Transmedial Narratology: Theoretical Foundations and Some Applications (Fiction, Single Pictures, Instrumental Music)
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Transmedial Narratology:
Theoretical Foundations and Some Applications (Fiction, Single Pictures, Instrumental Music)

Drawing on research by, among others, Monika Fludernik, Marie-Laure Ryan, and previous publications by the author, the present article outlines the foundations of a transmedial narratology that draws on intermediality theory, frame theory, and prototype semantics. These foundations permit the simultaneous conceptualization of narrative as a semiotic macro-mode and as a cognitive frame which enables recipients to classify given artifacts (texts, performances, etc.) as more or less narrative in accordance with the extent to which "narremes" as features of prototypical narratives can be recognized. This approach is illustrated with examples taken from three media: literary fiction, the visual arts, and instrumental music. The comparison of the different narrative potentials of these media leads to some general reflections on both the recipient's and the artifact's share in narrativization (the artifact and the medium it belongs to can be strongly narrative, more or less narrativity-inducing, or non-narrative), moreover on constitutive elements of a media-conscious narratology, and a typology of medial realization of narrativity based on transmission modes. In conclusion, benefits and problems of transmedial narratology are adumbrated.


intermediality, narrative music, narrative pictures, narratology, prototype semantics

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ONE OF THE MANY possible characterizations of our species is homo narrans. We are indeed, in the often quoted formulation of the homodiegetic narrator of Graham Swift's novel Waterland (1983), "story-telling animal[s]" (62). If that is so, we may expect that narrative is a basic semiotic macro-mode, and that the ability to create narratives and understand them is an anthropological constant. We may also expect that this semiotic macro-mode occurs in a plethora of forms of expression, that is, in a plurality of genres, media, and contexts, be they factual or fictional. As a matter of fact, all of this had already been emphasized in the early days of modern narratology—and we are beholden to Roland Barthes for giving us a classical formulation of the multifarious manifestations of narrative in the opening paragraph of his article "Introduction à l'analyse structurale des récits." However, what here is formulated, namely the "transmediality of narrative," was subsequently largely neglected, for narratology established itself predominantly as a theory of literary fiction, so that Stanzel, in 1979, could still publish his discussion of aspects of the discourse level in fiction under the misleading title of Theorie des Erzählens (Theory of Narrative). Fortunately, during the past two decades, this restriction of narrative to verbal fiction, that is, to fictional verbal narratives transmitted and (seemingly) produced by a represented narrator, has increasingly been abandoned. Owing to the momentum of transmedial narratology, ever more genres, arts, and media have been subjected to a discussion of their potential narrativity (see, e.g., Grabócz; Herman; Kuhn; Lämmert; Nünning and Nünning; Ryan, "Introduction"; Ryan and Thon; Thon, Transmedial Narratology). One of the dangers of early narratology, diagnosed by Ryan in 2004, namely "media-blindness" ("Introduction" 34), has thus increasingly been avoided—although this development has produced new dangers and risks. One of them is "radical relativism" (Ryan, "Introduction" 34): a stance that leads to abandoning the coherence of narratology and splitting the field into a plurality of narratologies as suggested by the title of a volume edited by David Herman as early as 1999. Yet another risk of this development is the possibility of stretching the rhetorical phrase "narrative is everywhere" (Richardson 168; see also Thon, Transmedial Narratology 334) to such an extent that the boundaries of narrativity disappear and somehow everything can be described as "narrative."

Viewed against this background the aims of the present contribution are as follows: I will show that it is meaningful to maintain narratology as one (interdisciplinary) research field, yet one in which mediality must be given a conspicuous place. In addition, I will argue that there are indeed meaningful boundaries of narrativity, even though they may be fuzzy. All of this will be part of my main aim, namely to point out the principal theoretical foundations on which a transmedial narratology and its boundaries can be built. The theoretical argument will be...