The impossibility of immanence: A contemporary perspective on Algirdas Julius Greimas’ Maupassant

Dalia Satkauskytė


The book Maupassant (1976), which is devoted to an analysis of Maupassant’s short story “Two friends”, is one of A. J. Greimas’ most important works. In it he tried out the semiotic tools he had developed up to that point, tested models for narrative analysis, and anticipated future perspectives in the development of semiotic theory. We discuss how the book puts forward the principle of immanent analysis, and how the “closed” text – the object of semiotic analysis – is constructed. The article reveals that while Greimas declares, in the book’s Foreword, that he is distancing from context – the literary sociocultural universe – within the analysis itself he is forced to recognize certain contextual elements. Greimas recognizes the importance of acknowledging contextual facts such as the French concept of patrie and does not attempt to hide certain subjective interpretive elements. Yet at the same time Greimas attempts to suppress context’s invasion of his interpretation. He recognizes the semantic isotopies generated by context to the extent to which they suit the coherence of his analysis, considering them auxiliary in terms of the syntactic and discursive structures of the text. Nevertheless, a contextual isotopy – based on intertextual ties to a Biblical parable – becomes the main one. We come to the conclusion that the principle of immanence in Maupassant is not a negation, but a problematization that demonstrates how relevant contextual material can be integrated into a semiotic analysis.


Algirdas Greimas; Guy de Maupassant; text; context; immanent analysis; text as construction; semiotic analysis

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SIGN SYSTEMS STUDIES. ISSN 1406-4243 (print), 1736-7409 (online). E-mail: Postal address: Sign Systems Studies, Dept. of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Jakobi St. 2, 51014 Tartu, Estonia