17 Narratology and Media(lity): The Transmedial Expansion of a Literary Discipline and Possible Consequences [2011]

in Selected Essays on Intermediality by Werner Wolf (1992–2014)
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Most (albeit not all) of classical narratology disregarded the interrelation between narrativity and media, since it tended to focus on one medium only: verbal (literary) stories. Postclassical narratology has started to dismantle this hegemony of narrator-transmitted narratives and has emphasized the transmedial nature of narrativity as a cognitive frame applicable to ever ‘remoter’ media and genres. In this context drama and lyric poetry have come under narratological scrutiny, moreover – and outside literary (sub-)genres – film, the pictorial medium and music. 

This contribution will continue this expansionist trend by investigating the narrative potentials of the plastic arts (using the “Laokoon” group in the Vatican Museum as an example). Narratology should, however, not merely ‘colonize’ ever more media as areas of research but also stop and think about the consequences of this expansion. This will be attempted in the last part of the contribution. On the one hand there are a number of positive effects: creating bridges to other disciplines and contributing to the elucidation of narrative as one of man’s most important means for generating meaning undoubtedly belong to them. On the other hand, the interdisciplinary ‘exportation’ of narratological inquiry also brings about certain risks and problems. Disregarding limits of scholarly expertise, rashly abandoning one’s scholarly home domain or splitting up narratology into a plethora of separate narratologies are some of them. The essay argues in favour of a continuing allegiance to a unified narratology, although on the basis of a transmedial, cognitive and prototypical reconceptualization of narrativity and the use of a flexible concept of ‘medium’. Moreover, it proposes to integrate mediality into the system of narratology, both in systematic and functional respects. The essay draws on Chatman’s classification of media as the “substance of [narrative] expression” (1978: 24) as well as on Ryan’s (2005a) reflections on the narratological relevance of media and argues that media may impose certain restrictions on the realization of narrativity but are also responsible for the shaping of narrative potentials – which is why the verbal media can in many respects still be considered the domain par excellence of prototypical narratives.

Selected Essays on Intermediality by Werner Wolf (1992–2014)

Theory and Typology, Literature-Music Relations, Transmedial Narratology, Miscellaneous Transmedial Phenomena


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