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Narratology is a humanities discipline dedicated to the study of the logic, principles, and practices of narrative representation.

Dominated by structuralist approaches at its beginning, narratology has developed into a variety of theories, concepts, and analytic procedures. Its concepts and models are widely used as heuristic tools, and narratological theorems play a central role in the exploration and modeling of our ability to produce and process narratives in a multitude of forms, media, contexts, and communicative practices.


As a human science, narratology is historically defined and reflects ongoing changes in research agendas and methodologies in the humanities. At the same time, the persistence of narratological inquiry for more than four decades, despite its increasing “centrifugal tendencies” (Barry 1990), testifies to its cohesion as a system of scientific practices.

During its initial or “classical” phase, from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s, narratologists were particularly interested in identifying and defining narrative universals. This tendency is still echoed in a concise 1993 definition of narratology as “the set of general statements on narrative genres, on the systematics of narrating (telling a story) and on the structure of plot” (Ryan & von Alphen 1993: 110). However, a decade later, narratology was alternatively described as (a) a theory (Prince 2003: 1), (b) a method (Kindt & Müller 2003: 211), or (c) a discipline (Fludernik & Margolin 2004: 149).

The third option seems most adequate: the concept of discipline subsumes theory and method, acknowledging narratology’s dual nature as both a theoretical and an application-oriented academic approach to narrative. Narratology is no longer a single theory, but rather comprises a group of related theories (cf. Herman ed. 1999). This has motivated some to conclude that narratology is in fact a textual theory whose scope extends beyond narratives and to claim that “none of the distinctions introduced by narratology to text theory is specific to any genre” (Titzmann 2003: 201).

However, contemporary “postclassical” narratology cannot be reduced to a text theory, either. Over the past twenty years, narratologists have paid increasing attention to the historicity and contextuality of modes of narrative representation as well as to its pragmatic function across various media, while research into narrative universals has been extended to cover narrative’s cognitive and epistemological functions. Against this background, two questions deserve particular attention:

(a) How does narratology relate to other disciplines that include the study of narrative? (b) How can its status as a methodology be characterized? Five observations can be made in response to these questions which at the same time substantiate the above definition of narratology:

(i) Narratology is not the theory of narrative (Bal [1985] 1997), but rather a theory of narrative (Prince 1995: 110; Nünning 2003: 227–28). Other theories of narrative coexist with narratological ones. The relation between narrative theory and narratology is thus not symmetrical, but hierarchical and inclusive (Nünning & Nünning 2002: 19).

(ii) At the same time, narratology is more than a theory. While it may not have lived up to the scientistic pretension expressed in its invocation as a new “science of narrative” (Todorov 1969: 10), it does qualify as a discipline. It has a defined object domain, explicit models and theories, a distinct descriptive terminology, transparent analytical procedures and the institutional infrastructure typical of disciplines: official organizations; specialized knowledge resources (journals, series, handbooks, dictionaries, bibliographies, web portals, etc.); a diverse scientific community engaging in national, international, and interdisciplinary research projects. And last but not least, narratology is taught in undergraduate and graduate courses.

(iii) Narratology’s overriding concern remains with narrative representation as type, although it does not preclude the study of narrative tokens. Defining narratology in positive terms may prove difficult, but defining it ex negativo is not: a statement on narrative representation―a theory, an argument, but also a concrete empirical finding―is not narratological if it does not ultimately concern “narrative qua narrative” (Prince 1990: 10).

(iv) In the wake of the “narrative turn,” the application of narratological tools to extra-narratological research problems has become more and more widespread, resulting in a multitude of compound or “hyphenated” narratologies. However, in a theoretical perspective not every approach labeled “narratological” automatically constitutes a new narratology sensu strictu. While one subset of the new approaches comprises methodological variants (natural narratology, critical narratology, cognitive narratology, etc.; Herman 2002; Fehn et al. eds. 1992; Fludernik 1996), others focus on thematic and ideology-critical concerns (post-colonial narratology, feminist narratology, etc.; cf. Nünning 2003; Nünning & Nünning 2002).

(v) Despite the high level of academic attention enjoyed by the practices and products of human narrative competence, the commonsense notion of narrative is still predominantly associated with text-based narratives. “Narrative representation” is therefore a preferable definition of narratology’s object of study in that it counteracts this reductionism in two ways: (a) narrative representation is not media specific, since its specificity is of a functional order and lies in narrativity. (b) “representation” denotes the product as well as the process of representing or, as Prince stated: “Narrative is an act and it is an object” (1990: 4).

