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15 Narrative and Narrativity: A Narratological Reconceptualization and its Applicability to the Visual Arts [2003]

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[This essay is a contribution to an inter- or transmedial perspective on narrativity along the lines set by my essay no. 14, “Das Problem der Narrativität” (2002). Set against the background of a frequently loose (art-historical) employment of the term ‘narrative’ when applied to works of the visual arts and single paintings in particular, it aims at a more precise use of the term on the basis of Gerald Prince’s conceptualization and of Monika Fludernik’s narratological use of cognitive frame and prototype theory. Both approaches allow for degrees of narrativity. After a general description and indeed transmedial reconceptualization of narrativity and its typical features (‘narratemes’) the applicability of the frame ‘narrative’ to visual representations is investigated. Part of this investigation is the case study of a specific ‘monophase’ picture: Jan Steen, “Het Sint Nicolaasfeest”. As a result of the discussion, full or ‘strong’ narrativity appears to apply only to picture series or multiphase pictures, while single, monophase pictures may still cause the beholder to infer temporal developments and thus stories and consequently may be regarded as tendential or quasi narratives. Typically, such images make ‘intracompositional’ use of the depiction of ‘frozen action’, which suggests an immediate past and a possible future, and may also refer to well-known narrative scripts stemming from everyday experience and cultural knowledge and/or to verbal narratives. If the narrativity of a given image is, however, exclusively based on such ‘extracompositional’ triggers of narrativity, it appears to possess merely narrative reference. There are, of course, also pictures that possess zero narrativity, e. g. merely descriptive depictions or abstract, non-representational paintings.]



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