Showing and Telling

  • You can hold a mimetic theory of the novel if you believe the narrational methods of fiction to resemble those of drama, and you can hold a diegetic theory of painting if you posit visual spectacle to be analogous to linguistic transmission. Bordwell.

This remark, from David Bordwell’s Narration in the Fiction Film (Routledge 1986, page 3) is split in two–and each tweet has, coincidentally, EXACTLY the same number of characters! But that’s not why you called.

The point Bordwell makes is that the novel can be thought of as an example of showing something (it can be mimetic), as if the novelist is putting on a play, while a painting might be thought of as an example of telling (diegetic), if you think of the painting itself as the “tale” the painter is telling.

More typically, of course, we think the other way around: novels tell us something and paintings show us something. Bordwell’s  reminder alerts us to alternative perspectives for interpretation. (Originally posted December 30, 2011)