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By Way of Introduction Back to the Future? Problems and Potential of Metalepsis avant Genette

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMetalepsis
Subtitle of host publicationAncient Texts, New Perspectives
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9780198846987
Published1 Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright: © The editors and Oxford University Press 2020.

King's Authors


This chapter offers a succinct account of metalepsis in its modern (re-)conceptualization, largely following Genette, both to set the scene for the subsequent chapters and to interrogate the state of modern theorization from a classical perspective. While Genette’s intervention has arguably given the concept a more cohesive outlook than it ever had in its long (if now largely obliterated) history, might current debates have something to gain from revisiting earlier theorizations of metalepsis avant Genette? Rather than seeking to reconstruct a genealogy of the concept’s transformation from ancient rhetoric to contemporary criticism, this chapter offers a critical reappraisal of current thinking on narratological metalepsis by way of bringing back into the debate the voices of classical rhetoricians, critics, and grammarians who dealt with metalepsis in its earlier incarnations. The chapter examines how the logics, mechanics, structural principles, and effects attributed to metalepsis by scholars in antiquity and today compare. In particular, it asks what conceptual relationship exists between the trope ‘metalepsis’ (often discussed as a variant of metonymy), the narratological concept of metalepsis (which shares with metonymy a story of structuralist reinvention), and notions of metalepsis as literary allusion; and proposes that thinking of metalepsis in all three cases in terms of either a trope or a figure can not only help to safeguard the concept’s critical acumen, but also renders visible how theorizing metalepsis from a rigorously transhistorical perspective requires a built-in account of the variabilities that arise under the conditions of changing literary and cultural-historical contexts.

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