Introduction to Narrative
Taught with Katharina Pietsch in Summer 2015.
The narratives of the world are numberless. Narrative is present in myth, legend, fable, tale, novella, epic, history, tragedy, drama, comedy, mime, painting …, stained glass windows, cinema, comics, news item, conversation. … All classes, all human groups, have their narratives, enjoyment of which is often shared by men with different, even opposing, cultural backgrounds. Caring nothing for the division between good and bad literature, narrative is international, transhistorical, transcultural: it is simply there, like life itself.
—Roland Barthes, “Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative”, 1966
This Roland Barthes quote is often used as an introduction to the notion that narrative is ubiquitous and universal. Following this premise, we will look at those narrative forms of cultural expression that lie somewhat beyond the usual media of literature and film that we are used to analyse, for example: nature documentaries, court trials, sports, journalism, science, politics, advertisement, or (auto-)biography/identity narratives.
After laying a sound theoretical foundation, the main part of the seminar will consist in analysing concrete examples of diverse cultural products and their structural and functional properties in order to find out how they make meaning. Finally, we will ask how narrative is connected to identity: we might not only be putting our cultural products into narrative form, but also our own lives and selves.