History of the Concept and its Study

Coining of the Term “Narratology”

The French term narratologie was coined by Todorov (1969: 10), who argued for a shift in focus from the surface level of text-based narrative (i.e. concrete discourse as realized in the form of letters, words and sentences) to the general logical and structural properties of narrative as a univers de représentations (9). Todorov thus called for a new type of generalizing theory that could be applied to all domains of narrative, and in fact for a hypothetical “science that does not exist yet; let’s call it NARRATOLOGY, or science of narrative.”

The neologism alluded to social and natural sciences such as sociology and biology (Herman 2005: 19), and its invention by Todorov is sometimes interpreted as a foundational act. However, the assumption of a direct link between the history of the concept and the history of the discipline is misleading: hardly any of the important contributions to early narratology explicitly associated itself with “narratology” by title (e.g. Communications 8, 1966; Genette [1972] 1980; Prince 1973; Bremond 1973; Culler 1975; Chatman 1978). Bibliometrical analysis of some 4,500 entries listed in the online bibliography of the “Interdisciplinary Center for Narratology” (ICN) shows that usage of the concept as a methodological and disciplinary identifier in French, Dutch, German, and English monographs and journal articles only became popular after the publication of Bal’s Narratologie in 1977. The first use of the term in an English title is found in Ryan (1979) and in a German title in Schmidt (1989).

One of the reasons for the scientific community’s hesitant acceptance of the name “narratology” was the proliferation of related and more general concepts as well as of alternative research agendas concerned with narrative. In Germany, the terms Erzähltheorie and Erzählforschung were already well established and had been in use since the mid-1950s (Lämmert 1955), which might also explain why Ihwe’s 1972 attempt to introduce the term “narrativics” (Narrativik) met with limited success. Among the Russian avant-garde, for whom poetry dominated literature, the call for a “theory of prose” amounted to a plea for a revaluation of the other hemisphere, while important American contributions such as Booth ([1961] 1983) or Chatman (1978, 1990a) evolved from the tradition of New Criticism and rhetoric. Finally, French narratologists were rooted in structural linguistics and semiology (Greimas [1966] 1983), in logic (Bremond 1973), or in rhetorical and traditional grammatical categories Genette ([1972] 1983).


Core elements and ideas at play in the narratological modeling of narrative were introduced as early as Greek antiquity, while others originated from the late 19th century onward, particularly in the context of phenomenological, morphological and hermeneutic taxonomies and theories of literary and folk narratives.

Plato and Aristotle: Representational Modes and the Functional Relation between Character and Action

In The Republic, Plato differentiated literary genres on the basis of the genre-specific constellation of two fundamental modes of speech termed mimesis, the direct imitation of speech in the form of the characters’ verbatim dialogues and monologues, and diegesis, which comprises all utterances attributable to the author. According to Plato, the lyric genre is restricted to the use of diegesis and the dramatic genre to the use of mimesis, with only the epic genre combining both. This fundamental distinction of the two principal modes of narrating not only anticipated the 20th-century opposition showing vs. telling, but it also prefigured one of the three analytical dimensions adopted by Genette ([1972] 1983), namely voice.

Aristotle’s Poetics presented a second criterion that has remained fundamental for the understanding of narrative: the distinction between the totality of events taking place in a depicted world and the de facto narrated plot or muthos. He pointed out that the latter is always a construct presenting a subset of events, chosen and arranged according to aesthetic considerations. This resulted in the Poetics’ functional approach to fictional protagonists and their actions, the latter explained as governed by the aesthetic and logical requirements of the overall muthos.

The Normative Paradigm: 17th to early 20th-century Theories of the Novel

Prose narrative as we know it today became an accepted part of the literary canon only from the 18th century onward. Focusing on aspects of thematics and didactics, the main question motivating its early theorists (e.g. Huet [1670] 1715; Blanckenburg [1774] 1965) was therefore normative: would the new literary form stand up to the qualitative standards of the ancient epos? This concern continued to dominate many theories of the paradigmatic narrative genre right into the early 20th century, most prominently in Lukács ([1916] 1993).

