Narrative Complexity

Narrative Complexity

Cognition, Embodiment, Evolution

Edited by Marina Grishakova and Maria Poulaki

Frontiers of Narrative Series

498 pages
2 photographs, 21 illustrations, 3 graphs, 2 tables, index


August 2019


$75.00 Pre-order

About the Book

The variety in contemporary philosophical and aesthetic thinking as well as in scientific and experimental research on complexity has not yet been fully adopted by narratology. By integrating cutting-edge approaches to complexity, this volume takes a step toward filling this gap and establishing the interdisciplinary field of complex narrative studies.

Narrative Complexity provides a framework for a more complex and nuanced study of narrative and explores the experience of narrative complexity in terms of cognitive processing, affect, and mind and body engagement. Bringing together leading international scholars from a range of disciplines, this volume combines analytical effort and conceptual insight in order to relate more effectively our theories of narrative representation and complexities of intelligent behavior. 

This collection engages important questions on how narrative complexity functions as an agent of cultural evolution, how our understanding of narrative complexity can be extended in light of new research in the social sciences and humanities, how interactive media produce new types of narrative complexity, and how the role of embodiment as a factor of narrative complexity acquires prominence in cognitive science and media studies. The contributors explore narrative complexity transmitted through various semiotic channels, embedded in multiple contexts, and experienced across different media, including film, comics, music, interactive apps, audiowalks, and ambient literature.


Author Bio

Marina Grishakova is a professor of comparative literature at the University of Tartu in Estonia. She is the author of The Models of Space, Time and Vision in V. Nabokov’s Fiction: Narrative Strategies and Cultural Frames and the coeditor of Intermediality and Storytelling. Maria Poulaki is a lecturer in film and digital media arts at the University of Surrey and the coeditor of Compact Cinematics: The Moving Image in the Age of Bit-Sized Media.


“Encyclopedic in scope, Narrative Complexity surveys a dazzling variety of genres, media forms, and theories about complexity, including artistic, literary, and scientific examples. Contributions by many eminent narratologists make this an invaluable work and essential reading for anyone interested in how the conjunction of narrative and complexity can be configured and interrogated. Kudos to the editors for introducing and assembling this remarkable collection.”—N. Katherine Hayles, author of Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Nonconscious

“Challenging the distinction between ‘simplicity’ as primary and primordial and ‘complexity’ as secondary and derived from simplicity, these far-ranging studies make the case that human cultures and minds are inherently complex. They are indeterminate and uncertain. This holds particularly true for narrative discourse, which is at the heart of culture and mind. Understanding homo narrans means understanding the human being in the world in its most complex forms. As a consequence, narrative studies have to refine their intellectual instruments—conceptually, empirically, hermeneutically—in the ways impressively explored in this volume.”—Jens Brockmeier, professor of psychology at the American University of Paris

“This volume opens a new window on the emergence of narratology within the context of complexity theory. In contrast to its phase of pluralization in the form of diverse models and paradigms, narratology, by turning to complex phenomena such as self-organization, nonlinearity, recursion, and nonhierarchical relations in various media, is exploring new domains where the interactions between embodied cognition and social and cultural embeddedness are redefining the contours of narrative. Narrative Complexity bears witness to the repositioning of the ‘conditions of possibility’ of narratology.”—John Pier, University of Tours and CRAL (CNRS), Paris

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Introduction: Narrative Complexity
Marina Grishakova and Maria Poulaki
Part 1. Narrative Complexity and Media
1. Narrative as/and Complex System/s
Marie-Laure Ryan
2. Caution, Simulation Ahead: Complexity and Digital Narrativity
David Ciccoricco and David Large
3. The Wave-Crest: Narrative Complexity and Locative Narrative
Emma Whittaker
4. Complexity and the Userly Text
Noam Knoller
5. The Complexity of Informative Autobiographies
Ulrik Ekman
Part 2. Cognition and Narrative Comprehension
6. Sources of Complexity in Narrative Comprehension across Media
Joseph P. Magliano, Karyn Higgs, and James Clinton
7. Structural Complexity in Visual Narratives: Theory, Brains, and Cross-Cultural Diversity
Neil Cohn
8. Simplicity, Complexity, and Narration in Popular Movies
James E. Cutting
9. Heteronomy of Narrative: Language Complexity and Computer Simplicity
Hamid R. Ekbia
Part 3. Experience, Subjectivity, and Embodied Complexity
10. Narrative Here-Now
Mieke Bal
11. Body Forth in Narrative
Ellen J. Esrock
12. Between Distancing and Immersion: The Body in Complex Narrative
Maria Poulaki
13. Intersubjectivity, Idiosyncrasy, and Narrative Deixis: A Neurocinematic Approach
Pia Tikka and Mauri Kaipainen
14. Jazz as Narrative: Narrating Cognitive Processes Involved in Jazz Improvisation
Martin E. Rosenberg
Part 4. Narrative Complexity and Cultural Evolution
15. The Predictive Mind, Attention, and Cultural Evolution: A New Perspective on Narrative Dynamics
Marina Grishakova
16. Necessary Fictions: Supernormal Cues, Complex Cognition, and the Nature of Fictional Narrative
James Carney
17. In Hindsight: Complexity, Contingency, and Narrative Mapping
José Angel García Landa

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