Narrative Research Lab and Centre for Fictionality Studies (Aarhus University, Denmark)

Narrative Research Lab at Aarhus University, Denmark

The main purpose of the research group Narrative Research Lab (NRL) at Aarhus University, headed by Henrik Skov Nielsen, is the study of narrative in various media and art forms. Investigating the forms, techniques and cross-media potential of narrative as well as its relations with various cultural discourses from different positions and perspectives, NRL focuses on a variety of topics including unreliable narration, narrative sequencing, intermediality, realism, irony, autofiction, autobiography and other non-fictional narratives like testimonies. One position emanating from NRL, with a rather large international impact, is “Unnatural Narratology.” Unnatural narratology is the study of the aspects of fictional narratives that transcend the boundaries of traditional realism and violate the conventionality of natural narratives. These include omniscience, paralepsis, streamlined plot and definitive closure. Besides unnatural narratology, the researchers at NRL work with a variety of approaches to and aspects of narratology, ranging from narrative rhetoric and rhetorical discourse to the study of fictiobiographism and mockumentary.

NRL values international collaboration and initiatives in the field of narrative research. The research group is embedded in a series of international networks: among them are Project Narrative at Ohio State University, Freiburg Center on Fictionality and Factual Narrative headed by Monika Fludernik and the research group on fictionality in York University headed by Richard Walsh. Moreover, NRL has hosted visiting professorships for Nicolas Royle (2007–2009), James Phelan (2011), Richard Walsh (2012) and Brian Richardson (2013). Close international collaboration has also resulted in a number of publications including monographs, anthologies and journals. One example is the anthology A Poetics of Unnatural Narrative, edited by Jan Alber (University of Freiburg, Germany), Henrik Skov Nielsen (Aarhus University, Denmark) and Brian Richardsen (University of Maryland, UK) and published in 2013. This work offers a collection of foundational essays introducing the reader to the full scope of unnatural narrative theory: its meaning, its goals, its extent, its paradoxes. The anthology surveys many basic areas of narrative studies from an unnatural perspective: story, time, space, voice, minds, narrative levels, realism, nonfiction, hyperfiction and narrative poetry. Much of the book is directed toward an investigation of experimental and antirealist work. Each essay focuses on texts and episodes that narrative theory has tended to neglect. A Poetics of Unnatural Narrative thus articulates an important recent movement in narrative studies.

From 2009 to 2012, NRL hosted the annual ERASMUS-funded MA-Summer School “Intensive Program in Narratology,” headed by Stefan Iversen. Among the lecturers have been James Phelan, Richard Walsh, Liesbeth Korthals Altes, Brian Richardson and Lisa Zunshine. In 2013 and 2014, the summer school was changed to the “Summer Course in Narrative Studies.”

Centre for Fictionality Studies at Aarhus University, Denmark

The Centre for Fictionality Studies (CFS) works in close collaboration with the Narrative Research Lab. Headed by Henrik Skov Nielsen, it investigates fictionality as a quality, not as a genre. Stories emphatically presented as invented are regularly and pervasively employed in political rhetoric as vehicles of cultural memory and ideological negotiation of past and present, in thought experiments, scenario thinking and risk assessments, and in many other areas of the societal, political and cultural field. Yet, fictionality is almost completely unstudied and often even unacknowledged outside the field of generic literary fiction.

CFS sees fictionalization as a rhetorical, communicational strategy: fictionalization invites the receiver to conceive of something as invented instead of as reported or referential. It investigates the ways in which invented stories and scenarios shape our beliefs about the actual world to a surprising degree. Fictionality is powerful and contributes to assessing risks, winning (or losing) elections, negotiating values, easing pain, mediating the past and many other things.

Fictionality in the form of the intentional use of invented stories and scenarios is ubiquitous in our culture. It is employed in politics, business, medicine, sports and throughout the academic disciplines; indeed, it is difficult to think of a cultural sphere from which fictive discourse is absent. Even the widely-heralded “narrative turn,” underscoring the importance of storytelling in different disciplines, has not led to a focus on the pervasiveness and significance of fictionality.

At CFS, researchers focus on fictionality in relation to communicative theory and on the relation between a historical investigation of fictionality and the birth of fiction and the novel. Since fictionality crosses traditional genres, an interdisciplinary approach to fictionality is necessary. Subprojects exemplifying this diversity are The Birth and Death of Generic Fiction, The Ideology and Intellectual History of Fictionality, Fictionality in Contemporary Art and Media and The Fictionality of Politics and the Politics of Fictionality.

One of the most prominent publications from CFS is Fiktionalitet [Fictionality] by Louise Brix Jacobsen et al, a university textbook published in 2013. Winner of the Danish Textbook Award, it discusses the concept of fictionality, showing how political speeches, documentaries and Facebook-updates use fictionalized forms of communication. Fiktionalitet demonstrates how fictionality and fictionalization should be seen as extending well beyond the boundaries of generic fiction. Both within and outside traditional fictions, fictionality is employed as a strategic means to shape our beliefs about the actual world. Through a series of analyses, the book shows how the strategic use of fictionality can be used for political spin, self-representation, social criticism and much more.

Narrative Research Lab
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About us

ENN is the European Narratology Network, an association of individual narratologists and narratological institutions. ENN aims to foster the study of narrative representation in literature, film, digital media, etc. across all European languages and cultures.