By Krina Huisman and Steven Willemsen
Literary theory is alive and kicking in the Arts, Culture and Media department. During the yearly conference for the International Society for the Study of Narrative (ISSN), which was hosted in Amsterdam this month, professor Liesbeth Korthals Altes was awarded the Perkins Prize for the most significant contribution to the study of narrative in 2014. The jury also awarded an honorable mention to another book that was partly written in Groningen, by former post-doctoral researcher Marco Caracciolo.
Korthals Altes’s Ethos and Narrative Interpretation: The Negotiation of Values in Fiction explores the various ways in which readers create a particular image of the author’s knowledgeability, intentions, and disposition, as well as the ways in which authors, in turn, use various rhetorical moves to influence this process of ethos attribution. According to the jury, which consisted of Richard Walsh, Robyn Warhol, and Hendrik Skov Nielson:
“Korthals Altes establishes a perspective she designates as meta-hermeneutics, situated between, on the one hand, the project of empirically accountable theory, and on the other, the elaboration of hermeneutic programs and the practice of interpretation. In doing so she persuasively establishes a theoretical ground that does not renounce interpretation in favour of description, but rather works as a vindication of the value of interpretation, and of the mutual implication of aesthetic and ethical value in fiction. Korthals Altes engages responsively with a wide range of modern and postmodern fictions, especially in the French tradition, and exemplifies at every turn the lucid and reflective attention to interpretative practice that is the burden of her argument. Her prose is exemplary for its clarity, logical argumentation, and eloquence.”
The Honorable Mention for the Perkins Prize was awarded to Marco Caracciolo’s The Experientiality of Narrative: An Enactivist Approach. From 2011 to 2013, Caracciolo conducted part of his research for the book at the department of Arts, Culture and Media in Groningen, after receiving a two-year Rubicon grant from NWO. Caracciolo’s work draws on perspectives from cognitive sciences, enactivism, philosophy of mind, and contemporary phenomenology to develop an approach to the question of what it means to ‘experience’ a literary work, as well as to conceptualize the ways in which readers engage with the ‘experientiality’ that lies in narratives. According to the jury:
“Caracciolo boldly reconceives the foundations of narrative representation by approaching the reader’s encounter with the narrative text as ‘story-driven experience,’ situated in the tension between textual design and the reader’s experiential background, which is itself understood in enactivist terms as fundamentally interactive, not representational. But the book builds upon this grounding of experientiality in bodily and perceptual terms to show how the approach can accommodate emotional and evaluative, socio-cultural dimensions of the reader’s engagement with narrative, characters and selves … The book is a very significant and invigorating contribution to narrative theory, and will have a lasting impact.”
Although the need for academic training in literary theory has been challenged in the university, there can be no doubt about the quality of this department’s research into acts of interpretation, ways of meaning-making, and the phenomenology of aesthetic experience.