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Review of  Narrativität als Begriff [Narrativity as a Concept]

Reviewer: Pierre-Yves Modicom
Book Title: Narrativität als Begriff [Narrativity as a Concept]
Book Author: Matthias Aumüller
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 23.4094

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EDITOR: Aumüller, Matthias
TITLE: Narrativität als Begriff
SUBTITLE: Analysen und Anwendungsbeispiele zwischen philologischer und
anthropologischer Orientierung
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2012

Pierre-Yves Modicom, U. Paris Sorbonne and Ecole Normale Supérieure

This volume collects papers dealing with theoretical and epistemological issues
of contemporary research in narratology. The twelve articles represent several
traditions from that field, which do not all pertain equally to linguistics.

In the general introduction, Aumüller sketches terminological and
epistemological issues faced by contemporary narratology. The extreme variety of
concepts used by narratologists is partly due to cultural transfers (many
notions being imported from French or Russian) and to the specific disciplinary
backgrounds of researchers: narratology appears to be a domain more than a
discipline of its own. These problems are ignored by many narratologists but
they constitute the core topic of the volume. For Aumüller, who uses categories
of lexical semantics and of modern analytic philosophy, narratologists should
show more concern for the value of their own concepts and work on more solid

The first part is devoted to “philological” approaches, and the seven articles
belong to fields such as of cultural studies, cinema, literature, linguistics
and history.

The first chapter, “Narrativität in der wissenschaftlichen Geschichtsschreibung”
(Axel Rüth), discusses the status of narration in historiography. Many modern
historians refuse to regard narration as an epistemologically valid way to
represent history, but many others, including Rüth, argue that there is no
proper alternative to narrativity in historiography, so long as narration is
defined as a cognitive way of apprehending temporally situated events. Many
examples tend to demonstrate the ubiquity of narrativity, even in studies by
critics of narrative historiography. This finally leads Rüth to discuss
different types of narrative presentations of history and to compare their
respective advantages and drawbacks.

The second paper, “Rudimentäres Erzählen nicht-fiktionaler Ereignisse in
fernsehjournalistischen Nachrichtenfilmen” (Karl Renner) is devoted to narration
(“Erzählen”) and reporting (“Berichten”) as supposedly opposed categories.
Renner advocates a formalized, event-semantic approach to narrative patterns. He
sketches an ontology of narrative processes as displacements in a semantic
space. On this foundation, he describes the way German TV journalists dealt with
the crisis of the German Social Democratic Party in 2008. Comparing different
formats, he shows how those basic patterns are always present, yet with
different orientations, especially regarding the argumentative and moral biases
of the narration, which are used differently depending on the media type.

The third contribution, “Erzählen und Spielen: Zur Bedeutung des Erzählbegriffs
in den Game Studies” (Britta Neitzel), is an epistemological, meta-theoretical
discussion of recent polemics among specialists in video games. The main problem
here is whether the event patterns present in video games and the orientation to
a goal are sufficient features to speak of narration. Neitzel distinguishes
different types of sequences defined by the degree of autonomy of the player and
addresses the question of the narrator of video games, who could be identified
as the player herself.

In “Gattungsbezogene Unterschiede in der Inszenierung von Ereignishaftigkeit und
der Zuschreibung von Relevanz im Kurzfilm”, Jens Kiefer uses the framework of
relevance theory to discuss the variation of narrative types in short films. The
narration is shown to be often fragmentary, and many constraints appear to be
linked with the subtype of short film we are faced with. At the end of the
paper, which is illustrated by many examples, relevance is reinterpreted as the
major criterion for the conception of narration in short films.

The fifth paper, “Literaturwissenschaftliche Erzählbegriffe” (Matthias
Aumüller), details the history and the epistemological status of concepts used
by narratologists working on literature. First, he isolates features that are
often described as constitutive for narrativity and examines possible
counterarguments against each. Then, departing from the necessity of classifying
different subtypes of narratives, he compares the merits and shortcomings of the
different approaches.

The sixth article, “Narrativität aus linguistischer Sicht“ by Volkmar Lehmann,
and the seventh, “Zur Ontogenese des narrativen Redetyps” by Tanja Anstatt,
should be read as a whole. They are the most directly linguistic contributions
in the volume and rely on the same theoretical premises, mostly explicated by
Lehmann. This chapter begins with a short presentation of different past
attempts at identifying the core features of narrativity in texts. Yet, unlike
some macrostructural approaches in text linguistics, he makes the case for the
study of narrativity at a microtextual scale. The main question addressed is
that of the relation of predicates to the so-called “Psychological Now”. In this
perspective, tense and aspect play a central role. Based on Russian and German
examples, Lehmann distinguishes four types of narration that all have their own
temporal paradigms. After showing the role of perfectivity in the constitution
of narration, Lehmann finally provides examples illustrating the ubiquity of the
relation to the “Psychological Now”. The following contribution is devoted to
the acquisition of the temporal and aspectual paradigms isolated by Lehmann for
each narrative type. Anstatt's sample comes from German and Russian children.
Anstatt focuses on the most prominent, the so-called olim-type, which exhibits
past tense (resp. preterite) as default temporal and aspectual norm. After a
detailed presentation of tense, aspect and mood in Russian and a comparison with
German, she describes the different steps between the initial, purely deictic
and self-oriented accounts from the final verbalization of “olim-narratives”.

