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June 1995, Week 2


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Krin Gabbard <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 6 Jun 1995 15:23:19 -0400
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               State University of New York at Stony Brook
                       Stony Brook, NY 10025
                                            Krin Gabbard
                                            Associate Professor
                                            Comparative Literature
                                            212 749-1631
                                            06-Jun-1995 03:22pm EDT
TO:    Remote Addressee                     ( [log in to unmask] )
Subject: Re: Diegetic
Forgive me for being pedantic, but I have just written a long
footnote justifying my use of the terms diegetic and
extradiegetic in my book, _Jammin' at the Margins: Jazz and the
American Cinema_, to be published in March by the Univ. of
Chicago Press.  Here it is:
The terms diegetic and extradiegetic have become essential to the
discussion of narrative and sound in films.  Plato used the term
diegesis in _The Republic_ to describe a story or narration, as
in "all mythology and poetry is a _diegesis_ of events, either
past, present, or to come" (392D).  In the _Poetics_, Aristotle
distinguished between two modes of poetic _mimesis_: a story told
in narration, _diegesis_, and one that is acted out in front of
spectators, _drama_ (1448a).  Literary theorists such as Gerard
Genette appropriated the term diegesis to describe the narrating
of events that take place "within the world of the characters" as
opposed to those portions of a novel or story in which the
narrator might philosophize or recall some old history.  In film
study, diegetic sound refers to what the characters might
actually hear while extradiegetic sound is something taking place
elsewhere, for example in the voice-over narration by an unseen
character.  Diegetic music, then, can emerge from the radio in a
character's room or from an orchestra in a concert hall.
Extradiegetic music is usually the "background" score that the
characters do not hear.  Although we might speak of a radio
playing music "in the background," this is still diegetic sound
if it is in the world of the characters.  Unfortunately, these
terms are not always adequate: there are many cases in which the
music in a film does not perfectly fit either category.  What do
we say, for example, about the song which a young man associates
with his long lost sweetheart and which plays on the soundtrack
whenever he is thinking about her?  The music is not in the room
with him, but since he can be understood as hearing the song in
his head, it can also be understood as "within the world of the
characters."  In _Unheard Melodies_ (1987), Claudia Gorbman has
coined the term "metadiegetic" to describe this kind of music
(22-23), and in his _L'Oeil-camera: entre film et roman_,
Francois Jost has developed an elaborate chart labeled
"Classification narratologique des combinaisons audio-visuelles"
that creates even more categories for distinguishing among the
varieties of hearing in a fiction film (57).  Nevertheless,
because the terms diegetic and extradiegetic have entered the
basic language of film scholarship, I use them throughout this
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