Re-introducing the Formal Paradigm: Spielhagen and Friedemann

Spielhagen ([1876] 1967) was one of the first to address formal features of narrative again, and he did so by distinguishing novel and novella in terms of the complexity and functionality of characters and the different economies of action and plot design. His study ([1883] 1967) introduced a fundamental taxonomic distinction between first- and third-person narration and also reflected on the author-narrator relation. Motivated by a dislike for anti-illusionary narrative devices, Spielhagen declared that the ideal narrative never alerts the reader to the ongoing process of narration.

Friedemann ([1910] 1965) took exception to this normative postulate. For her, mediality was a constitutive element of narration rather than a defect, and the narrating instance an inherent feature of any narrative, whether (fictionally) present or logically implied. The methodological significance of this insight can hardly be overestimated: Friedemann had effectively defined the essence of narrative in structural terms, taking the principle of Plato’s phenomenological definition of the epos one step further.

From Catalogue to Formula: Aarne-Thompson vs. Propp

Late 19th-century literary history and theory equated narrative with literary narrative, thus leaving research on the folktale to specialists. In the 1880s, the pioneers of a new empirical approach in folklore studies formed the “Finnish School,” and in 1910 Aarne, one of its members, published the first version of a catalogue known as the Aarne-Thompson-Index (Aarne & Thompson [1928] 1961), used internationally to the present day (Uther 2004). The expanded catalogue now lists 2,500 summarized variants of folk tales across eight categories.

A theoretical attempt to reduce literary narratives to basic principles was presented in Forster ([1927] 2005). He argued that the hypothetical minimal story “The king died, and then the queen died” could be transformed into a valid narrative plot by the addition of an explanatory clause such as “of grief.” Focusing on empirical folk tales, Propp ([1928] 1968) presented a model of the elementary components of narratives and the way they are combined. However, in contrast to his predecessors, Propp abstracted from the content plane altogether in order to describe a particular type of Russian fairy tales in terms of a sequence of thirty-one abstract “functions.”

Propp’s approach was to receive considerable attention among the French structuralists who, while acknowledging the model’s originality, at the same time criticized it for its purely sequential, mono-linear logic of action and suggested replacing it with combinatory, multi-linear models (Lévi-Strauss 1976). Partly on the basis of such revisions, Propp’s functional model served as a fundamental point of reference for the elaboration of “story grammars,” Chomskian generative grammar being the other. The idea of a generative grammar of narrative was to be taken up not only by narratologists (Prince 1973, 1980; van Dijk 1975; Pavel 1985), but also by Artificial Intelligence (AI) researchers who tried to design artificial story telling systems (Rumelhart 1980; Bringsjord & Ferrucci 1999).

Russian Formalism

Russian formalism, which flourished from about 1916 until suppressed by the Stalinists in the late 1920s, had a more radical cultural-ideological agenda: its aim was to prove the autonomy of art as form. Literature in particular was considered a phenomenon sui generis that cannot be explained adequately in terms of content or of biographical or historical context. Šklovskij ([1917] 1965) postulated the need to study literature in terms of purely formal features such as the principle of defamiliarization, which governs the literary use of language and accentuates the textual artifact as an autonomous signifying structure. The most influential contribution from a narratological perspective was the formalist differentiation of fabula and sujet (Tomaševskij [1925] 1971), in which the latter is defined as a defamiliarisation of the former.

Pre-structuralist Theories of Narrative: Perspective, Time, Logic and Rhetoric


Early in the last century, the question of narrative perspective (Niederhoff → Perspective – Point of View) became the subject of a poetological controversy initiated by the novelist and theorist Henry James. He advocated the scenic method of narration in which narrative perspective is strictly tied to the epistemological constraints of a particular character, a technique demonstrated particularly in The Ambassadors (1903). James’s admirer Lubbock ([1921] 1972) postulated that such character-bound “point of view” should in fact be considered the qualitative standard for narrative prose, thus elevating James’s technical distinction into one of principle, namely that of “showing” vs. “telling.” According to Lubbock, a coherent mimetic representation can only originate from the epistemological point of view of a character (i.e. from pure “showing”).

Descriptive rather than prescriptive by design, Pouillon (1946) broadened the scope and distinguished three principal forms defined in terms of the narrator’s temporal and cognitive stance vis-à-vis the characters. Friedman (1955) extended the scope further, proposing a graded spectrum of eight modes of perspective in which each type is determined by its ratio of character to narrator-bound sequences. An even more complex stratified model in which the positions of character and narrator are correlated in the four dimensions of ideology, phraseology, spatio-temporal constraints, and psychology of perspective was developed by Uspenskij ([1970] 1973), a member of the Moscow-Tartu school of semiotics. The idea has been taken further in Schmid (2005), which represents the most comprehensive model of perspective to date.

