Syntagmatic - Currently no debate

General definition:

-Of, or relating to the relationship between units in a construction or sequence.

-A ‘storyboard’ that unfolds in space and time.

-Syntagmatic structure (structure of syntax) is “the mode of time-awareness which listeners are placed” such as ‘narrative’, ‘epic’, or ‘lyrical’. A Syntagma is one syntactic or syntagmatic element. Narrative structures feature a realistic temporal flow guided by tension and relaxation, privilege difference, and “as diegesis,  songs speak to or address us by organizing a particular stretch of time into a conscious experience, and an experience of consciousness”  (Cubitt 1984, p.216). Epic structures tend to the opposite, privileging repetition, creating a mythic state of recurrence, and “emptying out” the subject (ibid, p.216-17). Lyrical structures lie in between and feature symmetrical open/closed and binary forms. (Middleton 1990, p.251 and 217)

Associated practices:

Syntagmatic in Narratology

A framing narrative contains a second (or more) embedded narrative(s), for which it provides a context or setting. Sometimes the framing narrative will begin and end the narrative as a whole, providing book ends,  other times it will simply be present at the beginning of the narrative, sometimes it reappears as a linking device between a series of embedded narratives. The framing narrative “sets the scene” for the embedded narrative(s), giving us a context in which we can read and interpret the text.

There are many types of framing narratives, but the two main ones are:

1. a collection of stories which are not necessarily related to one another or to the framing narrative (e.g. One Thousand and One Nights), in this case the framing narrative often has little effect on our reading of the embedded narratives.

2. in the other type the framing narrative is related to the the embedded narrative, examples of this are The Turn of the Screw (Henry James), in which the framing narrative introduces the main narrative, and Frankenstein (Mary Shelley) in which a set of narratives successively enclose each other like a nest of boxes or baboushka dolls: Robert Walton writes letters to his sister describing the story told to him by Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s story contains the monster’s story, and the monster’s story  contains the story of a family he had lived with. In this kind of framing the framing narrative can have a very strong effect on the way we read the embedded narrative: for example, in The Turn of the Screw, the narrator of the framing narrative expresses a hgh opinion of the narrator of the embedded (main) narrative, which might lead us to believe the main narrator to be a reliable narrator. However, we can (and many people do) consider the framing narrator to be an unreliable narrator - deceived about the psychology of the main narrator, who is herself unreliable (deluded).


Web resources:

The international Society for the Study of Narrative

The Wikipedia entry for Frame Narrative is good:



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