Carlo Tirinanzi De Medici

Panel 5F: Transcoding Television
Session 5 – July 3, 11:00 – 13:00

Balzac on the Sidewalk. Narrative Techniques in Contemporary TV Series

This paper aims to observe how literary techniques derived from 18th-Century novel are refunctionalized and sometimes subverted in contemporary TV series, using HBO’s The Deuce as a case study. First, three elements will be analyzed: the choral nature of the narrative; the zero-focalization; the use of narrative rhythm. Such techniques are extensively found in 18th-century novels, in particular in Balzac’s Comedie humaine, which have in common with contemporary tv series another point: the extension of the narrative, which spans through many pages (or hours of screen-time). In both cases all these elements are used as a strategy of world-building, as a strategy to give the idea of extensiveness of the fictional world. On the other hand another element typical in the works of the series’ main author, David Simon, is the suppression of classic distinction between fore- and background, which seems derived from the Modernist strategy to render the 20th-century perceptual distortion of the subject. These two different narrative strategies the series can give to its audience the impression of an extremely (narratively and semantically) coherent text in the short range while deconstructing the coherence in the long range. In the series at large, indeed, events happen almost always without cause or, as Paul Auster would put it, is the unexpected which at last dominates the narration, and the lives of the characters. As such, between the short and the long range of narration there is the same antithetic, a-dialectical relationship experienced by the contemporary Western form-of-life, for which the bond between individuals and society as a whole is severed. In the end will be showed how such approach is found also in some contemporary novels by Roberto Bolaño and Paul Auster.


Carlo Tirinanzi De Medici works at Trento University. He has published a book on realism in the novel (Il vero e il convenzionale, 2012) and a book on contemporary Italian narrative (Il romanzo italiano contemporaneo, 2018). He co-founded the Osservatorio sul romanzo contemporaneo and the peer-reviewed journal «Ticontre».