A phenomenological contribution to the theory of perspective was that of the Austrian Anglicist Stanzel, who identified three proto-typical “narrative situations” ([1955] 1971). In the “I narrative situation,” the narrator exists and acts within the narrated world; in the “authorial narrative situation,” he is positioned outside the narrated world but dominates the process of mediation by commenting on events; in the “figural narrative situation,” the third-person narrator remains unobtrusive while the narrative information is filtered through the internal perspective of the reflector character. Stanzel understood these three narrative situations to be ideal types and thus modeled them on a synthetic typological circle. Actual narratives, he observed, often occupy an intermediate position between these situations and are thus best modeled in terms of a synthetic typological circle.

The controversy over the pragmatic merits of Stanzel’s approach versus its methodological constraints and inconsistencies continues to the present day (cf. Cohn 1981; Kindt & Müller 2006; Cornils 2007; Schernus 2007), as does the more general narratological general debate on the concept of narrative perspective (cf. van Peer & Chatman eds. 2001; Hühn et al. eds. 2009).


With respect to the category of time, Müller (1948) introduced an equally fundamental distinction between “narrated time” (erzählte Zeit) vs. “time of narration” (Erzählzeit). The correlation between the two dimensions, as he showed, characterizes the pace of a narrative.

This approach was further explored by Lämmert (1955), one of the first large-scale taxonomies of narrative. For Lämmert, the phenomenology of individual narratives can be traced back to a stable, universal repertoire of elementary modes of narrating. He distinguished various types of narration which stretched, abbreviated, repeated, paused and interrupted, skipped and eliminated sub-sequences, while other types perfectly imitated the flow of narrated time. (The category of time in Genette [1972] 1980 is examined in similar terms.) Drawing on Lubbock’s ([1921] 1972) work as well as on Petsch (1934), Lämmert related these elementary forms of narrative temporality to the principal modes of narration such as scenic presentation, report, reflection, and description. Unfortunately, the systematic gain of his contribution was hampered by an overly complex and at times “fuzzy” taxonomy which tries to account for all forms of narrative flashbacks and flash forwards.

Logic and Rhetoric

A philosophically more concise contribution to narrative theory was Hamburger ([1957] 1973), a book which explored the semantics and pragmatics of literary communication, and in particular the specific logic of the use of temporal and personal deixis under the conditions of fictional reference. Hamburger pointed out that neither the subject of an utterance nor the utterance’s temporal location and reference can be adequately inferred from the words and sentences of a literary narrative: literature overwrites the rules and conventions of everyday language use with its own logic.

The question of the validity and reliability of narrative utterances was again raised by Booth ([1961] 1983), this time from a rhetorical and ethical perspective. He introduced the concept of “unreliable narrator,” interpreting cases of conflicting and self-contradicting narration as an aesthetic device aimed at signaling the author’s moral and normative distance from his narrator. However, the way in which Booth constructed his argument made it necessary to introduce a second, more speculative concept, namely that of the implied author (Schmid → Implied Author). While the concept of “unreliable narrator,” rejected by structuralists such as Genette ([1983] 1988), has become more accepted in post-classical narratology, the controversy over the implied author’s plausibility is ongoing (Booth 2005; Kindt & Müller 2006).

French Structuralism: 1966–1980

French structuralism eventually gave the decisive impulse for the formation of narratology as a methodologically coherent, structure-oriented variant of narrative theory. This new paradigm was proclaimed in a 1966 special issue of the journal Communications, programmatically titled “L’analyse structurale du récit.” It contained articles by leading structuralists Barthes, Eco, Genette, Greimas, Todorov, and the film theorist Metz.

Three traditions informed the new structuralist approach toward narrative: Russian Formalism and Proppian morphology; structural linguistics in the Saussurean tradition as well as the structural anthropology of Lévi-Strauss; the transformational generative grammar of Chomsky. Against this background, the structuralists engaged in a systematic re-examination of the two dimensions of narrative already identified by Šklovskij, fabula and sujet, re-labeled by Todorov in French as histoire and discours and by Genette as histoire and récit.

