Folklore | Narrative Poetics
F545 | 28063 | McDowell


There is ample evidence to confirm the claim that homo sapiens is in
fact homo narrans, or to put it another way, that we acquire such
self-knowledge as we have largely through narrative processes.
Doubtless, stories told in several expressive media, in numerous
generic forms, concerning virtually every aspect of human experience,
abound in our lives and may even constitute for us the perceived
world and the thread of human consciousness. But how do they do this?
What is their claim on us?

This course explores the poetics of narrative, a theme with great
antiquity (think Aristotle, for example) that has garnered a good
deal of attention from folklorists and others in the last few
centuries and intensively in the last several decades.

In this course we propose a review of some highlights in this
literature with the goal of illuminating questions like these:

1.  What is a “story” and what are its varieties?
2.  What are the instruments of narrative continuity?
3.  How do narratives move beyond the frame of “recounting”
experience to embace “recreating” experience?
4.  What strategies and techniques are employed by storytellers to
convey and enhance their messages?
5.  How do narratives intersect with the world beyond the story-frame?

In order to approach these questions, we will need to acquire an
appropriate set of analytical tools, and to test these in the
crucible of real-world narrative production.

The student’s role:

Students will be asked to read deeply into the literature on
narrative poetics, starting with ballad and folk-tale scholarship and
proceeding to the ethnography of speaking and ethnopoetics, and to
write a comprehensive essay on some dimension of our topic. They are
encouraged to draw upon ethnographic data in living narrative
traditions to accomplish this task.