Fictionalizing the World

Rethinking the Politics of Literature

by Louisa Söllner (Volume editor) Anita Vržina (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection 200 Pages


The book offers ten essays which explore the interaction between literature and politics. The authors investigate a variety of genres including young-adult fiction, national poetry, novels, autobiography, and performance art from different time periods ranging from the 18th up to the 21st century from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Grouped in three sections, the essays focus on the relationship between fiction and identity; the creation of spaces of/in fiction; and the interplay of irony and fiction. They reveal that fiction has a fundamental potential not only to react to but also to affect and shape the world. This offers a possibility to negotiate and re-imagine the ways in which we perceive the world and position ourselves within it.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Acknowledgements
  • 1. Fiction and Identity
  • Vulnerable Fictions: Queer Youth, Storytelling, and Narratives of Victimization
  • Authentically Black: Recognition, Authorship, and Fictions of Black Authenticity
  • Poets of the Unseen: Musing Through Loss and Displacement in Identity Formation in and Around the Palestine/Israel Conflict
  • Nation-Building in Nineteenth Century German Literature: The Example of Wilhelm Raabe
  • 2. Spaces of/in Fiction
  • Negotiating Colonial Legacies in Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North
  • An Auto-Performative Humor-filled Journey with Jonathan Demme’s Swimming to Cambodia (1987): Listening to Spalding Gray ‘Gesture’ his Way through the Cinematic Reality of Intersecting ‘Contact Zones’
  • Hybrid Cosmopolitanisms, Heterotopias and The Female American
  • Restaging the Colonial Encounter: Exhibition Culture and Practices of Fictionalization
  • 3. The Function of Irony in Fiction
  • Irony and Sincerity in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  • Irony under Control? Kierkegaard’s Conception of Controlled Irony as a Critical Theory of Aesthetic Fictionalization
  • Contributors


Some book titles win over readers through their transparency. The title of this collection is not one of them. Fictionalizing the World, while seemingly obvious at first glance, is rather a title that leaves questions open, instead of providing answers. It seems to postulate the existence of two separate realms – “fiction” on the one hand, and “the world” on the other. Yet, there are many ways to understand the proposition that “the world” is exposed to acts or processes of fictionalization. One way is to understand fictionalization as another form of representing the world. This is based on the assumption that fiction acts as a mirror in which the world as we know it is articulated, criticized, deconstructed, or affirmed. Understood this way, fiction is a derivative realm that emerges in response to the spaces constituting the world. While fiction may reflect on these spaces, it at the same time remains confined within its own boundaries. A second way to read the title is to envision fictionalization as a more transgressive activity, one that gives fiction a certain power of agency. Instead of remaining within its borders, fiction thus becomes part of the dynamics that create and affect the world. The idea that fiction leaks into, infects, or colonizes the world is frequently explored in fiction itself. It can be imagined as a disorienting condition in which all ties to reality are lost, or it can be seen as a utopian condition of endless liberties.

These two potential readings of our title represent two different approaches to the realm that we refer to as fiction. While one reading views fiction as a reaction or a response to the world, the other regards it as having the power to transform the world and subject it to fantasy. Both positions seem to postulate borders between fiction and the world. While these boundaries can be modified and trespassed, they are boundaries nevertheless. But are fiction and the world necessarily two separate areas? In our general understanding, “fiction” is often aligned with the concept of the “imaginary,” the “invented,” or even what is “untrue” or “false.” These associations suggest that fiction is, in fact, a realm separate from the world. Such a definition of fiction relies on the assumption that there is such a thing ← 7 | 8 → as “the world” as a knowable entity which exists before and independently of its fictionalization. This is a premise that can be questioned.

It is difficult to imagine a way of accessing the world that is not defined by processes of mediation, translation, interpretation, and fictionalization. Hence, the anterior position of the concept “world” in our title is called into question. If there is no world without the mediation of culture, if the world is knowable and perceptible only in terms of the concepts we are equipped with by our culture, then the fictionalization of the world is not a reaction to the already existing world; it is the foundation and source of our comprehension of the world. Once we accept the impact that fiction exerts on our understanding of the world, we also have to acknowledge the political dimension of fictionalization. What is at stake here is a new understanding of the immediacy of sensory experience and its relationship to – and indeed dependence on – a specific, socially constructed, normative system of thought.

