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Prof. Dr. Stephan Conermann
Bonner Zentrum für Transkulturelle Narratologie
Regina Pacis Weg 7
53113 Bonn

Tel.: +49 (0)228 73-7462
Fax: +49 (0)228 73-5601
 

Email: stephan.conermann@uni-bonn.de 

 
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Texts almost always refer to pre-existent "material", which the author organizes and models through processes of editing and structuring. Every text represents an artificial isolation from the informal flow of history(-ies) and from its enrichment with sense as well as with points of beginning, change and of the end (emplotment). Alternating plot-structures can lead to a shift of meaning. When studying the inner part of a text, we are changing the focus from the presented content to the way of representation in order to analyze how meanings are created and with which values they are associated. Language is not a vehicle to articulate already extra-linguistically existent thoughts - the thoughts are rather only formed through language. Texts always represent some kind of "lateral entry" into a spatial-temporal and causal (cultural) context, achieved by means of the setting. This implies that the researcher working with texts deriving from another culture different is required to be well grounded in philological and historical aspects as well as in cultural studies. However, it is possible to access the topic in this way, even though the texts might only have been a result of the large scale editing out of information.

What we are moreover concerned with is the mindscape of the author, lying behind the narrative structures. With regard to non-European texts (as well as pre-modern European texts) those oftentimes differ drastically from the worldview that is contemporarily found to be rational. Its claim to truth, even when it is justified with scientific methods, cannot simply be retrojected on past and distant cultural environments. It is our objective to demonstrate to what extent the texts under study - being in line with their conditions and purposes - are able to model the subjects they are portraying in a "rational" way just like comparable literary, historical or religious productions of the contemporary, familiar world do. Thus, that they are "reasonable" in their own cultural environment.

In most of the disciplines involved, an analysis of "text-immanent" narrative strategies specifically directed at an interdisciplinary comparison in light of "classical" and "post-classical" narratological theory construction has not yet been conducted. It would be desirable in the long run if the BZTN could contribute to the development of a trans-cultural narratology as has already been called for by NÜNNING (2000a, 2003), ERLL/ROGGENDORF (2002), SOMMER (2007) and GYMNICH (2007) and that BIRK (2008) has implemented to some extent.

As ERLL/ROGGENDORF (2002: 73-74) have illustrated, it is a matter of the productive connection of narratological concepts with questions of cultural history. For this purpose, obsolete narratological premises as well as structuralist-universalistic narratological models and categories are being challenged and modified. For another thing, the mere description of narratological phenomena changes into their interpretation in the overall cultural context. When narrativity is conceived as a cultural pattern of understanding as BAL (1999) has expressed it and in terms of epistemology as a "basic vehicle of human knowledge" (RICHARDSON 2000b, 168), then a trans-cultural narratology can not only shed light on the cultural meaning of literature but can also substantially contribute to a better understanding of culture, respectively cultures.

At the same time this implies an extension of the traditional narratological scope. A trans-cultural narratology offers the possibility to apply narratological models and categories on the description and analysis of other genres, media and other cultural phenomena. Narratives like the life descriptions we focus on are in the widest sense regarded as historically changeable phenomena of collective creation of reality, sense-making and interpersonal communication that exists in their respective cultural contexts in different forms and that can fulfill various functions. The conceptualization of such a trans-cultural approach can be implemented on a methodological level through the consistent historicization and contextualization of narrative phenomena while at the same time, different philological methods and categories like e.g. discourse - or inter-discourse analysis, metaphorology, research on topoi "Toposforschung", conceptual history and textual linguistics are included. Summer claims (2007: 62), that a traditional narratology combines "structuralist descriptions of textual features with cognitive insights into narrative comprehension, within an overall interpretative framework of intercultural concepts". It has been laid down in NÜNNING/NÜNNING (2002b: 24) how the steps evolving from a 'classical' towards a 'postclassical' – or 'trans-cultural' – narratology look like:

 

