Anxiousness of defining
The literary kind whose ellipsis/shortness raises on the level of essential generic and ontological value can not but cause a certain anxiety of defining. The short story is exactly such a literary kind in whose defining we are carried away by indescribable anxiety. At the very moment we thought we have found the model of conceptualization of the short story and we have formalized its storyness/narativité, here it is how it slips with its whole many-a-century baggage, leaving us on hold, betrayed! This fluid literary kind, this wonder of a discourse, this threefold perfection of Don Juan’s Eros, Thomas scepsis and Judas’s thrust-unworthiness / hypocrisy! An ecstatic carve in the chaos, a moment of revelation, a lecture forte, protean adaptable in space and time, from one medium to another, on the beach, in the metro, for falling asleep, lecture for fascinating, for memorizing, for narrating and in-sceneing…
The question how much the short story is “a short literary prose fiction”? (Allan H. Pasco, 1994,118) is a usual question that brings about very unusual answers.
The openness of the genre does not terrify so much as the inertia of the theoretical generalizations, cataloguing and definitions! This (“over-stable” inertia of the genre) warns that once cognized non-definitiveness of the story’s form shouldn’t be ignored. In response expects reactive resistance from the concrete historical and “personalized” (M. Bakhtin) contexts, which condition the epistemological inconclusiveness, not to say prospectivelessness and futility. Firstly, are those contexts in which some short stories appear as literary artifacts, and secondly, the metaliterary contexts where various theoretical-logical conceptions for the short story are placed. The short story and its conceptual projection can be either in accord or can irritate each other. Viewed in perspective of an operational historical section-plane these relations between the short stories and the theory of the short stories respect the principal of intrinsic coherence. But viewed from systematic and methodological aspect, the theory of the short story is faced with numerous antinomies and aporias.
The beginnings of the modern age tradition of the short story are situated in the epoch of the Renaissance, when in the literary praxis a few, until today unavoidable collections of novellas, sealed the difference between the oral folk tale (conte, cuento, tale, folktale, Erzahlung, skazka) and the auctorial novella (novella, nouvelle, novela, Novelle, recit, short story, rasskaz). The most important among them are Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio – 1348, Exemplary novellas by Miguel de Cervantes – 1613… In the span of two centuries has been formed the identity of the new, innovative, and at that time modern narrative kind, the renaissance novella (and implicitly of the exclusively miniature pre– renaissance form Novellinos) vis-a-vis the identity of the folkloric literary kind – the tale and vis-a-vis the so called folk novellas, such as for example the Arabic novellas from the IX/X century collection One thousand and one night or the stories by Shekerezada (where there are hypogrammic layers from the Indo-Persian, Malesian, Egyptian and Hellenic tradition). Not that the older epochs don’t have their own (short) narrative forms, but because until the Renaissance these novelistic avatars (a) either have been inserted in the system of the oral literature, (b) or have existed as a underestimated and lower genre, genealogical undifferentiated and structurally subordinated to the big and eminent epic and dramatic genres. The Renaissance is a new beginning, an initiation into a more developed and self-conscious stage in the existence of the novellas (then, the plural was in use more often than the singular, considering the actual integration of the separate novellas in collections with common frames and narrator, besides the decameronic illusion for multiplication of the narrating voices!)
The identity of one literary kind is established in correlation with another literary kind. There is no self-identity without the identity of the other; there is no identity without alterity. The identity of the genre is a process and re-creation, and not an eternal, predestinated and autarchic arche-structure. Not always visible, but acting tension sets up the relations between the literary genres. Some times it comes to their hybridization and mutation, another time to their counterpoint. The genres are subject to ceaseless conflictive process of coding and re-coding, of actualizing and parodying. The genre is an inter-genre. Hybrid. The novella is an inter-novella.
From there we could recognize the identity of the renaissance novella, which has its own empirical registry of conventions and dominants, opposite the folk tale which also relays on stereotypic genre construct, especially when it is a matter of the fairy tale kind of stories, as was pointed out by Vladimir Propp in Morphology of the skaska (1928) for an example. We could talk about the specific characteristics and functions of the novella also when it is a matter of humorous, erotic and devilish kind of stories (an exclusively representative kind of Macedonian oral tradition)!
We could do the same when it comes to the correlation between the novella and the simple prose forms, such as are the myth, parable, allegory, Zen story, anecdote, joke and the puzzle. Sensible are the comparisons of the renaissance novella with the inserted stories in the Golden donkey by Apuleius or in Satiricon by Petronius, even with the novellas moved in History by Herodotus (those about Solon, Croesus, Atis death, about the origin of the Macedonian house). Understandable are also the inter-discursive comparisons between the novella of the modern epoch and the novelistic elements in the epic poems Iliad and Odyssey.
