Experience and Teleology in Ancient Narrative
Time is both a central category of human life and a formal feature of narrative. In combining these two perspectives, the project addresses the significance of narrative form. An analysis of narrative time can shed new light on stories as a means of coming to grip with time. The testing grounds for this approach will be ancient Greek and Latin literature.
The tension between experience and teleology provides a possible framework for works exploring time and narrative. The posterior stance of the narrator enables narrative to oscillate between two poles: On the one hand, narrators can capitalize on the knowledge gained through hindsight and produce teleological accounts from their superior viewpoint. This comes to the fore in the case of foreshadowing: the anticipation of future events demonstrates that the story is designed from a vantage point that still lies in the future for the characters. On the other hand, narrators can strive to forego retrospection and tell the story as it is experienced by the characters of their narratives. Detailed description, direct speech and introspection are some of the devices through which authors put readers into the shoes of the characters.
While teleology distances the reader from the world of action, mimetic accounts align the reader with the characters and make her re-experience their experiences within the framework of ‘as-if’. Some genres lean towards experience, others towards teleology, but all narratives oscillate between these two poles. This balance defines a crucial point for narrative as a way to reflect on temporality: while the experiential aspect of narrative allows us to have experiences without the restraints of the everyday world, teleology presents the world of action as a closed universe and thereby frees us from the contingency we face in our own lives. By letting us experience events and simultaneously decreasing the openness of real-life experiences, narrative lets us have our cake and eat it. Appreciating the ‘content of the form’ of narrative ultimately opens up a new horizon to pose the crucial question of what the anthropological function of narrative is.
The tension between experience and teleology is however not the only angle that can be used in the project. Other approaches that shed new light on the form of narrative and its function are also welcome. What counts is the heuristic fruitfulness that must be determined in the interplay between theory and material. Besides the project of the Principal Investigator on ancient historiography, the following individual projects are planned:
- Ph.D. 1: Greek literature: research proposals focusing on the Greek novel are particularly welcome, but other fields will also be considered.
- Ph.D. 2: Roman literature: research proposals focusing on Flavian epic are particularly welcome, but other fields will also be considered.
- Postdoc 1: Divination as narrative device: oracles, signs and dreams are pervasive in ancient literature and form an important narrative device. Divination is therefore an attractive topic for a project that explores the treatment of time across genres.
- Postdoc 2: Time/experience in ancient literary criticism: this project will complement the investigation of narrative practice with an exploration of ancient theory. Reflections on narrative time and audience response can be found in various sources including aesthetic theory, rhetorical handbooks and scholia.