Until the seventies of the XX century the theoretical interest for the short story has been insignificant and secondary. But such a situation has sharply changed in the last two decades, when the short story has become one of the focal areas to the postmodernist and post-structuralist theoretic observations and critical evaluations and interpretations. According to some investigations, for example between 1976 and 1994, almost twenty years since the publishing of the first anthological reader by Charles May, with introductory essay titled “The short story: an underestimated art” and the second one (The new short story Theories), the short story has experienced a complete Renaissance. Short stories are written, published, interpreted more and more, they are highly estimated, the hermeneutic and epistemological interest for the short story has been increased. A prejudice drawn through centuries has been finally transcended, an injustice has been rejected: the short story can return from exile home.
(b) Pluralisation of the conventions
At the very moment when the novella brings into question the inherited literary canon it manifests vitality of its genre. Exactly when it is dropped on the periphery of the literary universe, the novella rehabilitates and actualizes itself again. The contemporary novelistic practice shows that the novella is able to survive through constant immanent self-searching and redefining of the status of the genre. The novella rejects the inherited conventions and creates the new one.
The nineteen century introduces several synonyms for signifying the complex of the novelistic genre, where all the prose kinds, different and shorter than a roman are included. The roman serves again as a starting point in the defining of the novella and its family of cognate sub-kinds. The twenty-century places new terms and distinctions (small or short roman, for an example), so the literary theory faces up gradual, cumulative experience in the terminological and conceptual distinguishing of the novelistic discourse.
In the twenty-century it is been talked about many novelistic sub-kinds, about disintegrating of the novelistic code, about disperse structure of the novella. In respect to the postmodernist epoch that does not protect strict hierarchic relations in the literary system, the novel-short story is written in a broad gamme of genre hybridizations, of terminological and conceptual variations. In Anglo-American tradition at the end of this century the terms short short story and short story, short fiction are in use. In the Romanic tradition, Franc, Italian, Spanish, even today exists the term, inherited from the renaissance period – nouvelle. In the recent Croatian and Serbian tradition the cognate terms novela, pricha, pripovjetka are in use. Some analogue terms present in the traditions of the Japanese, Chinese and Indian literature should also be taken into account. Those are the terms that have synonymous configuration. But, the novella has a homonymic semantics: the term novella can be read in different ways, depending on the context where it renders its concrete content precise – as a short story and story, as a saga or long story, as a novella or short roman…
The short story in the XX century shows its de-canonizing and inclusive poetics in full light, especially in the actual, postmodernist or post-postmodernist phase from the end of the century and the end of the millennium. The poetics of the short story implicates diametrically opposite narrative morphologies and textuality: – from very short instant story to long and very long story; – from sketch to small roman; – from short story of paradoxes to short story of the ambient; – from short story of action and intrigue to short story of epiphany and condition, in which nothing happens; – from realistic to fantastic, enigmatic and miraculous; – from elitist and hermetic to children story; – from closed to open; from meditation to satire, from philosophical to lascivious-erotic; from detective-criminal to science -fiction and negatively-utopian; from fictional to pseudo-fictional; from lyric short story to essay; and from psychoanalytic to autobiographic report.
After the long tradition of undeclared exile, the short story has been displaced in a constellation in which it has experienced exaltation and has been promoted in an attractive, fascinating and non-sterile literary modus. Its hybridity is not an inhibition, but advantage. This hybridity is convenient for the postmodern culture, which actualizes the synecdochic principal “the totality of the part” (pars pro toto), which focuses on the fragment, individuum, margin, and the periphery. Without such a synecdochic projection of the world there would not be supplementing overcoding of the fragments and episodes, which have a power to suggest a picture of the whole and to re-signify the same one. Without it there would not be sophisticated and intermedial experiments as a collage and montage, pastiche and palimpsest.
The paradigms of the short stories are differently situated in different concrete historical and megacultural constellations (romanticism, realism, surrealism, modern, high modern and avant-garde, postmodern…) Every historical and sociocultural context creates its own empirical, terminological, methodological and poetical construct of the short story, its own horizon of expectations. That’s why it is very difficult, if not impossible to speak about one only distinctive characteristic in which all the sub-groups and every concrete narrative text of whatever historical and sociocultural provenance can be recognized.
