Philology of Adventure

21 Dec 2017

A new DFG-funded Research Unit coordinated at LMU’s Institute for Comparative Literature sets out to explore the origins and development of adventure as a narrative pattern.

From the novels of Classical Antiquity to Tolkien’s recasting of themes from Celtic and Germanic mythology – adventure stories have long fascinated readers and listeners. A new Research Unit based at LMU will take a close look at the concept of adventure from a literary standpoint. “Adventure originated as a narrative term, and refers with characteristic ambivalence both to a certain category of event and a specific narrative pattern which are, broadly speaking, typified by the courtly epics of the Middle Ages”, says Professor Martin von Koppenfels of the Institute for Comparative Literature at LMU, the Speaker of the new Research Unit “Philologie des Abenteuers”. Since that time, however, the model has proven to be remarkably adaptive, with respect to its ability to accommodate new modes of experience. The genre has come to permeate modern culture, in media such as computer games and the cinema. The narrative connotations associated with the origin of the term are often obscured in such recent transformations. “In its original narrative sense, adventure always involves confronting a particular protagonist with a dangerous situation,” von Koppenfels explains. “Very often, such an encounter takes on the character of an initiation ritual. Indeed, this is still true of contemporary fiction for young readers, in which adventure as a narrative structure has survived. In modern literature since the end of the 18th century, tales of adventure have largely been pushed aside, into the domain of the trivial.”

Members of the new Research Unit will take a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach, with a view to developing a philological picture of the adventure pattern that reveals its true place in the anthropology of storytelling. “One can only do justice to its significance by tracing its cultural history over a long span of time and comparing its evolution in different national contexts,” says von Koppenfels. “In order to meet this challenge, literary scholars working in diverse fields – from Classics to Romance Languages, and from Slavonic Studies to English and German – will collaborate closely in the new Research Unit, and the Institute of Comparative Literature at LMU provides the ideal base for such a far-reaching project,” he adds.

DFG-funded Research Units enable teams of researchers, working together, to carry out intensive, medium-term cooperative projects and to pioneer new departures in their field. In addition to LMU researchers, scholars based at the Free University of Berlin will also participate in the new Unit.

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