Norwegian version of this page

Readers as Observers

Pr​epare to get involved: How do contemporary English and German-language novels play on the visuality and materiality of text to engage the reader?

Books seen diffuse.

A part of Natalia Igl's bookshelf, photo edited with "cubism" filter.

Photo: Natalia Igl.

MSCA research project on the strategic engagement of readers as observers in contemporary German- and English-language multimodal novels; bringing together cognitive narratology, multimodality research and historical perspectives.

About the project

When we read literature, we often have the impression to ‘see’ the storyworld before our ‘inner eye’. This project, «The construction of readers as (co-)observers in multimodal novels. Radical reader engagement in the visual age», looks at contemporary novels that do not only play at readers’ capacity of mental imagery, but turn them into actual observers of visually displayed signs and objects.

The notion of the reader as (co-)observer lies at the heart of this investigation: Based on a cognitive narratological framework it studies the ways in which novels such as Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000) or J. J. Abrams and Dough Dorst’s S (2013) functionalize images and photographs, visual forms, typography, fictive handwritten notations or even added materials such as inserted postcards or letters for the narration.


The project aims to answer the question how contemporary German- and English-language novels make use of integrated images, the visuality of written text and the materiality of the book in order to position the reader as a visually perceiving subject who not only ‘sees’ objects of the storyworld but who potentially also ‘watches’ the materializing of the narration itself.


01.09.2018 – 31.08.2020 [extended until 09.2021]


Beside the key cooperation with Karin Kukkonen, Professor in Comparative Literature at ILOS, the research project benefits from a wide network of researchers in Norway and abroad. The main cooperation partners are: Anne Mangen, Professor at the Norwegian Reading Centre at the University of Stavanger; Vera Tobin, Associate Professor of Cognitive Science at Case Western Reserve University, Ohio/USA; Gustav Frank, Adj. Professor in Modern German Literature at Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich.

Tags: Literature, Cognitive Poetics, Cognitive Narratology, Multimodal texts, Visual Culture, Modernism/Postmodernism, Comparative literature
Published Oct. 26, 2018 1:26 PM - Last modified May 10, 2022 2:39 PM


Natalia Igl, MSCA Researcher