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Emerging Concepts in Narratological Research: Authenticity and Narrative World-Disruption

A cumulative review by Nora Berning

Weixler, Antonius (Hg.): Authentisches Erzählen. Produktion, Narration, Rezeption. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2012.

Lehtimäki, Markku; Karttunen, Laura; Mäkelä, Maria (Hg.): Narrative, Interrupted. The Plotless, the Disturbing and the Trivial in Literature. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2012.

The essay collections edited by Antonius Weixler (Authentisches Erzählen, 2012) and Markku Lehtimäki et al. (Narrative, Interrupted, 2012) constitute an attempt to establish authenticity and interruption (in the sense of narrative world-disruption) as key concepts of postclassical narratological research. Authentisches Erzählen consists of a multifaceted account of authenticity, accounting both for genealogical transformations and discipline-specific permutations of the term. For its part, Narrative, Interrupted focuses on potentially disruptive elements of narrative communication, and the contributors seek to analyse such phenomena as anti-causality and narrative world-disruption that structuralist narratology eschewed, while also challenging basic assumptions of contemporary narrative theory. Since interruption is one of the main catalysts of the effect of authenticity, the two volumes productively complement each other and make for an interesting contrapuntal read. 

Although it is likely that some residues remain in postclassical research on narrative, one could argue that contemporary narrative theory has largely freed itself from the fetters of classical, structuralist narratology. The successors to Roland Barthes, Gerard Genette, and Tzvetan Todorov are increasingly sensible to such emerging concepts as authenticity and narrative world-disruption, which used to play only an ancillary role in narratological analyses.

For a long time, authenticity was conceptualized primarily as an aesthetic phenomenon rather than as a narratological one. Similarly, narrative world-disruption (sensu David Herman) or interruption hardly figured in prominent theorizations of narrative. In fact, it was not until 2012 that two ground-breaking volumes were published which address these significant concepts through the lens of narratology: Narrative, Interrupted: The Plotless, the Disturbing and the Trivial in Literature, edited by Marrku Lehtimäki, Laura Karttunen, and Maria Mäkelä and Authentisches Erzählen. Produktion, Narration, Rezeption, edited by Antonius Weixler.

The former, Narrative, Interrupted, consists of 17 essays and is divided into three parts: Part I explores the boring and the plotless; Part II, the disturbing and the difficult; and Part III, problems of authorship in the works of Vladimir Nabokov. All three parts share the overall theme of the book, which, to put it simply, is concerned with the 'flow-stoppers' and 'frame-breakers' (sensu Per Krogh Hansen) of individual literary narratives. Authentisches Erzählen on the other hand is a collection of 14 essays that make a systematic contribution to narratological research on authenticity. Authenticity as a concept plays an important role not only in literature but also, for instance, in historiography, journalism, theology, ethnology, psychology, and politics. It can therefore be conceived of as a travelling concept (sensu Mieke Bal) that can shed new light on disciplinary research and objects of investigation. Since the contributors avoid an overarching, universal notion of authenticity, the understanding thereof as a travelling concept seems all the more pertinent. Drawing on different conceptualizations of authenticity, the volume demonstrates that authenticity is a key concept in the study of culture that can bring to light commonalities in research projects from different disciplinary fields.

As an inter- and transdisciplinary meta-language of reflection, the concept of authenticity serves as a productive foil for elucidating the notions of narrative world-disruption and interruption, as discussed in Narrative, Interrupted. Narratives, Matti Hyvärinen argues in his analysis of W. G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, "are vitally about trying to understand contingency" (38), i.e. those elements in a narrative that are not causally determined. It is precisely those anti-causal and anti-linear elements that cause "the interruption of the causal-dynamic chain of events" (Lehtimäki et al., xi) and trigger the effect of authenticity (Weixler, 28). Given these conceptual links between authenticity and interruption, the two volumes mutually illuminate each other and make for an interesting contrapuntal read.

Whereas Matti Hyvärinen focuses on the fragmented structure of The Rings of Saturn, Michael Hutchins foregrounds the notion of authenticity in Authentisches Erzählen. Having found that W. G. Sebald's narrative is essentially anti-immersionist, Hutchins comes to the conclusion that "Sebald wants to forestall this process of enchantment and thus employs a technique of interruption" (90). The link between authenticity and interruption becomes even more apparent in James Phelan's rhetorical account of George V. Higgin's dialogue novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Phelan shows that "[t]he dialogue is often so arresting" in the crime novel "that it is easy to get stuck on the idea of its 'authenticity'" (8).

Apart from the afore-mentioned connections between the essays in the two de Gruyter volumes, there are also obvious differences such as the scope of disciplines covered and the range of genres and media explored. Whereas Authentisches Erzählen is highly interdisciplinary in the sense that the essays tackle the phenomenon of authenticity not only in literary but also political, cultural, and social contexts, Narrative, Interrrupted is, as the book's subtitle indicates, firmly grounded in literary studies. The contributors are only rarely concerned with hybrid (in terms of genre and medium) texts. However, David Herman's well-written essay on animal comics is an exception to the rule.

All in all, both volumes are highly recommended for anyone interested in authenticity, narrative world-disruption or interruption understood not just as narratological concepts but also literary-critical ones that possess crucial interpretive potential. The collections of essays bring together comprehensive articles by distinguished scholars who create the impression that authenticity is on the one hand a phenomenon that engages to justify aesthetic illusion; on the other hand it is one that problematizes illusion either "by means of the obvious lie" (Hutchins, 81) or by means of narratives that aim to deform and 'defamiliarize' character, plot, time, space, and ways of telling, more generally.

Weixler, Antonius (Hg.): Authentisches Erzählen. Produktion, Narration, Rezeption. Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter, 2012. 366 S., kartoniert, 99.95 Euro. ISBN: 978-3-11-029125-4.

