RELATED TERMS: Actant
The term passant is used to refer to a character in a narrative viewed from the perspective of the impressions registered on him or her, rather than from the perspective of the actions he or she performs. Rabinowitz (2005, 184) invented this term as a contrast to actant. Thus Rabinowitz states that his approach,
“makes us take the experiences of other characters more seriously on the level of the narrative audience. or, more accurately, it encourages us to take them seriously in a different way than the way promoted by classical narratology: specifically, if we take the notion of path (and experience) seriously, we might want to consider a narratology that included not only ‘actants’ but also ‘passants’ – those (especially including those beyond the narrator and his or her chosen focalizers) on whom impressions are registered.”
An analysis that takes ‘passants’ seriously may yield new perspectives from which to reflect on the story, Rabinowitz suggests.
Extended to the context of narrative environment, it refers to any entity upon which impressions are registered, leaving a trace that may itself subsequently have actantial potential. Actantiality would be rendered meaningless without passantiality, but they are not binary opposites. They weave round one another in an inter-actantial or inter-passantial cycle or as a kind of double helix of actantiality-passantiality, merging into one another responsively. Passantiality is, thus, a kind of potentiality.
Janet Rachel brings to attention a line of argument which suggests that, among the various ways of understanding actants and passants, there is a rather interesting connection with the body, and with gender, which tends to privilege acting over passing on phallocentric grounds. Thus she notes,
“Thomas Laqueur (1992) has reminded us that in the relatively recent past it was believed that women and men possessed essentially the same genitals. Where woman wore hers on the inside of her body, man had his on the outside. Ready to hand, as it were: the quintessential tool. And although modern anatomical thought maintains that the two kinds of genitals are now different, and not simply each other’s mirror image, we do still believe them to be respectively worn inside and outside the body. Freud (1925, 1937) has speculated on the potential significance of this anatomical difference for the human psyche, and in doing so, he has indicated the role of sight as arbiter: that which can be seen to move is treated as the superior and more prized variety.”
She proposes a passant-network theory as a means to comprehend the actantiality of the passant, rather than converting thr passant into an agent. We might suggest that actant and passant networks cannot exist one without the other.
Rabinowitz, Peter J (2005). They shoot tigers, don’t they?: path and counterpoint in The Long Goodbye In: A Companion to narrative theory, edited by J. Phelan and P. J. Rabinowitz. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 181-191.
Rachel, J. (1994) ‘Acting and passing, actants and passants, action and passion’, American Behavioral Scientist, 37(6), pp. 809–823. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0002764294037006007 (Accessed: 17 November 2018).