adjective1. (of a story) told by a narrator:Interspersed throughout the movie are diegetic scenes in which the offscreen present-day protagonist comments—usually scathingly—on the behavior of his former self.2. happening within or being the created world of a story:Diegetic sound—the creaking timbers of a ship at sea, the cries of gulls on the beach—pulls the viewer into the world of the movie.In the Marvel cinematic universe, multiple separate superhero films take place within a single diegetic world.
Diegesis (/ˌdaɪəˈdʒiːsɪs/; from the Greek διήγησις from διηγεῖσθαι, "to narrate") is a style of fiction storytelling that presents an interior view of a world in which:1. Details about the world itself and the experiences of its characters are revealed explicitly through narrative.
2. The story is told or recounted, as opposed to shown or enacted.
3. There is a presumed detachment from the story of both the speaker and the audience.In diegesis, the narrator tells the story. The narrator presents the actions (and sometimes thoughts) of the characters to the readers or audience. Diegetic elements are part of the fictional world ("part of the story"), as opposed to non-diegetic elements which are stylistic elements of how the narrator tells the story ("part of the storytelling").
In contrast to mimesis
Diegesis (Greek διήγησις "narration") and mimesis (Greek μίμησις "imitation") have been contrasted since Plato's and Aristotle's times. Mimesis shows rather than tells, by means of action that is enacted. Diegesis is the telling of a story by a narrator. The narrator may speak as a particular character, or may be the invisible narrator, or even the all-knowing narrator who speaks from "outside" in the form of commenting on the action or the characters.
In Book III of his Republic (c. 373 BC), Plato examines the "style" of "poetry" (the term includes comedy, tragedy, epic and lyric poetry): All types narrate events, he argues, but by differing means. He distinguishes between narration or report (diegesis) and imitation or representation (mimesis). Tragedy and comedy, he goes on to explain, are wholly imitative types; the dithyramb is wholly narrative; and their combination is found in epic poetry. When reporting or narrating, "the poet is speaking in his own person; he never leads us to suppose that he is any one else"; when imitating, the poet produces an "assimilation of himself to another, either by the use of voice or gesture". In dramatic texts, the poet never speaks directly; in narrative texts, the poet speaks as him or herself.
In his Poetics, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle argues that kinds of "poetry" (the term includes drama, flute music, and lyre music for Aristotle) may be differentiated in three ways: according to their medium, according to their objects, and according to their mode or "manner" (section I); "For the medium being the same, and the objects the same, the poet may imitate by narration—in which case he can either take another personality as Homer does, or speak in his own person, unchanged—or he may present all his characters as living and moving before us" (section III).
In filmmaking the term is used to name the story depicted on screen, as opposed to the story in real time that the screen narrative is about. Diegesis may concern elements, such as characters, events, and things within the main or primary narrative. However, the author may include elements that are not intended for the primary narrative, such as stories within stories. Characters and events may be referred to elsewhere or in historical contexts and are therefore outside the main story; thus, they are presented in an extradiegetic situation.
For narratologists all parts of narratives—characters, narrators, existents, actors—are characterized in terms of diegesis. For definitions of diegesis, one should consult Aristotle's Poetics; Gerard Genette's Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method (Cornell University Press, 1980); or (for a readable introduction) H. Porter Abbott's The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative (Cambridge University Press 2002). In literature, discussions of diegesis tend to concern discourse/ sjužet (in Russian Formalism) (vs. story/ fabula).
Diegesis is multi-levelled in narrative fiction. Genette distinguishes between three "diegetic levels". The extradiegetic level (the level of the narrative's telling) is, according to Prince, "external to (not part of) any diegesis." One might think of this as what we commonly understand to be the narrator's level, the level at which exists a narrator who is not part of the story being told. The diegetic level or intradiegetic level is understood as the level of the characters, their thoughts and actions. The metadiegetic level or hypodiegetic level is that part of a diegesis that is embedded in another one and is often understood as a story within a story, as when diegetic narrators themselves tell a story.
