Syuzhet and Fabula

How Language Destroyed American Politics

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during the campaign
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during the campaign
7 DEC 2016
by

Emmanuel Levinas, in his essay on post-structuralism titled Signification and Sense, stated:
“...language refers to the position of the listener and the speaker, that is, to the contingency of their story. To seize by inventory all the contexts of language and all possible positions of interlocutors is a senseless task. Every verbal signification lies at the confluence of countless semantic rivers. Experience, like language, no longer seems made of isolated elements lodged somehow in a Euclidean space... [Words] signify from the "world" and from the position of one who is looking.”

I bring this up because, during this last election cycle, we have witnessed the complete deconstruction of language. All the lexicon and rhetoric generally employed by politicians was obfuscated, if not dismantled, by the now president-elect, Donald Trump, during his campaign.

After the incessant barrage of news articles, blog posts, public hysteria, and tweets, the conventional meaning of every political term was surrendered to the vacuous oblivion of personal belief and feeling. In a serious way, Trump, along with the media, had created a vacuum of language. They built a hall of mirrors, and piped in the smoke, and the political theater became an impressionistic performance of misdirection and latent narrative. In Russian Literature there is a method of writing that implements a dichotomy between the two elements of narrative form: the syuzhet (the plot) and the fabula (the story). In an essay about Nabokov’s short story Signs and Symbols, Alexander Dolinin writes:
“…The narrative… does not contain any direct or even indirect reference to an important, usually pivotal event (or a number of events) of the fabula and disguises this ellipsis. For example, instead of presenting such climatic events as death of the protagonist in "Lik," a betrayal and murder out of jealousy in "That in Aleppo Once... " or supernatural intervention in "The Vane Sisters," the plots of these short stories deliberately conceal them, superseding the textual "reality" with false or incomplete accounts of it. However, narration of this kind not only hides or masks the important event but also provides the reader with adequate means to deduce it and thereby construe the fabula in its entirety. Relevant information related to the omitted event (or events) is encrypted in the syuzhet as a kind of intra-textual riddle (often supported by intertextual references), and specifically marked clues to the pertinent code are implanted into the text.”

In Nabokov’s Signs and Symbols the greatest clue provided to guide the reader to understand the meaning of the text and the story is the pathology called Referential Mania. Referential Mania is, in the narrator’s words describing their son’s condition: “everything happening around him is a veiled reference to his personality and existence.”

One of the story’s main purposes is to bungle the reader’s comprehension by devices employed in the syuzhet so that the fabula, the ‘real’ story latent within the text, creates the perfect conditions for a the reader to construe their own meaning to the signs and symbols. Essentially, the story makes the reader suffer from Referential Mania. In this presidential campaign, the absolute absurdity or the claims stated by every party involved, created a network of signs and symbols. The syuzhet of the campaign was one in which any individual could assign a certain viewpoint or belief wherever they were compelled to do so. The fabula, on the other hand, is left up in the air. What is the real story behind the election of Donald Trump? Was he a populist? Was he a master of persuasion? Was it all rigged?

It is hard to imagine what will come next, because everything we understood about politics—which, in a general sense, is shockingly little—has been completely deconstructed by a new brand of political terminology. Democrats are now considered to look out only for the elites. Republicans speak to the working class. Trump wants more infrastructural funding. Hilary wanted to bolster the army.

Social politics have become so codified that they are hardly relatable to others who have not studied the basics. Social politics have completely atomized society as a whole, and worse, each other. The Tower of Babel has come down. We are suffering more than ever the faults of our inability to communicate in a meaningful way. Language has been the tool to pull us apart, to create a vacuum of exploitation and manipulation.

The syuzhet: well, you hear it every day; from every one; from every angle.
The fabula: We were never in control.