From 1966 to 1972, narratology focused mainly on the former. At the most abstract level, the semiotician Greimas concentrated on the elementary structure of signification. Building on Lévi-Strauss’s (1955, [1958] 1963) structural analysis of myths, Greimas ([1966] 1983) proposed a deep-level model of signification termed the “semiotic square,” which represents the semiotic infrastructure of all signifying systems. The mapping of this universal deep structure onto a given narrative’s surface structure can then be explained in terms of transformational rules. Finally, a typology of six functional roles attributable to characters (main vs. secondary character, opponent vs. helper, sender vs. receiver; cf. Greimas [1973] 1987) complements the approach. Barthes ([1966] 1975) proposed a functional systematics of narrated events which distinguishes “kernels,” i.e. obligatory events that guarantee the story’s coherence, and optional “satellites” that serve to embellish the basic plot. Todorov (1969) furthered the linguistic analogy by equating actions to verbs, characters to nouns and their attributes to adjectives, and then by then linking these elements through modal operators. This narrative syntax operates on the abstract level of a narrative langue: instead of accounting only for the manifest sequence of events represented in a given fictional world, this “grammar” also included the logic of virtual action sequences, e.g. those imagined in a narrated character’s mind. Bremond (1973) explored the logic of represented action from yet another angle, modeling it as a series of binary choices in which an “eventuality” results in “action” or in “non-action” and, in the former case, in “completion” or in “non-completion.” The interest in questions of action logic and narrative grammar was taken up in Prince (1973) which synthesized and systematized the earlier approaches, and yet again in Pavel (1985), which combined Bremond’s abstract binary logic with game theory (cf. Herman 2002).

While the theoretical ambition and level of abstraction of early structuralist models of narrative were impressive, their practical relevance was hard to prove to philologists. Greimassian semantics is a case in point: used as a descriptive grammar, its categories were defined with a degree of generality too broad to be faulted; put to the test as a generative grammar, its yield was too abstract to demonstrate the necessity or the explanatory power of the transformational process from semiotic deep structure to the surface structure of narrated events and characters.

This systematic and methodological gap was addressed by Genette ([1972] 1980), who presented a comprehensive taxonomy of discourse phenomena developed alongside a detailed analysis of narrative composition and technique in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. Broadly speaking, Genette’s narratological taxonomy covered three functional domains of literary narrative: the temporal structure and dynamics of representation (in the dual sense of product and process of representational activity); the mode of narration and its underlying logic of narrative communication; and the epistemological and normative constraints of the gathering and communication of information during the narrative process. The terminology and neologisms introduced by Genette in together with his taxonomy soon became the narratological lingua franca.

In contrast to his formalist predecessors and structuralist colleagues, Genette had no intention of designing a fully coherent and self-contained theory of narrative. This sparked fundamental narratological controversies over Genettian concepts such as “focalization” (Bal 1977; Jahn 1996, 1999b) and set the stage for numerous debates that were to result in postclassical narratology. Some of this criticism was addressed in Genette ([1983] 1988).

Poststructuralist Narratology: 1980–1990

The following decade was dominated by two major trends: a widening of narratology’s scope beyond literary narrative and the importing of concepts and theories from other disciplines (Ryan & van Alphen 1993: 112). The process thus mirrored the general shift from structuralist to poststructuralist methodologies that was taking place in the humanities at that time.

Chatman (1978) demonstrated the applicability of narratology to visual narratives. Bal ([1985] 1997) and others proved narratology’s relevance in the analysis of cross-textual phenomena such as intertextuality and intermediality, as well as in that of intra-textual phenomena of polyvocality (Lanser 1981). Derridaen deconstruction was introduced by Culler (1981), who questioned the implicit genealogy from story (histoire, fabula) to discourse and argued that the relation of dependency between the two is the exact opposite: discourse generates story. The psychological motivation at play in this process of retrospective emplotting was explored in Brooks (1984). Another influence came from feminist studies: Lanser (1986) proposed to include gender as a systematic category for the narratological analysis of the narratorial profile as well as of point of view and mode of presentation. On a more abstract level, Pavel (1986) and Doležel (1988) extended the narratological model by introducing modal logic and the theory of possible worlds. These models accounted for the implicit, non-realized virtual narratives indicated by fictional characters’ hopes, wishes, etc. which may not materialize but nevertheless serve to point to the theoretical possibility of an alternative course of events. Ryan (1991) explored this line of reasoning even further, linking it to the simulation paradigm of AI. Finally, the postclassical phase of narratology saw an increase in the exporting of narratological concepts and theorems to other disciplines (Meuter → Narration in Various Disciplines), thus contributing to the “narrative turn” (cf. White 1980; Kreiswirth 1995).

