David Herman

  • Prof. dr. David Herman, Durham University, UK

Keynote session 3 (Chair: Jan Baetens, Catholic University of Leuven)

4/17/2015 13:30:00 AM

Prof. David Herman (Durham University)

Narratology beyond the Human

In parallel with the conference theme of modelling narrative across borders, this presentation grows out of an ongoing attempt to open up new lines of communication between narratology and a variety of fields concerned with animals and human-animal relationships, including anthropology and multispecies ethnography, ecology, comparative psychology, geography, ethnozoology, and others. Titled "narratology beyond the human," my ongoing project combines an emphasis on cultural (including scientific) understandings of animals with a focus on the distinctive structures and functions of narratively organized discourse about animal life. Analysis of these structures and functions can clarify the role played by fictional as well as nonfictional narratives in consolidating, challenging, or reconfiguring understandings of animals and their relations with humans. Conversely, narratologists have not yet taken fully into account how engaging with animal stories might carry implications for research on narrative itself. A key question is what narratives centering on animals and on human-animal interactions reveal about the way stories are interwoven with cultures' ontologies, their assumptions concerning what sorts of beings populate the world and how nonhuman beings' attributes bear on the attributes ascribed to humans.

Using several case studies, I discuss how ideas from narratology can help contextualize and clarify issues raised by narratives that extend beyond the domain of the human, even as these same example narratives point up the need for new modelling strategies within narratology itself. Relevant topics for discussion include the questions raised by animal stories about potential heterogeneities--as well as potential areas of commonality--in the structure of experience for different kinds of animals; the relationship between fictional and nonfictional accounts of animal lives; temporal and spatial scales that, in the case of narratives about evolutionary processes, exceed the size-limits of the lifeworld in which stories are rooted; and the way narrative practices relate to geographies of the self, whether those geographies deny proper selfhood to nonhuman animals or alternatively situate humans within a larger ecology of selves, a trans-species community of subjects.

David Herman is Professor of the Engaged Humanities in the Department of English Studies at Durham University. He explores how narratives about animals and human-animal relationships can open up productive routes of exchange among the arts, sciences, and humanities, and how approaching these narratives from a cross-disciplinary perspective can in turn foster new ways of imagining and responding to transspecies entanglements in the larger biosphere. Situated at the intersection of narrative studies, the cognitive and life sciences, and critical animal studies, his research and teaching also encompass storytelling across media, comics and graphic novels, life narratives, 20th/21st-century studies, and philosophical and linguistic approaches to literature.

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About US

ENN4 is organised under the auspices of Narratology@UGent, the Ghent Centre for Digital Humanities, and the Department of Literary Studies at Ghent University. We acknowledge the financial support of the Flemish Research Foundation (FWO-Vlaanderen) and of the Doctoral School Arts, Humanities and Law (Ghent University).