Nobel Prize Ceremony Countdown – Narrative

Nobel Narrative feature

Nobel NarrativeWe are continuing our countdown to the Nobel Prize Ceremony on the 10th of December with the most interesting terms of the laureates’ scientific or thematic fields. Last week, we learned about Field Experiments. In this week of the countdown, we will look at one of the keywords that is characteristic of two writers – Olga Tokarczuk from Poland and Peter Handke from Austria – namely the term Narrative. They received the Nobel Prize in Literature respectively for 2018 and 2019 this year.

Both authors are mainly novelists and therefore write prose although Handke is also a well-known playwright. Tokarczuk was awarded the Nobel Prize explicitly for her “narrative imagination”. In everyday language, the word “narrative” refers to something that is told as a story. A narrative is an account of a series of related events, experiences or the like, whether true or fictitious. The word derives from the Latin verb narrare (to tell), which again is derived from the adjective gnarus (knowing or skilled). More narrowly defined, it is the fiction-writing mode in which the narrator communicates directly to the reader.

Stories as such are of ancient origin, existing already in ancient Egyptian, Greek, Chinese and Indian cultures together with their corresponding myths. They are also a ubiquitous component of human communication, used as parables and examples to illustrate points. “Evidence strongly suggests that humans in all cultures come to cast their own identity in some sort of narrative form. We are inveterate storytellers”, as Owen Flanagan, a leading Professor of Philosophy and Neurobiology, put it.

When consulting IATE, we will find various entries belonging to very different domains. In agriculture, or more specifically in livestock breeding, a written description of a horse including general characteristics and distinctive identifying marks is called a narrative. Accountants use the same word to refer to a text added to explain the record of a transaction recorded in an account or journal, while in information technology and data processing it is defined by ISO/DIS 8908 as “miscellaneous information pertaining to the message and intended for the receiver”.

The specific notion of “narrative” that will most often appear in public discourse is the one with IATE ID No 2245408 belonging to the domain “culture and religion” and the subdomain “social questions”. In fact, it has become a buzzword in politics and can be summed up as a representation of a particular situation or process in such a way as to reflect or conform to an overarching set of aims or values. It is typically used in an ideological or political context.

By creating a certain narrative, governments, political parties and social movements try to give meaning to their actions and goals and to influence our perception of the world we live in. Values and emotions are underlying elements of a narrative which is usually confined to a particular culture group or political community and is tightly connected to the respective collective memory of the people belonging to it.

The term “narrative” in this particular sense actually derives from a translation of the book La condition postmoderne written by French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard and first published in 1979. In his book, Lyotard uses the expression “méta récits” as one of his keywords, which has then been rendered as “master narrative” into English.

The debates and controversies surrounding the literary works and political statements of Handke and Tokarczuk are a prime example of how different narratives are competing with each other in political discourse.

Next week, we will be learning about International Cooperation. In the meantime, you may further delve into the term(s) Narrative either on IATE or by clicking on the sources below with additional references to the literary oeuvres and biographies of both laureates.


Press release: The Nobel Prize in Literature 2018 and 2019. (Accessed 26th November 2019)

Narrative. Wikipedia. (Accessed 26th November 2019)

Narrative. Oxford English Dictionary. (Accessed 26th November 2019)

Narrativ (Sozialwissenschaften). Wikipedia. (Accessed 26th November 2019)

New Narrative for Europe. European Commission. (Accessed 26th November 2019)

From European narrative to managing European expectations. Clingendael Institute. (Accessed 26th November 2019)

Wir verlieren das europäische Narrativ. Leuphana Universität Lüneburg. (Accessed 26th November 2019)

Hinz und Kunz schwafeln heutzutage vom „Narrativ“. Die Welt. (Accessed 26th November 2019)

Olga Tokarczuk’s Polish narrative. The Economist. (Accessed 26th November 2019)

“Handke verwendet kriegstreiberische Narrative”. WDR 5. (Accessed 26th November 2019)

Olga Tokarczuk. Wikipedia. (Accessed 26th November 2019)

Peter Handke. Wikipedia. (Accessed 26th November 2019)

Martin DlugoschWritten by Martin Dlugosch

Currently a Rotating Terminologist at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament in Luxembourg. Holds an MA in Translation Studies and in International Marketing from Mainz University and Reutlingen University. Since 2009, translator in European Parliament’s German translation unit.