Post-classical Narratology and “New” Narratologies: 1990 to Present

With time, the tension between structuralist narratology’s original concern for systematicity and logical coherence and the need for a response to calls for a more pragmatically oriented theory of narrative could no longer be ignored, as observed by Prince (2003).

Fludernik (1996) signaled a shift in focus from text-based phenomena to the cognitive functions of oral and non-literary narrative, thus opening a new chapter in the narratological project. In contrast, Gibson (1996) argued for a radical deconstruction of the entire conceptual apparatus developed by the structuralists. Whether such philosophical criticism in the Derridaen vein deserves to be classified “narratological” has however been met with skepticism (e.g. Nünning & Nünning 2002: 15).

Even so, the deconstructionist and postmodernist onslaught stimulated a multitude of new approaches aimed at combining the structuralists’ concern for systematicity with a renewal of interest in the cultural and philosophical issues of history and ideology. The resulting wave of critically oriented narratological models and theories proved to be methodologically heterogeneous, prompting Herman (ed. 1999) to introduce the plural concept of “narratologies.” A comprehensive survey by Nünning & Nünning (2002) and by Nünning (2003) grouped the proliferation of “new narratologies” that got underway during the 1990s into eight categories, three of which have turned out to be the dominant methodological paradigms of contemporary narratology:

(a) Contextualist narratology (Chatman 1990b; note that Chatman introduces the term, but criticizes the approach) relates the phenomena encountered in narrative to specific cultural, historical, thematic, and ideological contexts. This extends the focus from purely structural aspects to issues of narrated content.

(b) Cognitive narratology (Herman 2000, ed. 2003) focuses on the human intellectual and emotional processing of narratives. This approach is not restricted to literary narratives: “natural” everyday and oral narratives are considered to represent an underlying anthropological competence in its original form (Fludernik 1996). Cognitivist approaches also play a crucial role in AI research, the aim of which is to model or simulate human narrative intelligence (Jahn 1999a; Mateas & Sengers eds. 2003; Meister 2003; Lönneker et al. eds. 2005).

(c) Transgeneric approaches (Hühn & Sommer → Narration in Poetry and Drama) and intermedial approaches (Ryan → Narration in Various Media; cf. Ryan 2005, ed. 2004; Wolf 2004) explore the relevance of narratological concepts for the study of genres and media outside the traditional object domain of text-based literary narrative. Application, adaptation and reformulation of narratological concepts go hand in hand with the narratological analysis of drama (Fludernik 2000; Jahn 2001; Richardson 2007; Fludernik 2008; Nünning & Sommer 2008), poetry (Hühn 2004; Hühn & Kiefer 2005; Schönert et al. 2007), film (Bordwell 1985; Branigan 1992; Schlickers 1997; Mittell 2007; Eder 2008), music (Kramer 1991; Wolf 2002; Seaton 2005; Grabócz 2009), the visual and performing arts (Bal 1991; Ryan 2003, ed. 2004; Berns → Performativity), computer games (Ryan 2001, 2006, 2008) as well as other domains. This broadening of the narratological palette beyond specific media highlights the necessity for further research on narrativity (Abbott → Narrativity).


The development of narratology has been dependent not only on its theoretical or meta-theoretical advances, but has also emerged with the gradual consolidation of organizational and institutional structures. In this respect, three phases can be identified:

Phase 1: The formation of cross-disciplinary narratological interest groups. Beginning with the contributors to the programmatic 1966 special issue of the journal Communications and the creation during the 1970s by Bremond, Genette, Todorov, Marin, and Metz of the Centre de recherches sur les arts et le langage (Centre National de Recherche Scientifique), informal organizational models (also represented by the Tel Aviv group with its influential journal Poetics Today, or in the Amsterdam School initiated by Bal) have played a decisive role in shaping narratology as a paradigmatic inter-discipline.

Phase 2: The advent of officially funded narratological institutions for academic research and teaching since the late 1990s, such as the “Forschergruppe Narratologie” and the “Interdisciplinary Center for Narratology” at Hamburg University, the “Zentrum für Erzählforschung” at Wuppertal University as well as the “Center for Narratological Studies” at the University of Southern Denmark and the “Project Narrative” at Ohio State University in the US.

Phase 3: The founding of national and international narratological umbrella organizations. These include the North American “International Society for the Study of Narrative,” the Scandinavian “Nordic Network,” and the “European Narratology Network.”

