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Structuring Literature: Variants and Functions of Reflective Passages in Narrative Fiction


"Reflective Passages" is an interdisciplinary project funded within the DFG SPP 2207 Computational Literary Studies combining expertise in Literary Studies, Linguistics and Computational Linguistics/Digital Humanities. The project is closely linked to the project "Uncertain Attribution".

Principle Investigators

  • Dr. Benjamin Gittel (Seminar of German Philology)
  • Prof. Dr. Anke Holler (Seminar of German Philology & Institute of Digital Humanities) (Speaker)
  • Prof. Dr. Caroline Sporleder (Institute of Computer Science & Institute of Digital Humanities)

New:  We are looking to fill 5 PhD positions in this project and its sister project "Unsichere Attribution/Uncertain Attribution".

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Project Description

"All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," is the first sentence of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and one of the most talked about examples of reflection in fictional literature. Although even lay people distinguish such reflective passages in novels from passages that report actions or describe characters, reflective passages have not yet been established as a research topic in their own right in literary studies. Against this backdrop the project will combine insights from literary studies, linguistics, computational modelling and quantitative as well as qualitative text analysis to (i) elaborate and formalise a comprehensive concept of reflective passage, (ii) identify and classify such reflective passages in narrative fiction and (iii) explain their patterns of occurrence in roughly 350 years of literary history. To this end, the project will build on previous work for identifying reflection automatically in other text types as well as work on detecting related phenomena such as genericity and epistemic status and extend and combine these in a linguistically informed machine learning framework for finding author/narrator-attributed and character-attributed reflective passages in narrative fiction. By applying our models to a large corpus of German literature spanning several centuries, we will be able to identify periods in which reflection was particularly prevalent (“boom periods”). We will also look more closely at two prominent variants of reflective storytelling in literary history: essayistic and encyclopedic narration. We will compare automatically identified essayistic and encyclopedic passages in narrative fiction to non-fictional essays and encyclopedic texts and investigate similarities and differences with respect to style, topic and the epistemic status of clauses in order to identify internal as well as external functions of these passages in relation to the literary works and their socio-cultural context.