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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 55 | volume X | July-August, 2007



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 55July-August, 2007

The Literary Frame

p. 1
John Frow

The function of the aesthetic closure which marks off literary space is to establish the particular historical distribution of the “real” and the “symbolic” within which the text operates. The border of the text constitutes and defines its specific fictional status[1] and the kinds of use to which it can be put. This border is therefore in one sense an immaterial system of expectational norms. But I will argue that it is also always materially embodied and should not be conceived simply as a mental projection; in Erving Goffman's words, “A cup can be filled from any realm, but the handle belongs to the realm that qualifies as reality.”[2]
    I shall use the term frame to designate this limit, at once material and immaterial, literal and figurative, between adjacent and dissimilar onto-logical realms. The frame can be anything that acts as a sign of a qualitative difference, a sign of the boundary between a marked and an unmarked space. If this definition seems tautological, it is because since Mauss and, in a different way, since Duchamp we know that the aesthetic space is not an anthropological constant but is constituted by a cultural recognition: the toilet scat hung in a museum is an aesthetic object because the museum sanctions its situation as aesthetic.
    Every aesthetic object or process has a frame or frames peculiar to it. Since the frame is not simply a material fact, it can be multiple – the frame of a painting, for example, may be reinforced by the broader frame of the museum – and we could think of the “edge” of the work as a series of concentric waves in which the aesthetic space is enclosed. Theatrical space is defined by the borders of the stage and by the theater situation (the relation of the auditorium to the stage and the convention that the space of the stage is a privileged space of illusion).[3] Cinematic space is defined by the screen—by the darkness that surrounds the screen, by the projection apparatus, by the theater situation, and by advertisements and billings which have created expectations that this is a movie and that it is a particular kind of movie; but there is also an internal frame, the title sequence, which supplements and narrows down the predefinition of the kind of aesthetic space being presented. For a literary text the frame is particularly complex: it is made up, first


1. Boris Uspensky, A Poetics of Composition, trans. V. Zavarin and S. Wittig (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), p. 140.
2. Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), p. 249.
3. Ibid., pp. 124-25.

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