Individual projects in AncNar - Jakob Lenz

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The research project "Experience and Teleology in Ancient Narrative" (AncNar) is funded by a Starting Grant awarded by the European Research Council (ERC) (FP7) 01.02.2013-31.01.2018 under grant agreement n°312321

Literary dialogues present theoretical issues through the verbal interaction of individual characters in a concrete diegetic environment, place, and time. So dialogues show some of the most important features of narrativity, such as diegetic events, human characters, and temporality. Yet, the genre has largely been neglected by narratology up to the present. This is so for two main reasons: first, prominent narratologists from Genette to de Jong adhere to a formal criterion – the presence or absence of a narrator – and hence exclude drama and dialogues (at least the purely ‘dramatic’ ones) from their analyses. Secondly, Plato has been the dominant paradigm of dialogue literature since Antiquity. Following this tradition, many modern scholars have used the Socratic-Platonic concept of philosophy – understood as an unlimited, endlessly open dynamic process – as a framework to examine and evaluate dialogues. Within this framework, the literary characteristics of dialogues are commonly interpreted as a means to engage the reader in the very same kind of philosophical reflection. As a consequence, the discussion about forms and functions of dialogue literature is generally dominated by highly philosophical presuppositions.


To develop a more independent approach for literary critics, the project of Jakob Lenz takes up the aforementioned affinity and proposes a reading of dialogues as a kind of narrative. Modern concepts of narratology – especially the transgeneric and transmedial notion of ‘narrativity’ transcending formal distinctions – will be brought together with recent literary theorists’ reflections on dialogue form. The study will centre round temporality as a crucial feature: Even when no character or narrator highlights it explicitly, recipients can still experience temporality in dialogues indirectly through various forms of time-driven dynamics. Close readings of selected dialogues from both the Platonic corpus and Imperial literature will show how such indirect manifestations of temporality (in the characters’ intellectual development, the argumentative progress, the diegetic universe) add to the ‘narrativity’ of dialogues. The project thus aims to relocate dialogues within the scope of narratology. At the same time, it paves a new way for a better, more independent understanding of the literary form of dialogues as a narrative medium of theoretical discourse.


As a second topic, Jakob Lenz works on the connections between ekphrasis and interpretation. In recent years, both the modern notion of the term ‘ekphrasis’ with its roots in ancient rhetorical theory and many concrete examples have been discussed at great length. The tension between the immersive appeal of ekphrastic features and the distancing power of a well-educated beholder’s gaze as well as the collision of a dominantly stable visual illusion and various dynamic, multi-sensual features enriching its evocative effect have become conventional problems. The project here takes a closer look at some imperial texts that stage the decoding of fictional ‘pictures’ within a diegetic setting (such as some of Lucian’s Prolaliai, Philostratus’ Eikones, and the Tablet of Cebes). It analyses the interpretative strategies that the fictional characters apply to these pictures and contrasts them with similar settings from the surrounding literature (e.g. Platonic similes, Achilles Tatius’ ekphraseis). This will show how the ekphrastic presentation and exegetic interpretation of a picture within the diegetic world merge into a particular literary ‘formation’ (rather than ‘genre’, ‘topos’ or ‘tradition’) with specific capacities for pedagogy, effects on recipients, and the literary representation of theoretical discourse, which different authors have exploited for different purposes.

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Letzte Änderung: 14.03.2018
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