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  • Narrative Events
  • Tilmann Köppe (bio)

What is a narrative event? A narrative event is an event that is reported by means of a narrative. Although this answer is too simple not to be true, it is not the whole story. As is often noted in narratology and elsewhere, by making an event part of the content of a narrative, one “transforms” the event in a specific manner.1 However, talk of “transformation” is imprecise here, and the purpose of this essay is to be more specific about what happens when an event becomes part of a narrative. I’ll argue that by producing an intelligible narrative, speakers are subject to a specific norm that delimits the range of descriptions under which the events covered by the narrative may be identified. I’ll start by introducing the notions of “event” and “narrative” that I’ll be working with. Next, I will introduce and discuss the notion of a narrative event. Finally, I’ll discuss some consequences of my proposal and point to the need for further research.

A brief caveat before I start: There is a growing body of research in narratology about events as part of narratives.2 These studies are mostly concerned with shaping conceptual tools for the characterization [End Page 101] of events according to, for example, their contribution to the plot, their degree of conformity to a protagonist’s goals, their ethical significance, or their surprisal value or emotional import for readers or listeners of the narrative. What I will do in this essay differs from this research in at least two respects. First, for narrative events, as I will understand the term, the features just mentioned are not essential: none of them constitutes a narrative event. Thus a narrative event may or may not possess, say, ethical significance; the possession of ethical significance, or the lack of it, does not matter to the question of whether something is a narrative event or not. This is different from the norm I will propose in this essay, for being subject to this norm is indeed a necessary condition for something to count as a narrative event. Second, events that can be fruitfully characterized along the lines of their surprisal value, ethical significance, emotional import, and so forth are typically part and parcel of rather complex literary narratives.3 In contrast, what I will say about narrative events pertains to all narrative events that are part of even the simplest (and non-literary) narratives.4

Events and Narrative

In order to get my investigation off the ground, I need to establish what I mean by “event” and by “narrative.”

The question “What is an event?” is a metaphysical one, and it is best answered by saying what it takes to individuate an event.5 To say that an event occurs is to say that something happens. It takes three terms to make such a claim: one term designating some substance, another term designating what is true of that substance, and a third term designating the interval or point in time at which what is said about the substance is true.6 Hence, the sentence “Yesterday, the apple fell from the tree” designates an event, and so does “At the same time, its fellow apples remained on the tree.”

There are of course countless metaphysical controversies about the notion of an event, all of which need to be sidestepped here.7 For the purpose of this essay, it is sufficient if we have some rough story about what events are and if we acknowledge that they can be identified by linguistic means. [End Page 102]

Now let’s turn to the notion of narrative. A narrative is a text that presents two (or more) events as temporally ordered and meaningfully connected.

This (very informal) definition entails some elements that I will take for granted, namely, the claims that narratives are texts, that they deal with two or more events, and that these events are presented as temporally ordered.8 What I need to be more specific about is the claim that narratives present events as meaningfully connected. The term “meaningful connection” is my translation of Tim Henning’s term...


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pp. 101-116
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