The dislocation of the novella towards the medieval and modern literary kinds is viewed as category, which defies the petrifaction and dogmatization. An indicative dose of skepticism and confusion in the defining is introduced and in ultima linea the very act of defining is scrutinized: should or shouldn’t be defined/determined the literary genre and consequently what is the way for preserving the orientation in a condition of nonexistence of prescriptive or symbolic orienteers? We could give a rhetoric answer in interrogative mode: Are we not living in an epoch that requires from us to get used to the view of the world based upon the premises of the relativity, synchronicity and the “high dose of probability” (Thomas S. Kuhn, 1962) and to settle with the absence of the universal rules?
Can the novella be an exemption? And why the novella would be the result of causative conditioning and methods? Doesn’t the idea for fluidity of the generic phenomena and the historicity of all rules seem relaxing? Or maybe the alterity is an excuse for avoiding the responsibility and the risk of the ambitious cognitive yearns in the studying of literature, without which it can’t be an attempt for defining, without which the poetics deprives itself of the differential minimum of conceptuality and categorialness, and consequently it brings itself under question?
A passion for defining, or: An apology to the poetics
(a). enthroning of the renaissance model
In the epoch of the renaissance when the process of the embryonic decentralization of the universal ideologemas in the society and in the culture started, by gradually taking the power from the medieval aristocratic and theocratic centers of power, a space was created for re-integration of the peripheral discourses in the “reigning” literary system. In such a constellation the novella’s status begins to be conceived in a transition, from a latent discursive specificity into an evident and potent datum.
If it is understood as a historically finalized and formally closed kind, with familiar representatives and works created in familiar lingual and cultural constellations, the renaissance novella permits a relatively precise identification. The investigations accentuate the following distinctions and principals upon which the structure of the novella is based and its definition is derived:
The novella appears schematized in frames and in cyclical narrative semiosis, as a contained part of an integrative whole, which has, on one hand Romanesque pretensions, on the other hand it tends to disintegrate in hundreds of independent parts.
The renaissance novella is a short or elliptic and fictional form in prose, concentrated on a mimesis of the new, ephemeral, profane actions of the marginalized individuals.
The renaissance novella has a topic of realistic actions, but shown in extreme and inverted variants. They are carnivalized, self-critical, satirical and lascivious. They open an ethical and poetical horizon, attractive for the common lectorate, saturated with medieval ethical dogmas.
The renaissance novella has its central motive, central character and pointed interest in the end of the story, which is canonized in a formalized cult of the end.
In the renaissance novella there is not an epilogue without previous, introductive semantic turn/shock or crisis, without a so-called “ring construction of the plot” (V. Shklovsky). It is symbolically legitimized in the so-called “theory of the falcon”, inspired by the well known and paradigmatic the Nine novel from the fifth day in Decameron by Bocaccio. The unexpected and “unusual, immediate twist “(Ludwig Tieck) in the novel is called also “a clear silhouette”.
The renaissance novella is construed manneristicly, with antithetic, paradoxical, epigrammatic and grotesque turns: the semantic turn dominates upon the syntactic system of the narrative text.
The renaissance novella has an entertaining, ludicrous character in the shadow of which are situated the didactic and social function.
The renaissance novella hopes for oral transmission, but above all for massive and collective reception (even under illusion of a domestic, familiar theater). There for it relays upon the instance of the auditorium. Opposite to the novel, the roman refutes the epic neo-theatrical forms of interpretation in collectivity. The roman knows in advance that it will be read in a chamber, for a purpose of solipsistic reception, and not for oral re-narrating. After the new arts and mediums of the XX century came into being, the roman has opened itself for intermedial adaptations and re-coding (a screenplay for TV and cinema, theatricalism).
From the intratextual aspects of the novella the narrator and the focalizing modus can be separated. The narrator is auctorial, omnipresent and ideal. He multiplies borrowing fictively the voice of the characters, without permitting larger liberty in their intervening for creating the artistic picture of a world. The focalization is an external, by which the distance between the narrator and the character is substantiated.
