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Theories of Fiction

Class at Faculty of Arts |



This graduate seminar focuses on selected theories of fiction spanning from the mid-twentieth century to the present day. The set texts have been selected to highlight the creative possibilities of fiction, and especially the novel, to counter hegemonic discourses, integrate heterogeneous material and travel across generic borders, and to explore the potentialities of reader response theory, play theory, and affect theory within the study of literature. At the same time, important questions concerning the ethics of reading and interpretation will be addressed, especially as regards the presentation of history and humanity’s responsibility to the environment. The seminar is designed to explore the various possibilities of applying theoretical frameworks to the study of literature, and, simultaneously, to critically assess and discuss the limits inherent in particular theories.

Seminar layout: a) 20-minute student presentation of set texts b) general discussion of the set texts structured along 2 questions posed by the instructors + questions chosen by the students


Active participation in seminar discussions (40%) 1 in-class presentation of 20 minutes (60%)


Mikhail Bakhtin, “Introduction,” in: Rabelais and his World, trans. Helene Iswolsky (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984) 1-58.

Pascale Casanova, “Introduction,” “World Literary Space,” in: The World Republic of Letters, trans. M.B. DeBevoise (Harvard UP, 2004).

John Hillis Miller, “The Critic as Host,” “The Ethics of Narration,” in The J. Hillis Miller Reader, ed. Julian Wolfreys (Stanford UP, 2005) 16-37, 38-44.

Linda Hutcheon, “Historicizing the postmodern: the problematizing of history,” “Historiographic metafiction: ‘the pastime of past time’,” in A Poetics of Postmodernism (New York and London: Routledge, 1988) 87-124.

Wolfgang Iser, “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach,” New Literary History 3.2 (Winter 1972): 279-99.

Wolfgang Iser, “The Play of the Text,” in Prospecting: From Reader Response to Literary Anthropology (Johns Hopkins UP, 1989) 249-60;

“Text Play,” in The Fictive and the Imaginary (Johns Hopkins UP, 1993) 247-280.

Brian Massumi, “The Autonomy of Affect,” Cultural Critique 31 (Autumn 1995): 83-109.

Edward Mendelson, “Encyclopedic Narrative: from Dante to Pynchon,” in MLN 91.6 (1976): 1267-75; David James, “The novel as encyclopedia,” Cambridge Companion to the Novel, ed. Eric Bulson (Cambridge UP, 2018) 74-90.

Timothy Morton, “The End of the World,” in Hyperobjects (Harvard UP, 2013) 99-133.

Mihai Spariosu, “Introduction: Play, Power, and the Western Mentality,” in Dionysus Reborn: Play and the Aesthetic Dimension in Modern Philosophical and Scientific Discourse (Cornell UP, 1989) 1-28.