The 2018 Project Narrative Summer Institute: June 24—July 6

The 2018 Project Narrative Summer Institute

PNSI is a two-week workshop on the campus of Ohio State University that offers faculty and advanced graduate students in any discipline the opportunity for an intensive study of core concepts and issues in narrative theory. The focus for summer 2018 will be Narrative Theory: Foundations and Innovations, and it will be co-directed by Brian McHale and James Phelan.

"Foundations and Innovations" may conjure up the terminology of "classical" and "postclassical" narratology, but for PNSI 2018 we have something bigger and more dynamic in mind. Rather than orienting the field of narrative theory around distinct periods, we'll explore it by setting up feedback loops among strong theories, primary narratives in different media, and their implicit challenges to interpretation. We'll range from Aristotle’s Poetics to contemporary (serial) television and experimental graphic narrative, from Russian Formalist theorizing to queer and feminist narratologies, from Chicago School theory to innovative fiction and nonfiction in prose. We'll also examine other contemporary narrative-theoretical approaches, and save time for participants to workshop their own innovative—and newly foundational—projects.

The full details of the syllabus are listed below.

Institute Co-Directors:

Brian McHale, Arts & Humanities Distinguished Professor, and James Phelan, Distinguished University Professor of English, editor of Narrative, and director of Project Narrative. The Project Narrative Summer Institute draws on the co-directors’ long involvement in—and various contributions—to conversations in narrative theory. Even as each does original research in a well-known approach to narrative (neo-formalist poetics for Brian and rhetorical theory for Jim), each has expertise in the history, evolution—and diversity—of the narrative theory. Scholars in all humanities and social science fields are welcome.

To Apply:

Applicants should send a current CV, a short description of the proposed project (no longer than a single-spaced page), and one letter of recommendation to Project Narrative by May 1, 2018. Applications will be reviewed promptly after the deadline. If, in order to meet funding deadlines, applicants need an earlier decision, the co-directors will consider special requests for early action. Applications can be emailed to or sent by post to the following address:

421 Denney Hall Attn: Project Narrative 164 Annie and John Glenn Avenue Columbus, OH 43210 Please email with any questions about applying.

Fees and Housing:

Tuition for the 2018 Project Narrative Summer Institute is $1600. This does not include housing, but the Project Narrative staff will assist participants in finding affordable housing options according to individual needs. Project Narrative cannot provide financial aid, but the co-directors will gladly write in support of participants’ applications for funding from home institutions.

Structure of PNSI 2018:

The seminar begins with a dinner on Sunday, June 24, and meets on weekdays until the final session in the afternoon of Friday, July 6. The co-directors will distribute a list of readings to be completed before the beginning of the institute. Each participant will bring a scholarly or pedagogical project to work on during the two weeks and to share with PNSI seminar members. The project might be, for example, the outline for an article or conference paper, a proposal for a book or dissertation, a lesson plan or a course syllabus. The Institute meets each morning as a seminar to discuss assigned readings and to share work in progress. Afternoons will occasionally be given over to other group meetings (a tour of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library, for example), but will mostly be free for participants to pursue their individual projects. The co-directors will facilitate seminar discussions and make themselves available to meet individually with the participants.


Week one, June 25-29.  Foundations and Innovations


Monday am

The Rhetorical Strand (1) Aristotle, Poetics. R.S. Crane, excerpts from "The Concept of Plot and the Plot of Tom Jones."  Sophocles, Oedipus.  Ernest Hemingway,"The Killers"; James Phelan, “The Chicago School: From Neo-Aristotelian Poetics to the Rhetorical Theory of Narrative.”


Monday pm: Presentation of Participant Prospectuses



The Rhetorical Strand (2)

Wayne C. Booth, excerpts from The Rhetoric of Fiction; James Phelan, "Authors, Resources, Audiences: Toward a Rhetorical Poetics of Narrative";  responses by Jan Alber, Gerald Prince, Marco Carraciolo and Karin Kukkonen; Phelan from "Debating Rhetorical Poetics" (replies to these three sets of objections); Jhumpa Lahiri, "The Third and Final Continent"



The Formalist Strand.

Viktor Shklovsky, “The Novel as Parody: Sterne’s Tristram Shandy”; Benjamin Harshav, "The Structure of Semiotic Objects"; Brian McHale and Eyal Segal,"Small World: The Tel Aviv School of Poetics and Semiotics"; Harshav, “Segmentation & Motivation...”; Brian McHale, “Beginning to Think about Narrative in Poetry”; Sophocles, Hemingway, and 1st episode of War and Peace.



Structuralism and its Legacies: Cognitive Narratology

Roland Barthes, "Introduction to the Structuralist Analysis of Narrative"; Gérard Genette, “Time and Narrative in A la recherché...”; David Herman, "Fuzzy Temporality" from Story Logic; Lisa Zunshine, excerpts from Why We Read Fiction; Alison Bechdel, Fun Home; Denis Villeneuve (dir.) Arrival.



Structuralism and its Legacies: Feminist and Postcolonial Narratologies

Genette, Voice, from Narrative Discourse; Susan Lanser, "Toward a Feminist Narratology"; "Toward a (Queerer and) More (Feminist) Narratology"; Robyn Warhol, “The Look, the Body, and the Heroine: A Feminist-Narratological Reading of Persuasion"; Gerald Prince, "Toward a Postcolonial Narratology"; Toni Morrison, "Recitatif";  Bechdel, Lahiri and Villeneuve revisited.


Week Two: July 2-6 Innovations and New Horizons


Natural and Unnatural Narratology.

Excerpts from Monika Fludernik, Toward a 'Natural' Narratology; Brian Richardson "Unnatural Narrative Theory"; responses by Jan Alber ; Ansgar Nunning and Natalya Bekhta; Stefan Iversen, and Phelan; Richardson's response.  Robert Coover, "The Babysitter"; Sandra Cisneros, "Barbie-Q"; revisit "Recitatif,"



Seriality and Complexity in Television

Sean O'Sullivan "Broken on Purpose: Poetry, Serial Television, and the Season"; Jason Mittell, from Complex TV: Introduction, Chapter 4 "Characters"; Breaking Bad, season 1, episodes 1-4



July 4 Holiday


Thursday am

Narrative Medicine

Rita Charon, Chapters 1-2 from Narrative Medicine; Bechdel revisited; Wit, Mike Nichols, dir.; David Small, Stitches


Thursday pm