Black and white photo of a cut tree stump with annual rings.

The Time Lapse as a Narrative Technique in the 20th and 21st Century

Time lapses and ellipsis are basic narrative strategies in literature. These narrative techniques are under scrutiny in contemporary literature, which attempts to depict long periods of time. Speculative novels and so-called climate fiction, in particular, cover long periods of time in order to shed light on larger temporal and spatial contexts and the interaction of different (also non-human) entities.

The project takes this as an incentive to put the narratological problem of ‘Duration’ (Genette) into a new perspective and to historicize it. Genette used the term Duration for the ratio between how long events take to unfold in the story world and how much text is devoted to their narration. Thus, the story time (histoire) is measured chronologically while the narrative time (discours) is spatialized (as the length of the text). By looking at the depiction of long periods of time in narrative texts of the 20th and 21st century, the project analyzes this ratio and its shifts in an extreme. To be considered ‘long,’ a time period must exceed several decades (a time period usually covered by the generational novel) and may be measured in centuries or millennia. Furthermore, the project elucidates the preconditions of the respective notions of time and history in different novels. The project has three main research objectives:

  1. Narratological aspects: How are text passages focalized and who is speaking when the depicted time period exceeds an individual’s lifetime by far? What are the limits of narrative techniques such as time lapse and ellipses?
  2. Models of time and history: Are there correlations between the discussion of time and history in the histoire and the modelling of time qua the discours? Is the (im)possibility of memory and archiving explored? Do developmental hypotheses and historical-philosophical presumptions come to the fore in the histoire or the discours?
  3. Cultural and media history: Does knowledge from other fields influence the depiction of long periods of time, especially knowledge from the historical sciences? How important are modern narratives and techniques of acceleration in other media for literature? Are there any specific literary ‘capacities for acceleration and delay’ (Genette) or effects in comparison to other media?


Fig. above: © Dirk Naguschewski

since 2021
Head researcher(s): Eva Axer


Eva Axer


01 Dec 2023 · 2.00 pm

Eva Axer: Sprechende Hyperobjekte? Skalare Inkongruenz in Kim Stanley Robinsons “The Ministry for the Future”

Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Eberhard-Lämmert-Saal, entrance Meierottostr. 8, 10719 Berlin

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31 Mar 2023 · 11.30 am

Eva Axer: Diverging Temporalities and the Question of Change. On ‘Model Thinking’ in Literary Theory (C. Levine) and Climate Fiction (R. Powers, KS Robinson)

Freie Universität Berlin, Conference room of the Cluster EXC 2020, Raum 0.07, Otto-von-Simson Straße 15, 14195 Berlin

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