To date, the theoretical definition of narratology has generally followed one of three lines of reasoning: the first upholds or questions narratology’s original formalist-structuralist credo; the second explores family resemblances among the old and the “new narratologies” and their various research paradigms; the third focuses on the methodological distinction between hermeneutic and heuristic functions, sometimes suggesting that narratology’s scope ought to be restricted to the latter and sometimes arguing that it ought to be defined in even more general terms. While the merit of these theoretical definitions is obvious, narratology’s potential for further development is perhaps better described in terms of an interaction of three concurrent processes: expansion of the body of domain-specific theories on which narratology is based; continuous broadening of its epistemic reach; consolidation of an institutional infrastructure, which has helped to transform a methodology into a discipline.

Topics for Further Investigation

The diversification of narratology since the 1990s has not only borne witness to its continued relevance, but it has also underscored the need to address the problem of methodological identity. What exactly is narratology (cf. Kindt & Müller 2003)? How can it be defined in theoretical and methodological terms? The need for critical self-reflection by practicing narratologists can be argued from two angles.

Even during the heyday of poststructuralism, it was observed that “visits to the tool shed of narratology may be of advantage even to those making critical theory their main residence” (Hoesterey 1991: 214). However, can conceptual imports taken from structuralist narratology retain their theoretical precision and integrity in a foreign methodological context, or are they not rather destined to degenerate into mere metaphoric labels? Descriptive concepts such as mise en abyme or metalepsis (Pier → Metalepsis) seem to be less at risk (cf. Wolf 2005; Schmid 2005a), while others―notably the core narratological concept of narrator―resist straightforward appropriation, as film or computer game studies (e.g. Neitzel 2005) have come to realize.

Yet examples like these also point to a more fundamental issue that extends beyond the scope of individual concepts. What is the principal methodological status of the undertaking now that it has transformed into a “Narratology beyond Literary Studies” (Meister et al. 2005): is narratology a tool, a method, a program, a theory, or is it indeed a discipline (Schönert 2004)?

Nünning & Nünning’s comprehensive 2002 survey (cf. Nünning 2003) of the multitude of “new narratologies” concluded with a list of six desiderata, calling for: (a) more studies in the history of narratology; (b) concrete examples of narratological analyses of texts; (c) detailed theoretical explication of narratological conceptual fundamentals; (d) narratological reconstructions of phenomena relevant to literary history; (e) narratological work in the field of cultural history; (f) research on intermedial aspects of narrative.

In the intervening years, most of these desiderata have been addressed at least in part. For example, the Russian formalists’ constitutive role has been reconstructed in Schmid (ed. 2009), which includes seminal original texts in (German) translation. Others have investigated historical links between narratology and German Erzähltheorie (Cornils & Schernus 2003; Fludernik & Margolin 2004). Narratological analyses of texts, films, visual artifacts, etc. were undertaken starting in the 1970s and continue to nourish narratological reflection today. Numerous studies―some of them book-length―have been devoted to fundamental concepts such as event and eventfulness (Schmid 2003; Hühn → Event and Eventfulness), narrativity (Sturgess 1992; Sternberg 2001; Audet et al. [2006] 2007; Pier & García Landa eds. 2008; Abbott → Narrativity), action (Meister 2003), character (Jannidis 2004; Eder 2008; Jannidis → Character) and perspective (Hühn et al. eds. 2009; Niederhoff → Perspective – Point of View; Niederhoff → Focalization); research on procedural aspects of narrative that long remained unnoticed has emanated from digital media studies (Ryan 2002, 2006).

By contrast, a narratologically based approach in literary history― called for repeatedly (Bal 1986; Pavel 1990; Nünning 2000; Fludernik 2003, etc.)―is still outstanding. Similarly, the potential for interdisciplinary cooperation between narratology and text linguistics has also not been fully exploited yet. After a promising start in the 1970s (van Dijk 1975) this work has been taken up only occasionally (e.g. Adam [1985] 1994; Karlgren & Cutting 1994; Toolan [1988] 2001). Recent contributions such as Adam (2005), Lehmann (2008) or Janik (2008) demonstrate the synergy of this approach.

Contemporary narratology has clearly responded to the call to broaden the scope of methodology and object domain. At the same time, the last two desiderata underscore literary narrative’s paradigmatic status for the narratological study of narrative representation.


Works Cited

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