The second part is devoted to “anthropologically oriented concepts of
narration”. Chapter 8, “Unter-/Brechung in der talking cure” (Michael
Schödlbauer), is a presentation of some discussions among psychotherapists and
psychoanalysts dealing with the status of interrupted narration. Interruption is
not only conceived as external interruption by the therapists, but also as
self-interruption or perturbation of the tale by associations of ideas, other
reminiscences or digressions. Drawing on a detailed case study, Schödlbauer
explores the constitutive role of interruption in psychoanalytical narration.
Chapter nine, “Narrativität als philosophischer Begriff” by Inga Römer, is a
case for narrativity as a core anthropological pattern with considerable
implications for the constitution of self-identity as well as for moral. She
mainly follows Ricoeur (1983) and examines possible counterarguments. She
concedes that some narrativist claims go too far, but sketches a more flexible
concept of narrativity that is supposed to resist claims made by philosophers
opposed to the primacy of narrative patterns, such as Galen Strawson (2004). In
“Narrationen als Repräsentationen empirischer Prozesse -- Erzählungen als
empirische Daten in der Soziologie”, Ivonne Küsters defends the use of
narratives in sociological interviews. She gives several examples of interviews
she conducted, explaining how structural constraints force the interviewee to
produce more coherent speech, but also partly force her to be more sincere and
precise than in other forms of interviews. Pragmatic constraints therefore work
as an instrument to provide more valuable data for social researchers. The focus
of “Geschichten und Gegengeschichten -- Erzählen im Strafrecht” (Kati
Hannken-Illjes), lies on narratives produced by speakers during in judicial
contexts. Hannken-Illje's approach distinguishes a “dominant story” and
“counter-stories”, a conflict constitutive for judicial bargaining. With a case
study, she provides a fine-grained analysis of this conflict of stories and
shows how intricate conflicting stances are. Moreover, narration is always
strongly linked with argumentation.

Finally, in “Narration in der Psychologie”, Norbert Groeben and Ursula
Christmann examine methodological and theoretical conflicts within psychology
using the example of the treatment of narrativity. On the one hand, the authors
distinguish “quantitative, experimental” approaches that aim at isolating
patterns and macrostructures for the cognitive processing of narrative texts.
The search for coherence and causal relations is shown to play a major cognitive
role from this perspective. On the other hand, “cultural, qualitative”
approaches rather focus on the articulation of meaning and social, cultural
function of narratives. They are more context-sensitive and can lead to fine
distinctions of narrative subtypes. In the conclusion, the authors make the case
for tighter cooperation between these approaches.

If we consider the domain of linguistics broadly, we can identify three main
subfields pertinent to narrativity: discourse analysis (especially vis-à-vis
sociolinguistics since Labov & Waletzky 1967), text linguistics and philosophy
of language. All three approaches are dealt with in this volume. The
discourse-analytical and critical approach can be exemplified by the studies on
narratives in judicial context (Hannken-Illjes), but also by the study of
narrativity in journalism (Renner). Both are concerned with the argumentative
dimension of narration and context-sensitive types of narratives. In the case of
Hannke-Illjes, the paradigm of narratives and counter-narratives is discussed
with clear arguments and examples that should interest sociolinguists working on
narrativity. Text linguistics, for its part, is not always easy to distinguish
from discourse analysis, especially when the study is focused on the question of
genres. Still, if we concentrate on text processing, we can say that the paper
on “narration in psychology” (Groeben & Christmann) is a valuable,
interdisciplinary contribution to that subfield. This is also true of Küsters,
whose thesis on the empirical consequences of processing constraints induced by
narrative form should be noticed. Furthermore, Hannken-Illjes as well as Rüth
(on narrativity in historiography) and Aumüller (in a more meta-theoretical,
literary fashion) also provide stimulating treatments of genres. Still, a
central dimension of text linguistic approaches of narrativity is hardly present
in this volume, making it somewhat frustrating: there is no study on connection
and discourse particles. The single contribution dealing with this topic is
Anstatt's study of the acquisition of narrative patterns, where the appearance
of connective forms is mentioned seen as a step in the acquisition process. That
question of connection is central and would have been very profitable for
interdisciplinary approaches, for instance for researchers working on the
articulation of narration and argumentation, but also for more cognitive,
psychological accounts that could have used those phenomena as pertinent data on
constraints and patterns of narration. Finally, philosophy of language is
represented mainly by Römer, but the discussion of the epistemological and
knowledge-theoretical status of narration is also very present in Rüth’s
contribution. Römer's chapter is at the same time a good introduction for
readers from other disciplines. Alongside Küsters on the empirical value of
narratives in sociology, those texts invite the reader to consider the role of
narrativity in the acquisition of knowledge. They provide good arguments for
detecting narrative patterns inside scientific discourse, which should not leave
discourse-analysts, text linguists and philosophers indifferent. For these
reasons, the volume can provide a linguist with refreshing ideas and matches its
interdisciplinary objectives. Besides, the terminological and epistemological
reflexion by Aumüller in the introduction is very valuable and could be a model
for linguists working on narration: In this respect, the volume as a whole is a
valuable reading.

