The Graduate School ”Factual and Fictional Narration“, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), explores the multiple intersections which exist between different kinds of factual and fictional narratives. It pursues a rigorously interdisciplinary programme which aims to establish an informed diachronic and transmedial perspective on existing approaches to narrative. In doing so, its declared goal is to develop a set of critical tools and approaches capable of pushing beyond narratology’s customary preoccupation with fictional rather than factual texts. In dealing with discourses of factuality, the Graduate School pursues a two-fold agenda. First, it focuses on the peculiarities of factual narration with the aim of establishing similarities and differences between factuality and fictionality. Second, it analyses the overlaps and mergings that can take place between factual and fictional narrative acts. These two sets of questions are examined on the basis of a broad range of genres, text types and media, taking account of functional and formal aspects as well as of their pragmatic contexts of use.
The Graduate School funds a number of doctoral and postdoctoral researchers, but it also provides a platform for a constantly expanding group of international associate researchers from a wide range of disciplines. Research projects pursued under the institutional umbrella of the Graduate School build on established critical methods such as textual analysis, but they also raise broader theoretical questions regarding the applicability of narratological models to a large spectrum of factual styles and modes of narration. Taken together, these projects enrich and substantially expand narrative theory’s customary emphasis on synchronic forms of analysis, and they also probe conventional critical understandings of concepts such as “narrative” and “fictionality”. For example, we engage critically with the notion that the factual elements in any given narrative constitute its “truth-content”. Instead, we propose that factuality should be seen as a set of textual strategies which operate in historically specific communicative situations and which the text’s recipients typically understand as making reference to the world inhabited by the recipient him-/herself. Factuality, in this sense, is discursively constructed. Yet while factual narration need not be true, it lays itself open to evaluation or falsification in light of the reader’s knowledge of the world. Based on this general theory of factuality, the Graduate School explores a wide range of questions. These general questions include: How does referentiality in factual narration differ from referentiality in fictional narrative? How do understandings of factuality and fictionality differ and evolve across different historical contexts? How can fictional and factual elements combine in specific textual or non-textual artefacts?
The Graduate School builds on the university’s strong expertise in the fields of language and literature, but it is also home to a large group of researchers from other disciplines such as law, the social sciences, archaeology and philosophy. The School’s interdisciplinary profile enables us to draw a comprehensive picture of historically diverse forms of factual narration and to map their interactions with fictional narratives. Instead of positing a clear-cut or transhistorically valid distinction between factual and fictional narration, we are interested in the historical convergences that exist between what is conventionally referred to as “factuality” and “fictionality”. The School’s principal interest thus lies in the potential for combination, mutual interference, and hybridization that characterizes the two fields. The following is a non-exhaustive list of such phenomena: It is well known, for instance, that (“factual”) autobiographies and histories from the medieval period onwards contain fictional elements such as dialogues between historical characters and the representation of their thought processes. At the same time, many fictional texts approximate factual narration in their use of ‘real-life’ settings (for example the city of Berlin in Alfred Döblin’s novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, London in Dickens’s Bleak House, or Paris in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables) as well as in their rendering of the human psyche (an argument advanced by Lisa Zunshine and other advocates of the theory of mind approach). In similar fashion, literary realism tends to evoke ‘reality’ in ways which resonate with Roland Barthes’s notion of the effet de réel but which may also extend to the depiction of actually existing places, persons and institutions. Finally, fictional texts frequently mediate ideological (political, philosophical, religious) views and value systems – a process that could be considered factual because it aims at indoctrinating the reader. Starting out from such localized observations, our researchers develop a more specific and theoretically supple notion of “factuality” that will also involve a contrastive exploration of terms such as “referentiality”, “mimesis”, “representation”, “authenticity”, and “simulation”.
While some attention has been paid to overlaps between factual and fictional elements in individual texts, there is a notable lack of research into the historically variable narrative strategies that produce effects of merging and interbraiding between factual and fictional narrative modes across different periods, genres, and media. Research in the Graduate School clusters around several of these strategies. They include but are not limited to: functionalization; contextualization and historicization; narrative construction; aestheticization; hybridization; and medialization.
Functionalization. What functions do fictional elements perform in textual environments that can otherwise be characterized as factual, and vice versa? For example, in everyday conversation speakers often make use of invented dialogue in order to add local colour to their narratives or to influence the listener. Similarly, factual elements in novels can serve to add a degree of authenticity to the narrated discourse. In this context, we could also think of the functions that are performed by (fictional) narratives in non-narrative genres.
Contextualization und Historicization. If the functions of fictional and factual narration are historically variable, how can we conceptualize the transformative processes that produce fictionality in one text and factuality in another? Members of the Graduate School draw on the methodologies of historical pragmatics to explore the changing functions of fictional elements in textual artefacts that were (and perhaps still are) typically associated with a high degree of factuality, such as letters, diaries, or sermons. Another question discussed in this context concerns the changing status of narration in historiographic texts, as historiography began to evolve into an academic discipline over the course of the nineteenth century.
Narrative Construction. Fictionality and factuality are not essential qualities which are somehow inherent in particular texts. Instead, they are rhetorical effects which are constructed through particular forms of narrativization. Relevant in this context are, to give only two examples, the narrative construction of factuality in novels or other texts (a mode of narration we might call “referential fiction”), and the construction of fictionality through metanarrative and metafictional strategies.
Aestheticization. Recent work on the rhetorical structure of oral storytelling has revealed that even such informal types of narration obey certain aesthetic conventions. For example, these acts of narration may create suspense or use humour and local colour to elicit a particular affective response from an audience. Historians tend to criticize this use of aesthetic strategies because it appears to introduce an element of fictionality into factual narratives. By contrast, the members of the Graduate School intend to further our understanding of the role which these aesthetic functions perform within factual narratives. Finally, if an “aesthetics of factual narration” does exist, how is it different from – and how is it similar to – the narrative patterns of fictional texts that are commonly the subject of literary analysis?
Hybridization. Does it make sense to talk about the “embedding” of factual elements in fictional texts, and vice versa? Or is it possible to identify distinct forms of narrative hybridization which blur any meaningful distinction between “the fictional” and “the factual”? Researchers in the Graduate School have begun to pay attention to modes of hybridization such as autofiction, a genre which offers a confusing blend of fiction and autobiography and which appears to undermine the very distinction between fictionality and factuality.
Mediality / Medialization. Why do certain media seem to generate a high degree of authenticity, while others are associated with fictionalization? What, in this respect, is the status of photographs, films, diagrams, and other types of media? How can authenticating strategies in photographs or films be compared to those in oral or written narratives? Projects pursued under the auspices of the Graduate School examine the deployment of factual narratives within a particular medium, as well as the transformations which factual narratives undergo as they are transposed from one medium to another.
We look forward to hearing from students who are interested in applying for one of our doctoral or postdoctoral positions, as well as from researchers who would like to be associated with the Graduate School!