James exploits visual metaphors (observer, focus, reflector) to describe indirect presentation through the character’s consciousness. In the early Anglo-American narratological tradition, the center of gravity shifts to the accessibility of fictional knowledge. Thus, on the one side, narratology concentrates on the cognitive and linguistic aspects of the author/ narrator/ character relationships. On the other side, a strong realist bias sometimes leads to naturalization of the narrative instances in accordance to the naïve empathic reading. The narrative text has a double status of a written text and a fictional world. Thus, literary scholars sometimes make efforts to reconstruct missing information or to find the source of narrator’s knowledge on commonsense grounds, i.e. to take the author’s responsibilities and to expand or supplement the text. Visual connotations of narratological metaphors lead to the equating of the “point of view” or “focus” with physical vision. H. James’ prefaces, for example his famous description of the “house of fiction”, are rich in visual semantics and may provoke anthropomorphization of the narrative agents. The description of the "house of fiction" is, of course, a complex metaphor. M. Jahn demonstrates that H. James’ “window” is above all “the viewer’s “consciousness” and its construction of reality” (Jahn 1996: 252).

To avoid visual and hence anthropomorphic connotations structuralist narratology worked out several formal typologies of narrative instances. Chatman emphasizes that the narrator is not really contemplating the scene he is reporting: the narrator is “a reporter, not an “observer” of the story world in the sense of literally witnessing it” (Chatman 1990: 142). Genette brings the point of view and the narrative instance apart as two independent categories of mood (distance, focalization, perspective) and voice (the narrating instance, the narrative level and time of narration). The linguistic term “mood” is employed to define a “degree of affirmation” corresponding to each narrative instance as compared with the indicative mood of the “full” story. The term denotes an amount of information available to the narrator or the character through the acts of perception. Genette retains visual and spatial metaphors despite his wish to stick to a stricter linguistic terminology and links focalization to visual perception. The smaller the distance, the broader the perspective, the more information available: “as the view I have of a picture depends for precision on the distance separating me from it, and for breadth on my position with respect to whatever partial observation is more or less blocking it” (Genette 1980: 162). Thus, while using the term “focalization” “to avoid visual connotations”, Genette loosely employs visual and spatial connotations to explain the term. He also does not make a clear distinction between the “point of view” (the observer), “field of vision” (the observed) and “focus”. If internal focalization is equal to the description of what the character sees (Genette 1980: 192), a difference between the internal and external focalization is erased (on these and other inconsistencies see: Bal 1991: 83–86; Phelan 2001: 54). Further Genette digresses from his intention to equate focalization with the observed and defines it either as an act of physical perception or as emotional attitude. If focalization is limited to the fact of physical perception (first and foremost visual perception, but also auditory, tactile, etc.), its value is purely thematic. Genette’s ultimate aim is to separate the “information” from the “interpretation” (Genette 1980: 197). Yet perception is already cognition and thus shaped by observer’s subjectivity. If focalization embraces cognition, the distinction between the point of view and focalization is blurred: there is no need to duplicate the term. What matters is a difference between different points of view as centers of subjectivity organizing fictional space, not a difference between the narration and focalization. In that case there is no non-focalized narrative, i.e. a narrative not tied by the point of view or alternation of point of view. The alternation is itself the constitutive basis of the compositional architectonics of the fictional text, which is not identical to Genette’s hierarchy of narrative levels. A description of the forms of relationship between the different points of view, or otherwise “structures of composition” (Uspensky) or “narrative patterns”, are more important than the problem of holding focalization and narration apart. Genette’s system “does not take account of all the modes of the observer’s presence <…>, nor does it explain the constituting of partial cognitive spaces, characterized by the presence <…> of two cognitive subjects in communication with each other” (Greimas, Courtés 1982: 121).

