Nonfiction Neonarrative: Pushing the Boundaries of the Narratable

deadline for submissions: 
October 8, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Daniel Aureliano Newman / University of Toronto

Call for Papers: Nonfiction Neonarrative: Pushing the Boundaries of the Narratable  

by Daniel Aureliano Newman, University of Toronto

International Society for the Study of Narrative in New Orleans, USA, March 5–8, 2020

Neonarrative is a term coined by Robyn Warhol (2005) to describe the emerging narratability of socio-cultural processes or events that were formerly unspeakable, unacknowledged or unintelligible—in short, it is the process by which the "narratable" emerges from the "unnarratable" (a term Warhol borrows from Gerald Prince 1988). H. Porter Abbott likewise adopts, in a distinct but not unrelated sense, the term “unnarratable” to describe processes so complex that they “resist representation in narrative form” (Abbott 2009); unnarratable processes include the behaviour of stock markets and subatomic particles, evolution by natural selection, and various statistical or emergent phenomena (Abbott 2008). Though such processes are arguably more resistant to narrative than sociocultural processes, they too may eventually become more narratable, over time, growing familiarity, and the efforts of cultural interpreters (among others, journalists, science popularizers, historians, psychologists, explorers of various kinds). Neonarrative thus extends beyond reversals of the hitherto-unspeakable, into the realm of what once eschewed narrative comprehension altogether. To cite just one example: Richard Dawkins’s figure (or character, if you like) of the “selfish gene” gave significant narrative shape to the processes of Darwinian evolution, which Abbott considers the non plus ultra of the unnarratable (2003).

This panel focuses on how nonfiction might contribute to neonarrative’s replacement or displacement of the formerly unnarratable. Fictive narratives certainly participate in this expansion of the narratable; but nonfiction arguably raises the stakes because its truth-telling imperative clashes to a lesser or greater extent with the counterintuitive, experimental, defamiliarizing (Iversen 2019), strange (Caracciolo 2016) or unnatural (Richardson 2015) techniques required to tell a story that couldn’t be told before. Furthermore, understanding the potential narratability of very complex real-life processes might serve to better counter the simple but powerful narratives that play such insidious roles in public misinformation, propaganda, anti-intellectualism.

The ideal composition of the panel will be three or four papers featuring different forms of nonfiction neonarrative (for example, government reports, history, journalism, medicine, narrative essays, science, thought experiments, travel writing…). I am especially interested in papers that focus on a single narrative device (or a cluster of interrelated devices) and its function, formal and rhetorical effects, and relations to neonarrative. The selected papers will be gathered as a panel proposal for the upcoming conference of the International Society for the Study of Narrative in New Orleans (March 5–8, 2020).

To be considered for the panel, please submit a proposal outlining your paper (max. 200 words) and short biographical note to Daniel Aureliano Newman (University of Toronto, by October 8, 2019.

Panel organizer's bio: Daniel A. Newman is Assistant Professor (Teaching Stream) in the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto. His book, Modernist Life Histories: Biological Theory and the Experimental Bildungsroman, was publishedin 2019 by Edinburgh University Press, and his articles have appeared in journals such as Style, Twentieth-Century Literature, Journal of Narrative Theory, and Frontiers of Narrative Studies.