Seminar 9: “Narration”

Fritz Breithaupt (Professor of Germanic Studies, Indiana University), [log in to unmask]
Johannes Türk (Associate Professor of Germanic Studies, Indiana University), [log in to unmask]

Narratives are everywhere. When a lawyer wants to make a case for a client, she more commonly than not will resort to story-telling. Advertisers know that they need to link their product to a good story. And journalists have become specialists in development of narrative as a mode of unfolding the world. Narrative thinking and narrative presentations turn out to be highly efficient for memory and problem-solving; narratives are a favorite pastime (Gottschall); narratives in the form of gossip may have had a central role in creating homo sapiens (Dunbar); and narratives also play a central role in the construction of individual and collective identities. In response to this centrality of narrative for many human practices that has recently been underlined (Koschorke), the study of narrative has received a lot of attention in various disciplines, ranging from law to psychology and within all humanities disciplines, beginning esp. with work in some English departments in the U.S in the past two decades. The new subdiscipline of “narratology” is now well-established in the U.S. and in Germany with several peer-reviewed journals, yearbooks, and book series.
While this seminar is not a simple window into narratology, it will discuss and profit from the work of narratologists. Narratology, to be sure, does not denominate a single approach or theory, but rather combines various works by people who examine the (theoretical) implications of story-telling. A wide range of scholars have spent considerable effort in classifying narrative as a structure through categories such as voice, aspect, perspective, narrative time, narrative agents, plot structures and functions, etc.. Others have explored the cultural function of narrative. In contrast to this focus of many narratologists, this seminar will look at the many different ideas and forms of narrative that emerge from individual literary and philosophical texts. That is, instead of subsuming narratives in some taxonomy, we will see what narrative is through the eyes of specific textual, filmic and artistic instances. Hence, rather than asking for contributions from the standpoint of established narratology, the seminar asks for papers that explore texts that promise the elucidation of core questions about narrative. Rather than starting with general propositions concerning texts, it therefore understands specific narrative texts as an exploration of narrative itself. Of particular interest are instances that do not at first sight fall under an established narratological category. On the basis of the readings, including of works of theory, we encourage the participants to address at least one of the following topics explicitly:

·      Is there a structural core of narration? How flexible is this core structure?

·      What is the relation of narration and a literary text?

·      How do narrative events and non-narrative events interact? Are there non-narrative events?

·      How does narration shape moral reasoning?

·      What are the aesthetic affects of narration? And when do narratives have aesthetic affects?

·      How do narratives shape identities?

·      Is there such a thing as a history of the plot that is a history of narrative forms?

·      What is the relationship between temporality, dynamics and stability and narrative?

·      Is the main function of narratives complexification or decomplexification or both?

All contributors to the seminar will be asked to have read Walter Benjamin, Der Erzähler, Aristoteles, Poetics, and Heinrich von Kleist, Die Verlobung in St. Domingo. A longer list of recommended texts, including sel. from Albrecht Koschorke, Wahrheit und Erfindung; Frank Kermode, "The Sense of an Ending", and Ara Norenzayan e.a., „Memory and mystery. The cultural selection of minimally counterintuitive narratives”, will be sent to all participants.

The specific sequence of the seminar be established after the participating papers have been chosen.
For all inquiries, please contact the organizers (Fritz Breithaupt, Johannes Türk). For the official application, see below:
Those who wish to submit a proposal should fill out the GSA Seminar Application Form and email it to the Seminar Coordinator for this session, Irene Kacandes, at [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]> by February 1. In addition to other information, the form asks for a brief statement of purpose. It should describe the participant’s qualifications and planned contribution to the seminar. You can find the application form and other information at