Third Meeting on Narrative Liminality: Spectacle, Play, and Conceptual Work

In April 2019, network members of the DFG research network on “Narrative Liminality and/in the Formation of American Modernities” convened again in Leipzig for the third meeting and workshop. After an inaugural meeting in April 2018 and a second workshop focused mostly on conceptual and terminological work in October of the same year, this meeting was organized around two talks by external experts.

Prof. Leon Gurevitch (Victoria University of Wellington) addressed the tension between narration and spectacle in the self-advertising trailers produced by visual effects artists offering their services to production companies. While these clips are meant to be a mere vehicle to showcase their most spectacular special effects, they turn out to host narrative engagements. Cut to create a narrative arc and moments of consecutive development, these short film texts toggle back and forth between the symbolic forms of spectacle and narrative — a dynamic for which the network’s notion of narrative liminality proved particularly productive.

Prof. Jeremy Douglass (UC Santa Barbara) presented material from his project on game books, choose your own adventure stories, and similar interactive print volumes. The Transverse Reading Project is a digital humanities project that has compiled a catalog and atlas of the structures of hundreds of interactive stories. As his presentation showed, these books constitute a rich site of narrative liminality that brings together at least three different symbolic forms: narrative, play, and database. After all, gamebooks remediate sets of linear stories into databases of story fragments, potential narratives, from which the readers create “their own adventure” through playful interaction.

In addition to the long and engaging discussions triggered by the talks, network members, joined by the two guests, broke down into smaller groups to do more conceptual work on theorizing the borderlands of narrative and on the cultural dynamics around and effects of narrative liminality.

The group’s next meeting in October of 2019 will be part of a larger conference “Beyond Narrative: Literature, Culture, and the Borderlands of Narrativity.”

Leon Gurevitch during his presentation

Jeremy Douglass during his presentation

The working group on theorizing narrative liminality

The working group on the cultural dynamics of narrative liminality