“The Russian Trace within Narratology”

Balashov, Russia, November 26-28, 2012

The conference “The Russian Trace within Narratology,” held at the Balashov Institute, affiliated with the Saratov State University (henceforth BI SSU), from November 26 to 28, 2012, was organized with support from the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation. The conference was part of a research project being carried out by a group of Balashov scholars with support from the Russian Education and Science Ministry. The conference brought together 35 on-site and 20 off-site participants from Russia, Switzerland, Italy, Lithuania, Ireland, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan and China. Their presentations were published as articles in the conference’s follow-up volume of articles (The Russian Trace Within Narratology: Proceedings of the International Conference. Balashov, November 26-28, 2012. Balashov: Nikolayev, 2012, 272 pages).

The general aim of the conference was to bring together scholars from literary criticism, linguistics and other humanistic disciplines to discuss classical vs. postclassical paradigms of research in narrative theory with an emphasis on Russian influence since the first decades of the 20th century. The conference also aimed at drawing greater attention by Russian scholars to recent developments in Western narratology.

The conference participants were honored to receive a greeting address from David Herman, who wrote: “Indeed, given the absolutely foundational contributions by Russian theorists to the broader field of narratology itself, a conference on ‘The Russian Trace within Narratology’ is long overdue. […] To be sure, the conference will provide illuminating new perspectives on the insights of Russian analysts ranging from Propp, Shklovsky and Eikhenbaum, to Vygotsky, Bakhtin, and Lotman – insights without which classical narratology, and thus postclassical narratology, simply would not have existed. But what is more, the conference will confirm the significance and vitality of contemporary Russian scholarship for narrative, as well as the benefits of establishing a closer dialogue among Russian theorists and other members of the international community of narratologists. […] I also extend my heartfelt thanks to you all for contributing so crucially to what is now a worldwide scholarly endeavor: the attempt to understand what stories are, how they work, and what they can be used to do.”

The conference was opened with the plenary session Classical and postclassical narratology: The Russian origins and the tendencies of their development in Russia and in the West, which included the following keynote lectures:

Ludmila V. Tataru (Doctor in Philology, Professor at BI SSU): “Formalism, deconstruction and postclassical narratology”

Boris F. Egorov (Doctor in Philology, Senior Researcher at St. Petersburg Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Science): “Tartu’s structuralists and creating the plots of robots’ behavior”

Lyubov D. Bugaeva (Doctor of Philology, Assistant Professor at St. Petersburg State University): “Narrative, the media and emotions”

Ursula Ganz-Blättler (Ph.D. in Medieval History, a habilitation degree in Film and Television Studies; Senior Lecturer in media and cultural studies, Sociology Institute of the University St. Gall, Lucerne, Switzerland): “Mashup culture seen from a poststructuralist perspective on narrative”

Ludmila Tataru spoke on the evolution of cultural and scientific thought, mainly during the 20th and 21st centuries. The underlying patterns “guiding” this process were outlined using the structural dichotomy “wholeness/fragmentariness,” on the one hand, and the concept of “autoamputation” (McLuhan), on the other. In comparing the Western and Russian philological traditions, it was concluded that there is a need to reconsider narratological concepts, originally conceived by the Russian formalists, in light of the achievements (and limitations) of Western postclassical narratology.

Boris Egorov, a colleague of Yuri Lotman, spoke about the pioneering research project on artificial intelligence carried on in Leningrad and Tartu in the 1960s. Lotman and Egorov were invited by M. B. Ignatjev, the Head of the Department of Cybernetics at the Leningrad Institute of Aviation Equipment, who had been assigned to create robots to be sent to the moon. Prof. Egorov was requested to work on the possible scenarios of robots’ behavior if they were to act in a team. Hardly had that seminal research produced the first results – a description of machine behavior, behavior as a language (semiotic system), metamechanisms of culture as a synergetic system among them – when their project was closed by the authorities.