Justified are also the comparisons on the relation romance – novella, if it is known that until 1774 the term novel in the English speaking world has denoted a narrating form which is shorter and more realistic than the romance; in other words only in the XIX century the term novel came close to the term romance and began to designate a roman in the modern meaning of the word (Ian Read, 1981; Terry Eagleton, 1987/1083). In that sense indispensable are the confrontations between the novella-short story and the novella-short roman (called novellette/novellas), having in mind literary texts such as The death of Ivan Ilic by Tolstoy, Notes from the underground by Dostoevsky, The heart of the darkness, by Conrad, The spinning of the screw by James, Death in Venice by Mann, The stranger by Cammus, While I was dying by Fockner, Tunnel by Sabatto etc. It could also be spoken more competently about the American short story from the XIX century, about French, German or Russian modernistic short story, about Latino-American or Macedonian contemporary short story…
But how is it to be talked about the novella ahistorically, without any and outside any concrete cultural, subgenreic, formative or stylistic context? How is it to be defined supragenreic and archegenreic extract of the novella? Is there an ideal model of the novella? That is a question to which, according to everything, only a conditional answer could be given. Even if there is a novelistic proto– essence then it is manifesting in various appearing forms, thence its anamnesis is truly delicate.
It is far from easy to isolate, even operationally, the generic transhistoric model of the novella. It is truly a devil cycle (circulus vitiosis) to externalize the essential constants of the novella. Even if they exist then they are in conflicting correspondence with the historical manifestations of the novella (kinds, forms, and texts). The constants are theoretic-logical derivatives and idealized axiomatic categories, which relate indifferently and restrictively towards the historical artifacts of the novelistic tradition.
The novella is dialogically situated to the others literary and unliterary discoursive practices and their conventions. It follows a specific interdiscoursive logi(sti)c of the poetic strategies. That is the logic of the critical, innovative and dispersive correlation with the total, available genre syntax and pragmatics of the literature, inseparable from the wider complex of the renaissance culture in the western-European countries. The novella is profiled against several prose (literary-historic) sub-genres with which it has active affiliating and intertextual relations of inheritance, modification, exchange, borrowing and reminiscence.
In the period of the Renaissance the novella set up a network of intergenreic correlations: (a) – with the medieval epic romans in verse and stories in verse (fabliaux), whose actualization are the novelistic renaissance kind of versified prose (Canterbury Stories by Geoffrey Chaucer – 1387, Heptameron by Margueritte de Navarre/d’Angoulкme-Countes ou Nouvelles da la reine de Navarre, 1559); (b) – with the modern century roman and essay, two literary genres with specific ancient and medieval history, which experiences “Copernican twist” in the epoch of the Renaissance – through the opus of F. Rabelais and M. Cervantes, of Michael de Montagne, and Francis Bacon; (c) – with the adaptable literary and by-literary kinds such as the anecdote, the joke, the biography, the memoirs and the diary; (d) – with the myth, the legend, the oral report; (e) – with the biblical kinds, and especially with the liturgy (Indries Shah, who speaks about Sufistic didactic story).
Therefore, radically observed, even the preferential correlation between the novella and the short story is not simple and unique, neither on a developing and historic level, nor on a systemic and theoretic. The Renaissance novella, for example, is not positioned one-sidedly and causally only towards the folk story/novella. On the contrary, if we agree with the thesis that the Renaissance novella is a chronological and typological substitution of the medieval, the oral model of a story, it is possible with a great probability to conclude that the Renaissance novella fixates a deep interruption in the narrative literary tradition.
The defining of the novella, consequently, is derived not only in correlation with the folk story and novella, but also from the aspect of the similarities and differences between it and the roman, in the epochs before and after the Renaissance.
It goes for: (1) the novella of the eighteen century, when new pre-romantic and romantic narrative conventions were established; (2) the novella of the nineteen century, when it was modernized and experienced expansion/exaltation, perfection and stabilization in the literary and cultural system and (3) the novella of the twenty century, when global differentiation and revision of the enthroned novelistic discourse happened.
The literary practice demonstrates that with small interventions the novella can change its primary functions and be re-coded in roman and vice verse, the roman can be deciphered as a novella, in a way that it is created a graded string of genreic adaptations and assimilations between the novella and the roman: from The Peasant doctor by Kafka, In a Grove by Akutagawa or The rose of Paracelsus by Borges, through Coat by Gogol, Death by Joyce, Patriotism by Mishima and Metamorphosis by Kafka, The lady with the dog by Chekhov, The perfection of the love by Musil, to Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, The Great Getsby by Fitzgerald, The pornography by Gombrowich and other novellas-romans. The novella can also be viewed as a constructive factor of the roman, as an elementary Romanesque structure and as a short, small and simplified roman, and the roman can be observed as a narrative super-genre (a syncretic Romanesque structure, roman in many volumes and sagas, a roman – river), as a superstructure of the novella, as multiplied complex/texture of novellas, as a story in story, as a long saga. The history of the literature shows that the novella and the roman can coexist in different configurations, in parallel, without being intimate, but without being annulled by each other, that they can cohabit stimulatingly, motivating certain developing and productive processes.