The classical distinction between the diegetic mode and the mimetic mode relates to the difference between the epos (or epic poetry) and drama. The "epos" relates stories by telling them through narration, while drama enacts stories through direct embodiment (showing). In terms of classical poetics, the cinema is an epic form that utilizes dramatic elements; this is determined by the technologies of the camera and editing. Even in a spatially and temporally continuous scene (mimicking the theatrical situation, as it were), the camera chooses where to look for us. In a similar way, editing causes us to jump from one place (and/or time) to another, whether it be elsewhere in the room, or across town. This jump is a form of narration; it is as if a narrator whispers to us: "meanwhile, on the other side of the forest". It is for this reason that the "story-world" in cinema is referred to as "diegetic"; elements that belong to the film's narrative world are diegetic elements. This is why, in the cinema, we may refer to the film's diegetic world.
"Diegetic", in the cinema, typically refers to the internal world created by the story that the characters themselves experience and encounter: the narrative "space" that includes all the parts of the story, both those that are and those that are not actually shown on the screen (such as events that have led up to the present action; people who are being talked about; or events that are presumed to have happened elsewhere or at a different time).
Thus, elements of a film can be "diegetic" or "non-diegetic". These terms are most commonly used in reference to sound in a film. Most soundtrack music in films is non-diegetic; heard by the audience, but not by the characters. Some films reverse this convention; for example, Baby Driver employs diegetic music, played by the characters on music devices, to which many of the film's action scenes are set. These terms can also apply to other elements. For example, an insert shot that depicts something that is neither taking place in the world of the film, nor is seen, imagined, or thought by a character, is a non-diegetic insert. Titles, subtitles, and voice-over narration (with some exceptions) are also non-diegetic.
In video games
In video games "diegesis" comprises the narrative game world, its characters, objects and actions which can be classified as "intra-diegetic", by both being part of the narration and not breaking the fourth wall. Status icons, menu bars and other UI which are not part of the game world itself can be considered as "extra-diegetic"; a game character does not know about them even though for the player they may present crucial information. A noted example of a diegetic interface in video games is that of the Dead Space series, in which the player-character is equipped with an advanced survival suit that projects holographic images to the character within the game's rendering engine that also serve as the game's user-interface to the player to show weapon selection, inventory management, and special actions that can be taken.
Diegetic music or source music is music in a drama (e.g., film or video game) that is part of the fictional setting and so, presumably, is heard by the characters. The term refers to diegesis, a style of storytelling.
The opposite of source music is incidental music or underscoring, which is music heard by the viewer (or player), intended to comment on or highlight the action, but is not to be understood as part of the "reality" of the fictional setting.
Source music was sometimes used as scores from the earliest days of Hollywood talkies, in some cases—e.g., The Public Enemy (1931)—using it to the exclusion of any underscoring; or in Touch of Evil (1958), where there is proportionately more source compared to underscore.
Film sound and music
If the characters in the film can (or could) hear the music the audience hears, then that music is called diegetic. It is also called source music by professionals in the industry. It is said to be within the narrative sphere of the film. For instance, if a character in the film is playing a piano, or turns on a CD player, the resulting sound is diegetic. The cantina band sequence in the original Star Wars is an example of diegetic music in film, with the band playing instruments and swaying to the beat, as patrons are heard reacting to the second piece the band plays.
By contrast, the background music that cannot be heard by the characters in the movie is termed non-diegetic or extradiegetic. An example of this is in Rocky, where Bill Conti's "Gonna Fly Now" plays non-diegetically as Rocky makes his way through his training regimen finishing on the top steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art with his hands raised in the air.
Songs are commonly used in various film sequences to serve different purposes. They can be used to link scenes in the story where a character progresses through various stages toward a final goal. If it is synchronized with the action, as in the "Good Morning" dance sequence from Singin' in the Rain, it is said to be Mickey Mousing.
A combination of these concepts in film sound and music is known in the industry as source scoring—a blending of diegetic source music, such as a character singing or playing an instrument, with non-diegetic dramatic scoring.
There are other varying dimensions of diegesis in film sound, for example, metadiegetic sound, which are sounds imagined by a character within the film, such as memories, hallucinatory sounds, and distorted perspectives.
