Since Viktor Shklovskii first made the distinction, critics of fictional forms who invoke the concepts of siuzhet and fabula have been prone to exalt the former at the expense of the latter. The preference is hardly surprising. The fabula is after all an abstraction. It designates the narrative in its raw or pre-aesthetic form from which the finished artistic product (siuzhet) is ultimately shaped. And it is a simple matter of definition that the literary critic must be primarily concerned with the literary artifact rather than its ingredients.
If the priority is legitimate, its implications should not be misunderstood. For fabula and siuzhet are not, after all, inimical or competing concepts. Our apprehension of the one stems directly from our experience of the other. True, a triumphantly ingenious manipulator of the stuff of fiction (a Sterne, a Joyce, a Nabokov) may create a nonlinear siuzhet of such kaleidescopic and multilayered complexity that our perception of the events as they are supposed “actually” to have occurred may become blurred.