“First, there will never be found, in a real text, a pure dialogue, a pure description, and so on. Secondly, the very use of these terms is unnecessary, even harmful, since the novel is ‘a living thing, all one and continuous’” (2025). I realized the quote I opted to use overlaps slightly with the one Toni selected, but I feel it says a great deal – & to avoid any repetition I’ll venture down a different path.
As I understood it, Todorov employs James’s approach to literary criticism, citing the inherently problematic prescriptions of labeling terms as it only serves to hinder the text itself. This quote made me wonder about the tendency to categorize everything, to define it, to assign it to an overarching structure. Yet, Todorov challenges elements of James’s argument by stating, in fact, that even a living object can be distilled down into multiple parts: “The fact that we find [blood, nerves, muscles] together does not prevent us from distinguishing them. If the first argument of James had a positive aspect (it indicated that our objective should be composed of abstract categories and not concrete works), the second represents an absolute refusal to recognize the existence of abstract categories, of whatever is not visible” (2026).
In this specific moment, Todorov creates a complex argument, and I find myself agreeing in part with both authors. I wholeheartedly agree with Toni on the James quote, that a novel is a living, continuous thing in a multitude of facets – it offers new meaning to every reader, and the meaning for one reader may evolve over time. However, Todorov’s assertion that every living thing can be defined by certain vocabulary provides the basis for the social contract, something intrinsic and imperative in our society.
To what extent to we inhibit the capacity of language by ascribing certain labels, restricting terminology to specific categories? Yet, to fully understand the social contract of which we are all a part, labels can arguably be a necessary element to fully comprehend – and share that understanding – with others.