Another notable condition of diegesis is cross-over diegesis, which is explored in the book Primeval Cinema - An Audiovisual Philosophy by Danny Hahn, in which he describes it as "blending/transforming a sound or piece of music from one spectrum of diegesis to another – from diegetic to non-diegetic space". The sci-film 2BR02B: To Be or Naught to Be is an example of cross-over diegetic music in film, with Schubert's Ave Maria playing over separate shot sequences as non-diegetic music, but then later showing it to come from a gramophone in a hospital waiting room. The music also becomes diegetic with the assistance of audio engineering techniques, having its reverberation undergo change to match the room's characteristics and indicate a spatial location from the surround speakers. Even though Ave Maria reappears extensively as diegetic music, its inclusion was treated as non-diegetic by the film-makers, the song being a bespoke recording by soprano Imogen Coward to match the film's tone, and the film being edited to her recording. The recording itself was timed to include a layer of narrative commentary for audiences familiar with the German lyrics.
This distinction may also be made explicit for comic effect, a form of breaking the fourth wall. For example, the first appearance of Kermit the Frog in The Muppets is accompanied by what initially appears to be a stock "heavenly choir" sound effect, which is then revealed to be coming from an actual church choir singing on a passing bus.
In musical theatre, as in film, the term "diegesis" refers to the context of a musical number in a work's theatrical narrative. In typical operas or operettas, musical numbers are non-diegetic; characters are not singing in a manner that they would do in a naturalistic setting; in a sense, they are not "aware" that they are in a musical. In contrast, when a song occurs literally in the plot, the number is considered diegetic. Diegetic numbers are often present in backstage musicals.
For example, in The Sound of Music, the song "Edelweiss" is diegetic, since the character (Captain von Trapp) is performing the piece in front of other fictional characters at a gathering. In "Do-Re-Mi" the character Maria is using the song to teach the children how to sing, so this song is also diegetic. In contrast, the song "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?" is non-diegetic, since the musical material is external to the narrative, it being a conversation that would in a naturalistic setting take place as simple speech.
In both the 1936 and the 1951 film versions of Show Boat, as well as in the original stage version, the song "Bill" is diegetic. The character Julie LaVerne sings it during a rehearsal in a nightclub. A solo piano (played onscreen) accompanies her, and the film's offscreen orchestra (presumably not heard by the characters) sneaks in for the second verse of the song. Julie's other song in the film, "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man", is also diegetic. In the 1936 film, it is supposed to be an old folk song known only to blacks; in the 1951 film, it is merely a song that Julie knows; however, she and the captain's daughter Magnolia are fully aware that Julie is singing. When Julie, Queenie, and the black chorus sing the second chorus of the song in the 1936 version, they are presumably unaware of any orchestral accompaniment, but in the 1951 film, when Magnolia sings and dances this same chorus, she does so to the accompaniment of two deckhands on the boat playing a banjo and a harmonica. Two other songs in the 1936 Show Boat are also diegetic: "Goodbye, My Lady Love" (sung by the comic dancers Ellie and Frank), and "After the Ball", sung by Magnolia. Both are interpolated into the film, and both are performed in the same nightclub in which Julie sings "Bill".
In the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the episode entitled "Once More, with Feeling" toys with the distinction between diegetic and non-diegetic musical numbers. In this episode, the Buffy characters find themselves compelled to burst into song in the style of a musical. The audience is led to assume that this is a "musical episode", in which the characters are unaware that they are singing. It becomes clear that the characters are all too aware of their musical interludes, and that determining the supernatural causes of the singing is the focus of the episode's story. On the same show, the episode entitled "The Body" was presented without any non-diegetic music at all, in order to convey the reality of the theme of death within the family that it portrays.
The musical The Phantom of the Opera offers an interesting example of ambiguity in distinguishing between diegetic and non-diegetic music. At the end of Act 1, Christine and Raoul sing "All I Ask of You", and the Phantom, having eavesdropped on them, reprises the song shortly after. Narratively, there is no reason for the characters to be singing, and so these numbers would appear to be non-diegetic. However, in Act 2, within the opera "Don Juan Triumphant", which the Phantom composed, not only are Christine and Raoul's words repeated, but they are sung to the same tune they used, suggesting that the eavesdropping Phantom heard them to be singing, rather than speaking, their conversation. To define "All I Ask of You" as either diegetic or non-diegetic is therefore not straightforward.