The definitions of the short story today alternate between the statistic enumeration and limitation of the pages, the number of the words and signs on one side, and the pedantic (minutiose) terminological distinguishing of the symptoms and measures of the non/ellipticity. That presents the novella as a semi-category, whose terminological indication can be achieved only contextually in a determined cultural system. All global attempts fall in a lightheaded confusion. Every definition of the short story is historically and traditionally determined. This unrepeatable, simple and “single art” (un art singulier”, Thierry Oswald, 1996, 3) follows the line of constant pluralisation to its own conventions of the genre, that doesn’t make the conventions of the spoken genres which it enters in intertextual deal with indifferent and untouched.
The short story’s conventions are in the process of continuing revision and pluralisation. It suggests an acceptable solution, the defining of the short story to undergo a processual and plural procedure as well, with selective inclusion of all respectable and acting principle, functions and distinctions of the short story, from its historical origins until today. Maybe with right, a group of theoreticians suggests the criterion “family resemblances” (Ludwig Wittgenstein), understood as “a network of similarities and correlations” that exist among the “individual members of the genre, and in respect to the similarities between the prototypical members in the genre of the short story”.
C) The oriental definition
– poetics and metaphysics of the narrow space –
We will allow ourselves – beside everything – the necessary freedom to compose a flash group portrait with a short story, emphasizing some essential poetic positions and conventions of the narrative discourse and its metalinguistic code, which are indicators of its peculiarity:
– an inauguration of the ellipticity from a formal distinction in a distinction that produces essential stylistic, semantic, syntactic, pragmatic and metalinguistic implications, considering that the short story discovers itself meaningfully and philosophically through the poetics of the narrow space, which excludes the ataraxy of the linear narration and suggests, e.g. stimulates the chronological and semantic inversion;
– a predisposition of the short form for contacting the structure, that results into forgetting with emphatic longing the epic aesthetic material: remarkable absence of the narrative excursuses and descriptions, of the supplemented details and comments, of the epic retardations and repetitions, of the introduction/the prologue and epilogue;
– a frequent use of the restrictive procedures for limiting and sublimation to degree of evident lyricism/poeticism of the narrative text;
– a latent tendency towards the “systematism” and formalization of the discursive and morphological strategies (opposite to the narrative texts, so that the short story is not just a serial of events but a statement with higher, parabolic meaning – Stirl);
– a metamorphosis of the fictionality, characteristically for the prose and dramatic literary kinds, from a primal to marginal sign: from a tendency for emphasizing to a tendency for abolition and dosing of the fictionality. Some narrative paradigms relay on the principal of creating “an illusion of the reality” (“What I am narrating to you is mine construct, a fiction, but I am narrating it convincingly as it were a reality!”), others reject this principal and signalize the absence of the fictional mediators of probable and possible actions with procedures for disillusion and pseudo-fiction (What I am narrating to you is a real event, and not an imaginary and virtual world);
– an attractiveness of the story, irrespectively of whether it is contradictory in the syntagmatic combinations or in the semantic implications (not only on the level of the fable, but on the level of a discourse), that produces aesthetic ambiguity and multi-meanings of the narrated, consequently are created three dominant models, (1) the model of subversuion – grotesque, (2) of revelation – epiphany and (3) of atmosphere – arabesque1;
– an effect of primariness, unity and actuality of the two complimentary levels of (1)the discourse (syntagmatic, syntactic, composition, formal construction) and of (2) the story (paradigmatic, semantic, pragmatic), even when it comes from already known tradition and has entered the data base of the cultural memory, considering the latent interest for actualization, remake, revision, and variation of the mythical, legendary, biblical, archetypal and epic situations (motive nomadism, intertextual communication);
– a flexibility of the form which enables creative improvisations in the narrative act and nurture the feeling of freedom of choice, considering that in the process of its inscribing the short story can be: (a) romanized – a small roman, (b) poetized-a song in prose, © dramatized, (d) essay-zed, (e) simulate orally in a kind of authentic record of other’s sermon;
– generic interdiscursivity and correlativity of the short story with other pre-literary and boundary kinds: biblical, churchical, archaic, historiographic, simple forms (anecdote, parabola, puzzle), with the diary, memoirs, biography and autobiography, epistles;
– non-indifference towards the lectorate and the elements of the meta-narrative dialogue with the reader, what specifies the reception of the short story from the aspect the channels and mediums for communication, and from the aspect of its reading and interpreting. That activates other social and semiologic functions that the short story can do in a society.
Translated by: Katarina Cipuševa