Structuralist ("classical") Narratology

Newer ("postclassical") Narratologies

Centered around the text

Centered around the context

Abstract narrative phenomena (langue) as the main object of study

Specific utterances of speech (parole) as the main object of study

Focus on closed systems and static products

Focus on open and dynamic processes

"Characteristics" and "features" of a text as the main object of study

Dynamic of the process of perception (strategies of reading and interpreting, preference rules) as the main object of study

Bottom-up-analyses

Top-down-syntheses

Preference of (reductive) binary oppositions and gradual scaling

Preference of the holistic cultural interpretation and the "thick description"

Focus on theory, formalistic description and the finding and regulation of narrative techniques

Focus on application, topic-based reading and ideologically tinted judgments

Ideal of scientific and neutral objectivity

Focus on ethical issues and the dialogic negotiation of meanings

Preparation of a narratological grammar and a poetic of fiction

Application of the instrument of analysis in the context of interpretation

Formalistic and descriptive paradigm

Interpretative and evaluative paradigm

Oriented a-historically and synchronically

Oriented historically and diachronically

Focus on general features of all narrative texts

Focus on historically and culturally changeable features of single narrative texts

(relatively) uniform sub-discipline

Interdisciplinary project that consists of heterogeneous approaches

  

The following aspects are therefore in the focus of our engagement in narrative texts:

  • Narrative texts as ways/forms of cultural self-perception and reflexivity
  • The analysis of the thematic selection and the literary forms that are characteristic for a special genre or time provides information on the mental dispositions of the period in question
  • Reconstruction of the whole system of culturally shaped values, norms and worldviews and collective perceptions which, e.g. manifests itself in condensed manner in narrative texts
  • How and in which way are such texts related to discourses and the knowledge of a society?
  • How are they processing the socio-cultural knowledge of their time of creation in a way that is specific for the medium media they use and the genre they represent?
  • Which social functions are they able to fulfill respectively?

 

References: 

  • Bal 1999, M., "Close Reading Today: From Narratology to Cultural Analysis", in: Grünzweig/Solbach 1999, 19–40.
  • Birk 2008, H., AlterNative Memories: Kulturspezifische Inszenierungen von Erinnerung in zeitgenössischen Romanen autochthoner Autor/inn/en Australiens, Kanadas und Aotearoas/Neuseelands. Trier.
  • Erll/Roggendorf 2002 = Erll, A./Roggendorf, S., "Kulturgeschichtliche Narratologie. Die Historisierung und Kontextualisierung kultureller Narrative", in: Nünning/Nünning 2002, 73-113.
  • Gymnich 2007, M., Metasprachliche Reflexionen und sprachliche Gestaltungsmittel im englischsprachigen postkolonialen und interkulturellen Roman. Trier.
  • Kindt/Müller 2003 = Kindt, T./Müller, H.-H. (Hg.), What is Narratology? Questions and Answers Regarding the Status of a Theory. Berlin/New York.
  • Nünning 2000a, A., "Towards a Cultural and Historical Narratology: A Survey of Diachronic Approaches, Concepts, and Research Projects", in: Reitz/Rieuwerts 2000, 345–373.
  • Nünning, 2002b, A. (Hg.), Erzähltheorie transgenerisch, intermedial, interdisziplinär. Trier.
  • Nünning 2003, A., "Narratology or Narratologies? Taking Stock of Recent Developments, Critique and Modest Proposals for Future Usages of the Term", in: Kindt/Müller 2003, 239–275.
  • Nünning/Nünning 2002 = Nünning, A./Nünning, V. (Hg.), Neue Ansätze in der Erzähltheorie. Trier.
  • Reitz/Rieuwerts 2000 = Reitz, B./Rieuwerts, S. (Hg.), Anglistentag 1999, Mainz: Proceedings Vol. XX. Trier.
  • Sommer 2007, R., "'Contextualism' Revisited: A Survey (and Defence) of Postcolonial and Intercultural Narratology", in: Journal of Literary Theory 1 (2007), 61-79.

 

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