About This Issue
Narratives are used in many spheres of life and fields of action in order to achieve specific aims in the context of more general strategies. Such a “strategic storytelling” can to some extent be regarded in light of the rhetorical theory of persuasion; however, as the following contributions to this issue demonstrate, the range of possible objectives of storytelling exceed the classical persuasio. According to Eva Lieberich, in Konrad’s Engelhard, a specific way of narrating serves the purpose of preparing the reader for the handling of a “rhetoric of envy”. Similarly, Luke’s famous parable of the Merciful Samaritan aims to morally educate. In his study of the parable, Jan Rüggemeier especially demonstrates how the narrative’s intended effect is strategically tailored to different target audiences, thus contributing to the formation of collective religious identities. Mareike von Müller and Matthias Wermeling focus in their contribution on the interaction between narrators and their addressees and simultaneously bridge the gap between the Middle Ages and the present: They compare contemporary mystories, stories by means of which patients try to come to terms with their illnesses, with Medieval narrative schemata. As Müller and Wermeling reveal, the limits of narration in such mystories become apparent, for the strategic telling of events is hindered by a countervailing tendency to evade the familiar schemata. Interestingly enough, it is the contribution anchored solely in contemporary culture which suggests an undiminished actuality of the classical rhetorical strategies of persuasion. In their analysis of Journey of the Universe (2011), Nancy Menning and Luke Keller show how this documentary film attempts to convince its audience by combining scientific strategies of constructing plausibility with religious-mythological topoi.
The innovative power of the question concerning strategic storytelling within the field of narrative research should not be underestimated: While classical narratology presents a theory of isolable forms to which different functions can be attributed, this question results in a shift in perspective, generating a theory of functions in which narrative collaborates with other cultural forms (e.g. conversation, rhetoric, film...) in order to reach an aim at a higher level. The project “Lausitz at one Table” (Lausitz an einen Tisch), a story telling saloon which Ralph Richter and Nepomuk Rohnstock present as a means of community building and empowerment, would be an object case taken from current practice. The analysis of narratives’ potential contribution to overarching strategies might even do more justice to the dynamics of cultural experiences – be they of a traumatic, political or aesthetic kind – than the practice of exploring narrative texts from a standpoint which regards the non-narrative merely as the context of these narratives; this at least is the opinion of Mieke Bal, whose research has led her from the investigation of narratological categories to a more holistic examination of cultural discourses and practices.
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