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AncNar Report Summary

Project ID: 312321
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Germany

Mid-Term Report Summary - ANCNAR (Experience and Teleology in Ancient Narrative)

The ERC project ‘Experience and Teleology in Ancient Narrative’ (AncNar) establishes an approach that brings together the theoretical apparatus of structuralist narratology with a phenomenological understanding of time. It links the narratological category of time to time as a central medium of human life. The narrative reconfiguration of time is conceptualized as a mode of coming to terms with the vagaries of time experienced in the everyday world. Besides yielding a new perspective on ancient literature, this approach contributes to the newly awakened interest in aesthetic experience and helps correct an imbalance in current narrative theory. It thus engages ancient material in a dialogue with modern theory in which Classics for once may not find itself only at the receiving end.

As advanced programmatically in Jonas Grethlein’s monograph, Experience and Teleology in Ancient Historiography (Cambridge UP 2013), the technical analysis of narrative established by Genette and other structuralists can help us better understand the anthropological function of narration. Being a sequential form of representation, narrative permits readers to have a (re)experience, while also distancing them from this experience, not least through the teleological design inherent in the narrator’s retrospect. In immersing the reader in the flux of time and simultaneously extricating her from it, narrative furnishes an opportunity to come to grips with the ineluctable dynamics of time. A structuralist analysis of the orchestration of narrative time can thus show how narrative serves as a means of engaging with time as experienced in life.

The notion of aesthetic experience, neglected for a long time, has received more and more attention in recent years. However, the main advocates of aesthetic experience, such as Gumbrecht, take little notice of narrative, which they see as a mode of representation, not of presence. In fact, narrative can be highly immersive. Emphasizing the strong responses that storytelling can elicit from audiences, ancient narrative and criticism alert us to the experiential capacity of narrative, adding an important point to the current discussion in the field of aesthetics (Grethlein, New Literary History 46/2, 2015).

Ancient narrative also challenges the focus on mind-reading so popular in current narratology. The Theory of Mind may be crucial to the reading of modern consciousness novels, but it is not what entices the reader of ancient narrative. Like paralittérature, ancient narrative rather feeds on the reconfiguration of narrated in narrative time, which triggers suspense, curiosity and surprise. A theory of narrative and its appeal thus has to take into account plot as well as character. Encompassing time as well as character, experientiality is a concept better suited to capturing the dynamics of the reading process than such approaches as the Theory of Mind (Grethlein, Style 49/3, 2015; Narrative 23/2, 2015).

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