The return of the narrative/ Le retour à la narration

The return of the narrative/ Le retour à la narration

Date: January 16 & 17 2014
Venue: University of Amsterdam

Programme The Return of the Narrative

On 16 & 17 January 2014 the University of Amsterdam together with the Research Institute for History and Culture and the Netherlands Research School for Literary Studies will organize a conference on the contemporary European novel, focusing on the “return of the narrative”, “le retour à la narration” as literary historians will apply this concept. Through the 1980s, criticism on the hermetic nature of many postmodern texts grew louder and louder; novelists expressed the wish to restore the bonds between the reader and the texts as well as between the texts and the extra-literary reality. Many a fiction writer was fed up with formalism and would restore the conventions of realism, though not applying them in a passive manner. Firstly, the result was a large number of novels in which the writer’s personality or a historical figure would be made the central point (autobiography/autofiction and biography/biofiction). Many contemporary authors break the postmodern principle that the portrayal of the character is of minor importance; they repudiated the dismantlement of the ‘Self’ and settled down again on the central position of the individual. This quest for identity goes hand in hand with renewed interest in the individual’s historical/social context: think, for instance, of the many current novels dealing with World Wars I and II, and of the numerous texts that offer reflections on our consumer society. At face value, many current authors are employing the strategies of the realistic novel again: clear portrayal of character, chronology, causal narrative style, commitment, simple style, much local colour, a distaste for postmodern irony &c. However, literary historians dealing with the post-postmodern or late postmodern novel agree that these conventional techniques are being applied in new manners, and that all twentieth century tendencies breaking realism do leave their traces on the contemporary novel: it might be a matter of hybrid forms combining realism and postmodernism. Scholars are invited to examine the question, by a particular novel, whether today there may be talk of a ‘return of the narrative’. One could examine questions such as:

“Could social commitment be again found in contemporary novels and how is this expressed?”
“Are people fed up with postmodern irony?”
“Are the conventions of the realistic novel employed again?”
“Has the quest for identity been back in fashion again?”
“Would the need for ‘small-scale’ tales be nourished by the debate on globalization/loss of autonomy within the European Union?”
“How is the link accomplished between the quest for individual identity and social-historical context?”

More information: Suze van der Poll ( or Sabine van Wesemael (
Official languages: English and French