The studies by Lehmann and Anstatt deserve special attention. They are
intimately related and both authors also refer to each other in their texts:
Anstatt explicitly presupposes Lehmann's categories, whereas Lehmann invites the
reader to look at Anstatt's work for further illustration. Moreover, they also
work on the same languages (German and Russian). Ideally, they could (or even
should) be considered as one and the same paper. It is therefore somewhat
surprising that the basic explanations of the Russian aspectual system in
narrative texts are mentioned only by Anstatt, even though they could already
have been useful for non-specialists reading Lehmann´s text. But in spite of
those details, they prove valuable reading. Lehmann's typology of narrative
types based on their relation to the speaker and to the “Psychological Now” can
provide elements for a general reflexion on the relationship between narration
and deixis, a question about which Anstatt provides the reader with very precise
and useful empirical data. In this respect, her paper is a stimulating
contribution to debates on language acquisition and on deixis. As regards the
theory of the “Psychological Now” itself, its value cannot be denied, but
Lehmann could have explained more clearly the advantages of this terminological
and theoretical choice compared to the more classic concept of Origo inherited
from Bühler (1934). Moreover, the end of his study seems to point to the
ubiquity of the relation between temporal stance and “Psychological Now”.
Nevertheless, Lehmann does not show that there is any specific relation to this
reference point, except precisely the one which can be expected regarding the
reference to the Origo in any linguistic utterance. For instance, the discussion
of future in the past pp. 180-181 is convincing in itself, but does not
demonstrate anything that would not have been expected if we consider Origo and
Psychological Now to be one and the same. Apart from this, the paper is a
valuable, comprehensive system for classifying narratives with respect to
deixis. Russian are valuable, since the predominance of aspect in Slavic
languages leads to specific phenomena that are absent from other (e.g. Germanic)
languages. Thus, Lehmann and Anstatt can point to some features of narrativity
that prove useful in determining the architecture of deictic operations in
narration. More generally, the approach defended here is quite original and
should be pursued: Whereas text linguistics often focus on macrostructures and
connectives, Lehmann chooses to concentrate his research on minimal structures
and on verbal forms, a choice that would rather be expected from research on
information structure or operations of back- and foregrounding. This approach
should obviously be pursued by researchers working on other languages.

In his article, Renner uses a model developed by Lotmann (1972) for the analysis
of literary narratives. He modified this model and formalized it in a
set-theoretical fashion that makes it very valuable for linguists working on the
semantics of events and processes. Whereas Lotmann's model was mainly
topological and accounted for events in narratives in terms of boundary
transgression, in Renner's account, those spaces are semantic. They are defined
by an ontology and a matrix of rules, and narration is considered with respect
to the movements and changes inside the semantic spaces. This formalization
seems to describe efficiently and systematically agentive predicates. Therefore,
it might be profitable for people working on event semantics to take note of
this model, one that could bring new perspectives, especially for the study of
predicate sequences in link with textual progression.

Bühler, Karl. 1934. Sprachtheorie. Die Darstellungsfunktion der Sprache. Jena:
G. Fischer.

Labov, William and Joshua Waletzky. 1967. Narrative analysis. In J. Helm (Ed.),
Essays on the Verbal and Visual Arts. Seattle: U. of Washington Press. p. 12-44.

Ricoeur, Paul. 1983-1985. Temps et récit (3 volumes). Paris: Le Seuil.

Strawson, Galen. 2004. Against Narrativity. In Ratio 17. Hoboken:
Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 428-452.

Lotman, Jurij M. 1972. Die Struktur literarischer Texte. Munich: Fink.

Pierre-Yves Modicom holds a M.A. in German linguistics from U. Paris-Sorbonne. He is currently studying philosophy and German at Ecole Normale Supérieure (Paris).