Chapter 5. Narrator and narrative space in Middle High German epic poetry (Parzival, Ehescheidungsgespräch, Prosalancelot)

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An in-depth observation of the historical beginnings of German literature in the Middle Ages reveals that the modern comprehension of the narrator is not as natural as is seems. In current medieval studies, there are even positions which make the case for avoiding the concept ‘narrator’ completely with respect to medieval literature. Nevertheless, in this chapter I apply the concept ‘narrator’ to German epic poetry of the 13th century. One necessary precondition is to systematically historicize its fundamental determinations. First of all, the ‘narrator’ as a personalized entity and the narrator’s activity of perspectivization should be understood in a more literal sense. This is the consequence of the exceptional literary-historical position of courtly literature: German epic poetry of the 13th century is situated after one generation of written and many generations of oral storytelling. As the chapter will illustrate, the specific form of storytelling which has developed on this foundation implies a semi-theatrical narrative situation: the role of the narrator is manifested in form of a ‘real’ story-teller, who tells his or her story (from memory or a book) to a collective audience. Through this connection, perspectivization by the narrator initially entails directing an audience’s attention to one specific point in a room, thereby turning the latter into a narrative space. On the one hand, the narrator in medieval epic poetry is comparable to that in modern epics – he or she perspectivizes the story and mediates it to the recipient. On the other hand, however, the existence of the medieval narrator between body and script, between the real person of a story-teller and a fictional concept leads to the fact that you cannot talk about the courtly narrator without talking about the space of narration.


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