Lyubov Bugaeva examined narrative as a universal logical structure that raises questions about  the translatability of stories from one medium into another, thus touching on the nature of narrative. Viewing narrativity as a constructivist concept based on the cognitive parameters of context, Prof. Bugeava explained narration as a result of the subconscious psycho-physiological involvement of a recipient and cinema as an optimal creative laboratory for the study of emotional dynamics.

Ursula Ganz-Blättler adopted the term of “mashup culture” as a working definition for various kinds of remixing practices that borrow from copyrighted material such as music, books, film, television, etc. She claimed that such practices can be traced back to (older) creative audience response to popular culture such as fan fiction based on on-going narratives circulating in mainstream media, thus stemming from playful gossiping networks of knowledgeable experts. These practices can also be understood as “telling” extensions of fictional universes which are considered too narrow and/or outdated by those who attempt to actualize and revive them. The idea is that mashup culture is an example of conversational storytelling that challenges structuralist concepts of narrative because it is nonlinear and never-ending.

The plenary session was followed by three days of discussion in group sections.

Section 1: The ideological base of the Russian formalism and its influence on the development of narrative theory:

Elena P. Tarnaruzkaya (PhD in Philology, Associate Professor at Samara State University, Russia): “M. M. Bakhtin’s concept of isolation as an origin of the narrative theory and the practice of autoreflexive narration (John Barth’s prose)”

Dmitry S. Urusikov (independent researcher from Yeletz, Russia): “Historicity of narratology: falsification and amplification”

Vijolė Višomirskytė (Doctor of Humanities, Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania): “The traces of Juri Lotman’s and A. J. Greimas’s concepts in Mieke Bal’s Theory of Visual Narrativity”

Section 2: Literary text studies within the framework of classical and post-classical narratology:

Sergey P. Orobiy (PhD in Philology, Associate Professor at Blagoveschensk State Pedagogical University, Russia): “Narrative structure of the Russian ‘new dimension prose’ (the novel Seizure of Izmail by M. Shishkin)”

Alexey F. Sedov (PhD in Philology, Associate Professor at BI SSU): “Shatov’s ‘idea’ in Dostoyevsky’s ‘Demons’ and the author’s intentions”

Svetlana Ye. Sheina (Doctor of Philology, Professor at the Balashov Branch of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration): “Narrative features of Anglo-Irish prose”

At two consolidated section sittings, The ideological base of the Russian formalism and its influence on the development of narrative theory (3) and Narrative journalism and media studies (4), the following presentations were discussed:

Yelena A. Nikitina (PhD in Philology, the Yelets State University I. A. Bunin, Russia): “Narratological contents of A. Zholkovsky’s and Yu. Scheglov’s poetics of expressivity”

Irina V. Annenkova (Doctor of Philology, Associate Professor at the Lomonosov Moscow State University): “Media discourse as a neo-rhetorical representation of the contemporary world-image”

Yelena A. Bratchikova (PhD in Philology, Senior Lecturer at BI SSU). “The phonosemantic form of a poetic text as a representation of its mental space”

Ludmila V. Tataru (Doctor of Philology, Professor at BI SSU): “Russian and American celebrity narratives as reflections of the national mentalities”

Svetlana A. Bozrikova (PhD in Philology, Lecturer at BI SSU). “The history of narrative journalism in Russia”

Alexandr Ye. Churanov (PhD in Philology, Associate Professor at BI SSU). “Grammatical forms of temporal reference in a publicist text”

The section Narrative theory as a methodological paradigm of pedagogy, psychology and cultural studies was divided into two sessions (5, 6):

Andrey S. Kopovoy (PhD in Pedagogy, Associate Professor at BI SSU): “Narratives in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy”

Irina P. Morozova (Senior Lecturer at BI SSU): “Using the categories of narrative theory in teaching university students a second foreign language”

Marina S. Volokhonskaya (PhD in Psychology, The Internalia Psychoanalytical Society, St. Petersburg): “The specificity of meaning interpretations in psychological counseling”

Yuliya Ye. Zaitseva (PhD in Psychology, Saint Petersburg State University): “The I-narratives of the young Petersburgers’ life perspectives”

