… it assumes that the individual, with all his particular characteristics and his limits, is enough to express the world …
… The “he” is the unlighted occurrence of what takes place when one tells a story. The distant epic narrator recounts exploits that happened and that he seems to be reproducing, whether or not he witnessed them. But the narrator is not a historian.
[line break added to make this easier to read online] His song is the domain where the event that takes place there comes to speech, in the presence of a memory; memory — muse and mother of muses — contains within it truth, that is, the reality of what takes place; it is in his song that Orpheus really descends to the underworld — which we express by adding that he descends to it through the power of his singing; but this song, already instrumental, signifies an alteration in the institution of narration.
[line break added] To tell a story is a mysterious thing. The mysterious “he” of the epic institution very quickly divides: the “he” becomes the impersonal coherence of a story (in the full and rather magical meaning of this word); the story stands by itself, preformed in the thought of a demiurge, and since it exists on its own, there is nothing left to do but tell it. But the story soon becomes disenchanted.
[line break added] The experience of the disenchanted world introduced into literature by Don Quixote is the experience that dissipates the story by contrasting it to the banality of the real — this is how realism seizes on the form of the novel, for a long time to come, and this form becomes the most effective genre for the developing bourgeoisie. The “he” is here uneventful everyday life, what happens when nothing happens, the course of the world as it is unnoticed, the passing of time, routine and monotonous life.
[line break added] At the same time — and in a more visible way — the “he” marks the intrusion of a character: the novelist is a person who refuses to say “I” but delegates that power to other people; the novel is filled with little “egos” — tormented, ambitious, unhappy, though always satisfied in their unhappiness; the individual asserts himself in his subjective richness, his inner freedom, his psychology; the novelistic narration, that of individuality — not taking into consideration the content itself — is already marked by an ideology to the extent that it assumes that the individual, with all his particular characteristics and his limits, is enough to express the world, that is to say, it assumes that the course of the world remains that of the individual.
As we can see, then, the “he” has split in two: on the one hand, there is something to tell, and that is the objective reality as it is immediately present to the interested gaze, and on the other hand, this reality is reduced to a constellation of individual lives, subjectivities, a multiple and personalized “he,” a manifest “ego” under the veil of an apparent “he.” In the interval of the tale, the voice of the narrator can be heard with more or less appropriateness, sometimes fictive, sometimes without any mask.
What has surrendered in this remarkable construction? Almost everything. I will not dwell on it.