These are the few phenomenological premises of the “starting model” (Lotman) and renaissance prototype of the novella. The notion of that model is actual even today, because it creates the trace of the novella, which exists from XI to XX century as a comparative reference in a new century transformations and re-definitions of the novella/short story.
(b) The dethroning of the renaissance model
But, understood in a context and in a process, the novella in its ongoing evolution transforms itself in a way that some of its initial dominants do not coincide with the newly installed micro genreic and micro-stylistic literary conventions. The dominant renaissance model of the novella is dethroned from inside, with its internal self-differentiation on a level of the syntax, pragmatics, topics, mimetics, stylistics and poetics of the narrative morphology. The novella is faced with new options. It manifests openly non-loyalty to its own canon.
At the very beginning of the XIX century, something essential changed in the structure of the novella. There aren’t any more framed novels-episodes from longer series of short stories, but simply – a short story (Kurzgeschichte). Some critics estimates the short story as inferior to the renaissance novel, that is a motive for attributing the short story as a “illegitimate child of the novel” (Johanes Klein). The short story of the XIX century is being established as an important and commercialized literary kind, suitable for the new public mediums (the daily and weekly paper, the radio-diffusion network). Beside that, in the short story the interest for the fantastic, miraculous and unreal is deepened which exists synchronically with the already legitimate realistic-anecdotal kind, a novella of the joke inherited from the previous three centuries. The mimesis in the short story faces up the serious crisis. The short stories have appeared which got over with the model of the semantic and chronological inversion, the model of the “electrical shock” subject to mannerisation (O’Henry, Mark Twain). There are no oxymoronly and antithetically built stories-grotesques, but elegant descriptions and meditations. Such are the stories of atmosphere and condition, of arabesque and Stimmung (A.P. Chekhov).
The nineteen and twenty-century try to overcome the dogmatized hierarchy of small and big literary kinds, those worthy of being in a book and those that are not.
But the short story, nevertheless, is slowly getting out of the unbearable shadow of the roman, which has a status of a dominant literary kind. Even in a crisis, the roman (as if) has a bigger literary value. To this understanding we are lead by the fact that even when the golden era of the roman coincides with the big epoch of the short story, the roman is the genre that attracts the official attention of the competent reader, the critic.
The labyrinth of the definitions, an intriguing unreducibleness of the definitions
(a) Meta-theoretic summary
Until the beginning of the twentieth century the short story is on the edge of the leading theoretic conceptions and interpretations, excluding several essays by writers and critics: Poe, Goethe, Schlegel, Spilhagen, Brander Matthews -1884, Henry James. After then follow the poetical statements by James Joyce (the short story as an “epiphany”), e.g. the essays by V. Shklovsky and B. Eichenbaum, which are rare projects of the Russian formalists, dedicated to the theory of the novella/short story, and derived from the analysis of the novellas by O’Henry and Gogol. The essay by E.A.Poe formulates the postulate for the totality or for the “unity of the impression” that the story leaves on the reader, by the culmination as a center of the controlled fable. Goethe defines the short story as a story for “an unusual event” which appears uncommon, but not fantastic. According to Schlegel the short story is an anecdote, unknown yet story which is interesting only by itself… which gives a reason for irony at its very production”.
Victor Shklovski defines the structure of the short story from the aspect of its contradiction, its ability to produce (a) short stories that convey unusual story/action and (b) short stories that in the usual actions they convey discover a new, unusual meaning. He, critically scrutinizing the conceptions of Goethe, Schlegel and Spilhagen, observes the short story/novella in continuity, from Apuleos, through Bocaccio to Chehov, upon the principal of creating a short story from short story, literature from literature, as if he were a predecessor-follower of the contemporary theory on intertextuality.
Boris Eichenbaum contrasts the two complimentary genres, the roman as a syncretic form and the novella as an elementary form, by which he presents these two literary kinds as hostile. He puts an emphasis on the “principal for unity of the construction with centralized basic effect and strong final accent” which has marked the American novel since the end of the 19 century, has profaned it and drew it near the anecdote, parody and humoresque, in contrast to the serious and “high” novel by Irving, Poe, Hawthorn, James.