Tatyana V. Platonova (PhD in History, Associate Professor at BI SSU). “Historical prototypes for the characters in L. N. Tolstoy’s comedy The Fruits of Enlightenment”

One of the star events during this section was the presentation “Narrative aspects of interpreting Goethe’s tragedy Faust in Ferenz Liszt’s Sonata h-moll” by Sergey Ya. Vartanov (PhD in Arts, Professor at the Chair of Special Pianoforte, The Saratov State Conservatory L. V. Sobinov, Saratov, Russia). His theoretical considerations on Sergey Vartanov were illustrated by brilliantly performed passages from Liszt’s Sonata on the grand piano in the music lounge of Merchant Dyakov’s House at the Balashov Museum of Natural History.

At the two concluding sections, 7 and 8, Literary text studies within the framework of classical and post-classical narratology, the following presentations were discussed:

Svetlana R. Matchenya (PhD in Philology, Associate Professor at the Pskov Branch of The Russian International Academy of Tourism. Pskov): “Gender issues reflected in the narrative structure of Emily Brontё’s Wuthering Heights

Irina Marchesini (PhD, the Chair of Russian Literature at Alma Mater Studiorum, Università di Bologna, Italy): “The narratological notion of career implied author: its roots, development and use”

Svetlana V. Bessmertnova (PhD student at BI SSU, the Chair of the literature section): “Patterns of representing existential motifs in the narrative discourse”

Natalia V. Maklakova (Lecturer at the Chair of Russian Language at the North-Western State Medical University I. I. Mechnikov): “Narrative mechanisms in Maria Stepanova’s poetry (the cycle Girls Are Singing)”

Denis A. Rosevatov (PhD in Philology, Lecturer at the Povolzhskiy Institute of Administration P.A. Stolypin, Saratov, Russia): “Typical traits of Englishness in the characters of Jerome K. Jerome’s ‘Three Men in a Boat’ and other stories”

Nadezhda Yu. Beze (PhD student, Senior Lecturer at BI SSU): “The spatial model of Lübeck in the narrative structure of Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks

The Conference program also included lectures, seminars and excursions. Thus, Sergey Orobiy from Blagoveschensk (in Eastern Russia) held a course of seven lectures entitled “Russian Literature in the 21st Century” which covered the following topics:

1) Why study modern literature? Literary studies of modernity turning into ‘a glass bead game’ – The elusive now: how to talk about modernity ‘in a scientific way’? – Transformations of artistic language, or Why a contemporary author writes better than Pushkin. – ‘Where do literary studies end and where does criticism begin? – Literary studies as a vibrant tactics – Selecting the concepts to describe modernity: neither ‘structure’ nor ‘rhizome’ but ‘matrix’.
2) Updated literature: Looking for orientations: Accelerated development of Russian literature. – What modern process in literature involves and why the writer finds himself at distance from it. – How to tell the ‘90s’ from the ‘2000s’ in literature. – Why contemporary literature is ‘prose-oriented’. – How genres come and go. – Fan fiction, TV series, projects: new literary forms. 
3) “A Poetic Ghetto”: The image of a modern poet and the premium “Poet”. – The formats of contemporary poetry: from “the thick journals” to social nets. – Why do poets write vers libre? – The mnemonic theory of a poem’s existence.

Ursula Ganz-Blättler directed two seminars, one on the recent tendencies in higher education in Switzerland and the other on the Western fandom culture. Professor Egorov gave a lecture entitled “Contemporary Studies of Yuri Lotman’s Heritage.” Marina Volokhonskaya, a certified gestalt-psychologist, directed a seminar “Lacanian psychoanalysis within the cycle of psycho-disciplines.” Dmitriy Urusikov presented a theoretical approach to narrative at the seminar “Theory of narrative: towards the concept of a structural register.”

Ludmila Tataru
Professor, Head of the Chair of Foreign Languages,
Balashov Institute of the Saratov State University,
Balashov, Russia

About us

ENN is the European Narratology Network, an association of individual narratologists and narratological institutions. ENN aims to foster the study of narrative representation in literature, film, digital media, etc. across all European languages and cultures.