In film, diegesis refers to the story world, and the events that occur within it. Thus, non-diegesis are things which occur outside the story-world.
A non-diegetic insert is a film technique that combines a shot or a series of shots cut into a sequence, showing objects represented as being outside the space of the narrative. Put more simply, a non-diegetic insert is a scene that is outside the story world which is "inserted" into the story world. Diegetic could also refer to sound in media or film studies.
Examples1. Three images shown during the disastrous opening night of the play in The Band Wagon, as a metaphor to highlight how much of a flop the show is.
2. Sky sequences shown in Gus Van Sant's Elephant.
3. Most famously in The Great Train Robbery a bandit, either following the character's death or before the narrative began, shot his gun directly at the audience.
4. Starting scene of Charlie Chaplin's film Modern Times.non-diegeticNon-diegetic music in a film or TV programme is played over the action for the people watching to hear, rather than being part of the action and heard by the characters.
If you don’t recognize the term, you definitely recognize the device. Diegetic music in a show - be it television, film, or even opera - is essentially music that the characters hear as well as the audience. In film and TV, often we realize that music is diegetic because it stops when a character switches off a radio, or pulls headphones out of their ears.
By design, most of the music in opera is non-diegetic, meaning the characters in opera do not hear it. But often composers will get creative with the medium of opera, using the music itself to bring the audience closer to the character’s experience.
We’ve come up with a few great examples of diegetic music in opera, and how the device can offer comic relief, dramatic irony, and even shows within the show.
The most obvious use of diegetic music in opera comes in the “show-within-a-show” device, where a character is giving a performance as part of the plot. It happens in Don Giovanni, when Giovanni, armed with a guitar and a sultry baritone, serenades a woman from outside her window. It happens in Le nozze di Figaro, when Cherubino sings his little ditty, “Voi che sapete” for a meager audience of Susanna and the Countess. In Manon Lescaut, diegetic music comes with the musicians hired to entertain the leading lady; in Tannhäuser it’s found in the the whole Minnesinger scene.
Or if you prefer, Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier has a moment of diegetic opera music within an opera, as the Italian Singer shows up to serenade the Marschallin.
Using diegetic music can also be a great opportunity for some comic relief. There’s the adorable scene in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream where the fairies make a little band of themselves, providing some dance music for Bottom. There’s also the cute moment in Les contes d’Hoffmann with Fritz, the well-meaning-but-deaf-as-a-doorknob servant, who tries out his singing talents to disappointing results.
One of our favourites, though, is the much-needed moment of lightness in Wagner’s Siegfried, when Siegfried tries to imitate a bird song with a reed pipe (we always think of the English horn player that gets to show off their best “bad” sound). In the midst of a story full of magic and beauty, Siegfried’s awkward honking is a great reminder that the hero is very much a bored, curious teenager making unnecessary noise. Wagner wavers between diegetic and non-diegetic music throughout this scene, creating a stark difference between what Siegfried experiences, and the reality of the world around him.
Siegfried switches to playing his horn, and fares much better. Perhaps the coolest part of this moment is how Wagner brings us out of the diegetic music, and into some of the most awesome non-diegetic music of the opera (ie. Dragon music at 1:58:48!).
In true operatic fashion, diegetic music can amplify the intensity of a scene that’s already tugging at your heartstrings. In Act III of La traviata, we hear the happy strains of a Carnavale parade, outside Violetta’s room where she’s dying of tuberculosis. In case we needed more reasons to cry, Verdi is maximizing the contrast between the lonely life of a dying young woman, and the life-goes-on sounds of bustling Paris. In Act I of Tosca, Scarpia conceals his lust and vengeance within the sounds of the Te Deum, hiding in plain sight as a heathen among the pious, and singing his own version of worship (Tosca, really) to the same tune as the truly god-fearing.
One of the most moving examples of this diegetic music technique is in that shattering finale of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites. The nuns sing the “Salve Regina” as they are led hopelessly to the guillotine; one by one, the voices peter out, and Poulenc even adds the horrific sound of a guillotine, as though he wants to make you wince and weep.