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Institute of Advanced Study

Narrating Time

Durham University IAS - In conversation with Professor Simon James

Durham University IAS - In conversation with Professor Simon James

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Professor Simon James discusses Time, the 2012-13 theme for the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University

The term ‘narrative’ has recently found common use in many disciplines besides literary studies. Researchers speak of finding ‘new narratives’ to understand climate, social and technological change; work on post-modernism, historiography or tipping points seeks to challenge the ‘grand narratives’ of received views; ‘narrative selves’ are often employed as a means of comprehension in philosophy, the medical humanities and the social sciences; even political commentators speak of power blocs seeking to ‘regain control of the narrative’ in order to influence public opinion.

Yet how far is this use truly narrative as theories of narrative have tended to understand it? Is this word too frequently used just to denote data, or a point of understanding, or simply a sequence of events one after the other? From Aristotle onwards, what distinguishes narrative, as opposed to chronicle, is its constructed nature, the ways in which the discrete elements of narrative are held together by complex relationships of cause and effect, of space and (especially) time. While plot, like life, has to take place in chronological time, narrative is frequently disordered, structured by the capacity to travel in time both backwards and forwards. Narrative thus both takes time (to tell) and makes time (in the telling); its capacity to flash-back and flash-forward is a way of establishing different orders of time.

‘Narrating Time’ is a seminar series that seeks to attain a new interdisciplinary understanding of narration, and narrative time. Researchers from a range of different disciplines across the Arts and Humanities, Science and Social Sciences, will collaborate in presenting position papers on our understanding of narrative. How might a theoretical or historical understanding of the functions of narrative inform its current cross-disciplinary uses? What might non-literary disciplines have to learn from literary narratology? - and vice versa? How do we apprehend time itself through categories of narrative? What is the effect in other disciplines of the new understandings of time brought by sciences such as evolutionary theory, geology or mathematics? To what extent might what we all do as academic researchers be characterised as ‘narrative’ – the placing of data, artefacts, lived experiences and texts, in complex relationships of cause and effect through time?

Places can be booked via Professor Simon J. James (

For full details of all the events please visit the Events Listing