Uspensky’s work “Poetics of Composition” (1970) draws an analogy between the literary and pictorial forms. An attempt is made to connect the “mimetic” and the “diegetic” approaches. Uspensky was probably first to describe the function of the deictic or expressed centre of subjectivity (Banfield’s “empty centre”). Uspensky shows how a single word is sufficient to turn the external point of view into the internal one or vice versa (“heterodiegetic” vs. “homodiegetic” in Genette’s terminology). According to F. K. Stanzel, it is the omniscient narrator, who is provisionally localized or “figuralized” in the fictional space. As M. Fludernik argues, it is the reader who “takes an internal position on events (as if through a witness)” (Fludernik 1998: 390–391). Uspensky is not quite consistent in his classification of such centres of subjectivity: he either characterizes them as positions provisionally assumed by the author/ narrator or calls them “operators” (Uspensky 1970: 115). J. Fontanille (1989) overtly refers to Uspensky in his work, where the semiotic theory and narratological developments are combined to bring the “point of view” back to its cognitive function. He critisizes Genette’s “focalization” as a pure technical device. Fontanille proceeds from Greimas’ distinction between the cognitive, pragmatic and thymic agents delegated by the enunciator to control operations of the enunciatee (the reader, the hearer). The enunciation is then both a space of realization of the semionarrative or “mise-en-discourse” structures and an intersubjective space of communication between the enunciator and the enunciatee (Fontanille 1989: 6). The observer as the enunciator’s agent is, according to Greimas, a cognitive subject “to exercise the receptive and <…> interpretative doing” (Greimas& Courtés 1982: 217). Fontanille introduces the notion of the subjective space of observation, which is oriented and stratified in respect to the observer: the observer is thus a pure actant, a “conceptual focus” or a “center of orientation”, not necessarily corresponding to a person (Fontanille 1989: 7). While avoiding anthropomorphic connotations, Fontanille retains the cognitive aspect of vision. He suggests the following semiotic typology of the observers in visual and verbal arts, where the first term denotes the pure cognitive actant and the second the same actant in the pragmatic dimension, i.e. an actant responsible for the material realization of the enunciation or a performer: (1) focalizer/ narrator: a (non-localized and non-personified) cognitive filter; (2) spectator/ relator: endowed by minimal spatiotemporal localization, a deictic centre or a centre of subjectivity; I would define it as virtual perception; (3) assistant/ witness (e.g., the ancient chorus): a personified non-participant; (4) assistant-participant/ witness-participant (e.g., a detective in crime fiction): the thematized observer; (5) assistant-protagonist/ witness-protagonist. Fontanille’s typology of observers restores connections between the narration and point of view and separates them along the new lines. Semiology takes the visual metaphor of the observer (the point of view) at its face value to employ it as a theoretical model and to explore the parallels between observation and conceptualization. The same process is happening in cognitive linguistics that works with the figure/ground, scope/focus and other spatio-visual modeling metaphors. R. Langacker draws a parallel between perception and conception and equates the “observer” with a speaker, “whose “observational” experience resides in apprehending the meaning of linguistic expression” (Langacker 2000: 204). He underscores that certain aspects of visual perception constitute conceptual capacity. Thus, the “narrator-focalizer” unifies mimetic (observation of the world) and diegetic (verbalization) aspects of text-generation process.

As the theory of the cone of vision in visual studies seems obsolete nowadays, likewise, the notion of the point of view in its “pointual” sense, as either an inner, mental attitude or external, physical position, needs a revision. As J. Fontanille argues, more attention should be paid to the space of interaction between the observer and the observed, or the “visée” (Fontanille 1999), and to the modalization of their relations.

As it seems, the space in question is not a physical or a mental one, but the semiotic space par excellence. The observer and the observed, the subject and object may be considered as a virtual mobile unity (J. Kristeva’s “abjection”, Merleau-Ponty’s “chiastic” structure, which precedes the subject-object separation). In “The Visible and the Invisible” Merleau-Ponty regards the chiastic reversibility of the perceiving/ perceived, touching/ being touched as a manifestation of the primordial synthesis between consciousness and the world, in which the subject and object distinction originates (Vasseleu 1998: 26). It is not only the observer that shapes the observed, but also the observed that shapes and changes the observer, triggers off his reactions and controls strategies of behavior. Positions of the observer and the observed are interchangeable. Their unity as a provisional set of relations is a manifestation of the observer’s presence.

1. Microanalysis of the forms of presence may include the following factors:

- distribution of agens/ patiens (subject/ object) or actor/ observer positions. For example: He is coming to London next week <the “outside” observer>- He is going to London next week <the “inside” observer>; He knocked at the door <the “outside” observer>- Somebody knocked at the door <the “inside” observer>; The gun was pointing at me <decausative construction: the observer as the object of action of inanimate object/ impersonal force> - He pointed his gun at me <the observer as the object of human goal-oriented action>, etc. The “inside” and “outside” position of the observer is defined in respect to the actor’s spatial localization;

- analysis of action: e.g. presentation of objects as entering the observer’s visual field from the outside or a neutral presentation that may be based either on the inside or on the outside observation: Onto the table jumped a cat. – The cat jumped onto the table (the example is taken from: Boldyrev 2000: 212-216);

- modal and evaluative components indicating the presence of the observer or the “experiencer”: He seemed sleeping; He scarcely thinks of anything else. <the “inside” observer>.

It is obvious from the aforementioned examples that the observer (experiencer) and the actor functions are the two basic factors of the modalisation of the narrative space. They shape the narrative space and determine textual architectonics. The typology of the narrative instances based on the distinction between the observer and the actor will include the four possible combinations:

+actor&-observer, +actor&+observer, -actor&+observer, -actor&-observer

2. Macroanalysis of the forms of presence would include a description of the thematic and narrative configurations together with analysis of the observer and the observed positions. From this point of view, Robbe-Grillet’s “Jalousie”, H. James’ “The Turn of the Screw”, A. Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”, Nabokov’s “The Eye”, to mention just a few texts, belong to the quintessence of the “visual modernism”. Not only is the observer thematized in these texts, but the interplay of his gaze and the observed forms basic textual configurations. In Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” a reporter-photographer (starred by James Stewart) is unwillingly placed in the witness’ position: he is practically immobile due to his broken leg. His role of the witness or the “eye” in the film plot is a natural thematization of his professional functions. The hero is forced to increase intensity and duration of observation to compensate for his immobility. He also uses women, whose curiosity he warms up, and optical devices as prostheses to interact with the observable. In “The Turn of the Screw” by H. James the children’s visual world is unavailable for the narrator: being excluded from interaction, she is suffering from inability to interact with the visible. On the contrary, in “Aspern Papers” blind ‘s supernatural ability to “see” or to act as a participant leads to the unexpected denouement of the story.

3. Finally, such semiotic models as observer, mirror, camera obscura, lens, etc. function as metafictional tropes: they manifest and thematize the author’s/ narrator’s/ character’s relations (see Grishakova 2003).


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