Perspectives and Frontiers of Cognitive Narratology (Prague, 22.–24. October 2015)

On October 22–24, 2015 members of the Institute of Czech Literature (Prague) and the Interdisciplinary Center for Narratology (Hamburg) came together at the Czech Academy of Science in Prague for a Conference on Perspectives and Frontiers of Cognitive Narratology to celebrate the 25 year long partnership between the cities of Hamburg and Prague. The talks are going to be published in Czech language by the Czech Academy of Science.

Central questions that occurred throughout the conference have been concerned with the general scope of cognitive narratologist approaches which vary from receptionist research (and therefore real minds of readers/viewers/listeners) to the study of literary character’s mental states and emotions (and therefore fictional minds). In particular the talks were concerned with questions like:

 -        Where are the connections (as well as the differences) between fictional and real minds?

-        How do the achievements of cognitive narratology affect categories of classical narratology like narrator, focalization, or event structure?

-        How can cognitive narratological categories be thought transgeneric and transmedial?

 Prof. Wolf Schmid started with his talk on Cognitivist Concepts of Fictional Minds where he revisited central theories in the field of Cognitive Narratology that concentrate on mind reading or the theory of mind, mainly the ones by Alan Palmer, Liza Zunshine, Dorrit Cohn and David Herman. Cognitive Narratology’s main merit so far is an analysis of the relationship between narrative and consciousness, i. e. the minds of characters as well as of readers. According to Schmid it should not equate fictional minds with real minds and should regard character as something implied in action. He counters Palmer’s formula Novel reading is mind reading with the formula Novel reading is event reading or, better yet, Novel reading is mental event reading.

Doc. Bohumil Fořt’s talk Realist Literary Characters: A (Cognitive) Challenge or Not centered around the cognitivists' approach to literary characters where he tried to test the validity of this approach for the investigation of realist literary character (RLC). As a result, he stipulated that in order to describe in detail both main "dimensions" of RLCs, mental and social, we still shall employ tools which lie beyond the cognitivist approach.

Dr. Zuzana Fonioková from Masaryk University, Brno discussed theoretical issues related to life writing, such as fictionality (Nielsen, Phelan, Walsh), memory (Aleida Assmann, Mark Freeman), and narrative construction of identity (John Paul Eakin) in her presentation on Fact and Fiction in Life Writing: A Narratological Approach. She analyzed two works that employ fictionality not to deceive their readers, but as a means of representing the authors’ lives: Max Frisch’s Montauk and Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

Doc. Matthias Aumüller from the University of Wuppertal gave a talk on Mind Stuff. On the Margins of Narratology where he located the place of mind in classical narratology in a) the mind of the narrator or b) focalization (narrative presented as mental content). His presupposition is that the task of narratology is descriptive, not interpretive. Following the requirement of interpretive neutrality of narratological categories by Kindt/Müller, for him the categories concerning mind stuff should be as basic as possible in order to minimize the possibility of disagreement. Using Thomas Mann's Disorder and Early Sorrow as an example, he comes to the conclusion that if narratology does not give descriptions in particular cases, it nevertheless helps to delineate where descriptions stops and interpretation begins.

Prof. Lubomír Doležel focused on the connections between Cognitive Science and Theory of Fiction. According to him, cognitive science promotes modern theory of fiction primarily with its scientific epistemology. Margolin, a scholar involved in both areas of research, has marked fictional worlds theory as especially fruitful for the study of fiction and pointed out the relationships between fictional and actual worlds. According to Margolin, the use of cognitive science for theory of fiction can be seen in the study of authors, readers and creation and reception of fictional works. However, as Doleželat the same time wants to be strongly stipulated, theory of fiction must not be subsumed to cognitive science simply due to the fact that there exists an essential semantic gap between fictional and actual worlds and their representations. He proves this claim by dealing with the relationship between fictional and historical worlds: whereas fiction, not being limited by true valuation, can produce absolutely diverse images of history, historiography, being limited by true valuation, has to oscillate around a certain, constantly revised image of history.

Doc. Alice Jedličková observed in her talk on Narration, Description and Mental Imagery that Cognitive Narratology seems to be prone to subordinate phenomena resulting from literary experience to general cognitive schemes, such as embodied cognition. Referring to Anežka Kuzmičová (2013) who claimed that narrative representation best elicits mental imagery, Jedličková argued that there are also descriptive representations that may elicit mental imagery due to their experiential qualities (e. g. experiential iconicity resulting from isomorphism between the relations of represented spatial objects and the structuring of their verbal representation), or due to other highly artistic (e. g. intermedial, pictorial) textual strategies.

Jan Horstmann, M. A. gave a talk on Narrativization of Known Events: Interactive Processes in Performing Familiar Artefacts. He observed the phenomenon that especially in theatre known canonical stories are narrated/performed again and again. It has to be the narrating itself and not the plot that is of interest here. Since all different stagings of a singular piece have the same basic plot line, this plot line can be and frequently is considered to be known. The producers frequently use humour to react on this presumed prior knowledge of the recipient. Narrative knowledge can be produced within a performance as well through the use of leitmotifs. Finally the focalization mode (understood as a relation of knowledge) is influenced by prior knowledge as well as by the use of leitmotifs.

Sebastian Armbrust, M. A. argued in his presentation on Eventfulness in Serial Storyworlds that classical models of event and eventfulness need to be modified by cognitive-contextualist models that take into account cultural scripts and schemata to be productive in the analysis of serial television drama. Where classical narratological notions of the event focus on the few, but drastic changes often found in the storyworlds of classical novels, Armbrust argued that serial storyworlds emphasize the juxtaposition of different cultural norms to create a sense of eventfulness, while preserving their status quo.

Prof. Peter Hühn focused on Cognitivist Approaches to the Analysis of Jokes as a Narrative Genre. The characteristic event-structure of jokes makes the genre particularly well suited to be analyzed in terms of cognitive approaches. The usually brief sequence can be classified as narrative, as a minimal story, since it involves a significant change of state, a decisive turn or shift typically of a mental nature, that is, with respect to attitude, consciousness or perception – first on the part of one of the figures but then especially on the part of the reader. This surprising mental shift can be considered the defining feature of the genre of jokes, so that reception events become very typical of jokes. Furthermore, the reception of jokes is also essentially based on reader's knowledge. Hühn therefore made use of Greimas' structural semantics (semes, isotopies), as well as Schank and Abelson's schema theory (frames and scripts) to classify the point of a joke as a frame break.

Dr. Ondřej Sládek was concerned with Narratives as Educational and Cognitive Tools in his talk. He focused on the role and position of narratives in education by applying the classic model of literary communication to the relationships between the educator, the student, and the curriculum. Basing upon the educator-curriculum-student triad, he respectively discussed the use of narratives by the educator, the use of narratives by students, and the use of narratives in presenting the curriculum.

Report by Jan Horstmann, University of Hamburg

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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.