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(in Russian, siuzhet), in literature, the development of the action; the course of events in narrative and dramatic works and sometimes in lyric works as well.
The term “plot” was first applied to literature in the 17th century, by the French classicists Corneille and Boileau. Like Aristotle, they viewed the action in a literary work as the sum of the events that took place in the lives of legendary heroes of antiquity, for example, Antigone and Creon or Medea and Jason, and that were treated in the works of later dramatists. However, Aristotle’s Poetics designated such events by the Greek word mythos, used in the sense of “traditional account” (predanie), which is usually translated incorrectly in Russian literary theory by the Latin word fabula; the Russian equivalent, fabula, means “plot scheme.” The Latin word fabula, from the same root as the verb fabulari (“to tell” or “to narrate”), was used by Roman writers to designate any story, including myths and fables; it became prevalent much earlier than the French word sujet (“subject”). In works on German classical aesthetics by Schelling and Hegel, the events depicted in literary works were called Handlung (“action”). The differences in the terms designating the same phenomenon made these terms ambiguous.
In modern Soviet literary criticism and in instruction in Soviet schools, the terms siuzhet and fabula are either used as synonyms, or siuzhet is used for the entire course of events and fabula for the major conflict that is developed in the events; in both cases the terms overlap.
In literary theory there are two other opposing interpretations. In the 1920’s, the members of the Society for the Study of Poetic Language (OPOIAZ) proposed an important distinction between the two aspects of a narrative: the development of the events in the lives of the characters, and the manner and order of their arrangement by the author or narrator. Attributing great importance to the construction of literary works, the members of OPOIAZ called the second aspect the siuzhet and the first aspect the fabula. This practice still remains (see the three-volume Theory of Literature, vol. 2, Moscow, 1964).
Another tradition originated with the Russian democratic critics of the mid-19th century and with A. N. Veselovskii and M. Gorky, all of whom used siuzhet to designate the development of the action. For example, V. G. Belinskii stated that “Gogol’s novel [Dead Souls] can be fully appreciated only by those to whom ... content, and not the siuzhet, is important” (Poln. sobr. soch, vol. 6, 1955, p. 219). Gorky asserted that “the siuzhet... is the bonds, the contradictions, the sympathies and antipathies, and in general the interrelations among people” (Sobr. soch, vol. 27, 1953, p. 215). This terminology is not only more traditional and customary, but is more accurate etymologically. The siuzhet, in the true meaning of the word, means the subject of the narration; the fabula, from the same standpoint, is the actual narration of the siuzhet. However, the adherents of this view should assimilate the theoretical innovations of the formal school; when they call the subject of narrative action or of action on the stage the siuzhet, they should use the term fabula to designate the second, compositional aspect.
The plot (siuzhet) of a work is an important means of embodying content—the writer’s overall intention and his ideological and emotional interpretation of the actualities of life expressed through the actions and relationships of fictitious characters. In the juxtaposition of form and content, the plot in all its uniqueness is the main element of a work’s form, and consequently of its style; the plot is not the content itself, as is often taught in school. The structure of the plot, the conflicts within the plot, and the mutual relationship between the narration and dialogue that develops these conflicts must be studied in terms of function. The plot should be studied with respect to its relationship with the content and its ideological and aesthetic significance. Moreover, it is necessary to distinguish a unique, original plot from an abstract diagram of a plot, or, more precisely, of a conflict. Such schematic plots, for example, A loves B, but B loves C, may be repeated and borrowed again and again, and each time be reinterpreted in an original way.
Early in the development of the epic, the plot of the epic was structured in accordance with the consecutive, chronological principle of combining episodes. The same method was used in fairy tales, chivalric romances, and picaresque novels. Concentric plots, based on a single conflict, appeared later in European epic literature. When the concentric plot is used in the epic and drama, the conflict extends throughout the entire work and has a distinct opening, climax, and denouement.
Only by analyzing the plot can the plot’s structure (fabula) be analyzed in all its complex interrelationships.
REFERENCESAristotle, Ob iskusstve poezii. Moscow, 1957.
Lessing, G. E. Laokoon, ili O granitsakh zhivopisi i poezii. Moscow, 1957.
Hegel, G. W. F. Estetika, vol. I. Moscow, 1968.
Belinskii, V. G. Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 5. Moscow, 1954. Page 219.
Veselovskii, A. N. “Poetika siuzhetov.” In Istoricheskaia poetika. Leningrad, 1940.
Shklovskii, V. B. O teorii prozy. Moscow-Leningrad, 1925.
Medvedev, P. N. Formal’nyi metod v literaturovedenii. Leningrad, 1928.
Freidenberg, O. M. Poetika siuzheta i zhanra. Leningrad, 1936.
Kozhinov, V. V. “Siuzhet, fabula, kompozitsiia.” In Teoriia literatury, vol. 2. Moscow, 1964.
Voprosy kinodramaturgii, fasc. 5: Siuzhet v kino. Moscow, 1965.
Pospelov, G. N. Problemy literaturnogo stilia. Moscow, 1970.
Lotman, Iu. M. Struktura khudozhestvennogo teksta. Moscow, 1970.
Timofeev, L. I. Osnovy teorii literatury. Moscow, 1971.
Wellek, R., and A. Warren. Theory of Literature, 3rd ed. New York, 1963.
G. N. POSPELOV
ii. The portion of a map or an overlay showing outlines of areas covered by reconnaissance or survey photographs.
iii. A graphical construction of vectors for solving navigational problems such as plotting the triangle of velocities.
iv. Graphical representation of two or more variables on two-dimensional surface. See plot (iii).
v. A map, chart, or graph representing data of any sort.
vi. The progress of an aircraft over time as marked on a chart.