Table of Contents

Antonius Weixler
Authentisches erzählen – authentisches Erzählen.
Über Authentizität als Zuschreibungsphänomen und Pakt…1


Andree Michaelis
Authentisches Erzählen nach der Shoah.
Imre Kertész' Liquidation und Jean Améry…35

Kai Spanke
Authentizität als Entdifferenzierung in
Hugo Hofmannsthals Die Briefe des Zurückgekehrten…55

Michael Hutchins
Intent to Mislead. W. G. Sebald's Notion of Authenticity…79

Thorsten Benkel
Authentische Erfindungen. Selbstdarstellungsstrategien in
Erzählkontexten des sozialen Alltags…95


Wolfgang Funk
Reziproker Realismus – Versuch einer Ästhetik der Authentizität…121

Philipp Hubmann
Dokumente des Amoks. Literarische Montage als narrative
Authentifizierungsstrategie am Beispiel von Joachim Gaertners
Roman Ich bin voller Hass – und das liebe ich!!...145

Jan Lehmann
'Unzuverlässige Authentizität' – Erzähler und Erzählen
im Prolog des Wigalois Wirnts von Grafenberg…177

Julia Ilgner
Ut veduta poesis. Topographisches Erzählen als
Authentizitätsstrategie im historischen Roman…197

Matthias Bandtel
Authentizität in der politischen Kommunikation.
Mediale Inszenierungsstrategien und authentifizierende
Selbstdarstellungspraktiken politischer Akteure…213


Christian Huck
Authentizität im Dokumentarfilm.
Das Prinzip des falschen Umkehrschlusses als Erzählstrategie
Zur Beglaubigung massenmedialen Wissens…239

Lukas Werner
Authentic Life. Ein Paradigma des biographischen Films im
Spannungsfeld von Hybridität, Relationalität und Narration…265

Sascha Simons
'Ich bin Neda.' Zur Authentizität ästhetischer Brüche und
ihrer sozialen Resonanz im Web 2.0…291

Antonius Weixler
Post-autoritäre Authentizität. Eine Rezeptionsanalse
von Eric Friedlers Aghet, Helene Hegemanns Axolotl Roadkill
und Margaux Fragosos Tiger, Tiger…321


Autorinnen und Autoren…353

Personen- und Werkregister…357
Danksagung 9

Lehtimäki, Markku; Karttunen, Laura; Mäkelä, Maria (Hgg.): Narrative, Interrupted. The Plotless, the Disturbing and the Trivial in Literature. Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter, 2012. 328 S., kartoniert, 99.95 Euro. ISBN: 978-3-11-025997-1

Table of Contents


PART I: The Still Waters of Narrative: The Boring and the Plotless

James Phelan
Conversational and Authorial Disclosure in the Dialogue Novel:
The Case of The Friends of Eddie Coyle…3

Matti Hyvärinen
Resistance to Plot and Uneven Narrativity: A Journey from
"A Boring Story" to The Rings of Saturn…24

Bo Pettersson
What Happens When Nothing Happens: Interpreting Narrative
Technique in the Plotless Novels of Nicholson Baker…42

Laura Karttunen
Events Can Be Quoted (and Words Need Not Be)…57

Samuli Hägg
Pynchon's Poetics of Boredom: Cognitive and Textual Aspects
of Novelistic Dreariness…75

PART II: A Web of Sense: Interpreting the Disturbing and the Difficult

David Herman
Toward a Zoonarratology: Storytelling and Species Difference
in Animal Comics…93

Markku Lehtimäki
Watching a Tree Grow: Terrence Malick's The New World
and the Nature of Cinema…120

Maria Mäkelä
Navigating – Making Sense – Interpreting
(The Reader behind La Jalousie)…139

Mari Hatavara
History Impossible: Narrating and Motivating the Past…153

Jan Alber
Unnatural Temporalities: Interfaces between Postmodernism,
Science Fiction, and the Fantastic…174

Sanna Katariina Bruun
The Imperfect Is Our Paradise: Intertextuality and Fragmentary
Narration in Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace…192

Jakob Lothe
Fragile Narrative Situations: Conrad Compared to Sebald…211

PART III: Shadow of a Tail: Problems of Authorship

Leona Toker
Name Change and Author Avatars in Varlam Shalamov
And Primo Levi…227

Marina Grishakova
Stranger than Fiction, or, Jerome David Salinger, Author of Lolita:
Real, Implied and Fictive Authorship…238

Hannu Tommola
Translators, Scoundrels and Gentlemen of Horror: Problems of
Nabokov's Loyalty…254

Brian McHale
Affordances of Form in Stanzaic Narrative Poetry…276

Gennady Barabtarlo
A Shadow on the Marble…297


German Abstract

Bei den Sammelbänden von Antonius Weixler (Authentisches Erzählen, 2012) und Markku Lehtimäki et al. (Narrative, Interrupted, 2012) handelt es sich um konzeptorientierte Beiträge zur postklassischen Narratologie. Ersterer rückt das Konzept der Authentizität in den Mittelpunkt der Überlegungen und gliedert sich in drei Teile: Produktion, Narration und Rezeption von Authentizität. Der von Lehtimäki et al. herausgegebene Band hingegen beschäftigt sich mit Antikausalität und Diskontinuitäten in narrativen Diskursen, d.h. mit solchen Phänomenen, denen die klassische, strukturalistische Narratologie nur wenig Beachtung geschenkt hat. Da sowohl Antikausalität als auch Diskontinuität als wichtige Katalysatoren für den Authentizitätseffekt angesehen werden, ergänzen sich die beiden Konzeptbände in besonderem Maße.

© bei der Autorin und bei KULT_online