Recent years have seen a renewed interest in the relationship between fiction and the world – or, more broadly, between aesthetics and politics – in the fields of literary studies, aesthetic theory, and philosophy. For French philosopher Jacques Rancière, for example, politics and aesthetics are inseparable. Rancière argues that at the core of both practices is a specific distribution of the sensible and a way of connecting sense and sense – in other words, sensory experience, and the way of making sense of it. This is also what connects art and life and endows art with political potential. According to Rancière, art in “the aesthetic regime of the arts” is no longer separate from life (The Politics of Aesthetics 23). Art that is not relegated to the position of the Other as opposed to life, but is rather part and parcel of life itself has a potential for intervention and political action. Rancière’s theory of aesthetics attempts to articulate a theoretical position that does not lament the failures of aesthetic and political collaboration, but rather sees art as an active participant on the political stage. This does not mean that art can be used in or by politics for specific goals. The politics of art do not lie in the intention of the author or the recipient, but within art itself and, more importantly, in the aesthetic experience of art. Art, according to Rancière, has the power to intervene in life by creating an aesthetic rupture, or what he calls “dissensus” – a rupture between sense and sense resulting from a reconfiguration of the distribution of the sensible. Rancière thus not ← 8 | 9 → only frees art from of its assumed autonomy, which renders it powerless; he also empowers art’s spectator, who he no longer sees in the position of the passive consumer of commodities, but as a participant in an autonomous aesthetic experience that provides the reader with the potential for political action.

Fictionalizing the World contributes to this contemporary debate on the politics of fiction with ten detailed studies that explore the relationship between fiction and politics in literary texts and artworks from a range of literary and academic traditions. These essays focus on the aspect of the political in the works themselves as well as on the relationship between fiction and politics in, and of, literary texts. In their analysis of works from different traditions and time periods, the essays demonstrate that the imaginary worlds we enter through the pages of a book are more than mere reflections of the world. Instead, fiction offers an arena where reality can be not only represented, but also rescinded and reimagined. Works of fiction help us to dismantle fictional constructs that influence our understanding of the world, while offering alternative views, interpretations, and meanings. Fiction thus creates potential for change within the existing systems of thought, modes of being, and subjectivities. We understand the subtitle of our volume, Rethinking the Politics of Literature, in the sense that the essays in this collection explore the interactions between “fiction” and “the world” not as separate, but as intimately entwined realms that continue to influence and shape each other.

This volume is divided into three thematic sections. The first section of this collection focuses on politics and literature in its exploration of the relationship between FICTION AND IDENTITY. The four essays in this section address the power of literature – not simply to achieve a particular goal set up by identity politics; rather, the essays see literature as a stage where questions about identity, both personal and communal, can be asked and new models and subject positions can be explored.

Inspired by Susanne Luhmann’s and Deborah Britzman’s theories of queer pedagogy, DERRITT MASON’s essay explores how the currently pervasive narratives of queer youth – the narrative of victimization and of well-adjusted queer youth – are taken up in two magical realist novels by Francesca Lia Block, which offer not only a new alternative narrative of sexual identity, but also problematize the notion of identity itself. Mason ← 9 | 10 → argues that the narratives of sexual identity, while fictional in origin, circulate as truths and influence the way we interpret the “reality” of queer youth. Mason suggests that Block’s novels show how the narratives of sexual identity of the novels’ protagonists are not fixed, but are constantly being “re-” and “de-storied” based on the tropes and narratives of sexual identity they are confronted with. Drawing on his reading of Block’s novels and on the theories of queer pedagogy, Mason proposes “storying” as a theory of sexual identity that foregrounds the power of fiction, which is understood here both as literature and as stories told by others for the creation of one’s authentic view of self and one’s own identity.

In her reading of Percival Everett’s novel Erasure, ANITA VRŽINA explores the intersection of fiction and reality on the level of both the literature business and that of the personal identity of an African American author in contemporary multicultural consumerist society. Taking as her starting point Charles Taylor’s theory of recognition, which proposes that one’s authentic individual identity is a dialogical creation, and Lionel Trilling’s notions of authenticity and sincerity, Vržina argues that in our contemporary postmodern moment, where access to black community and history is possible only through the mediation of culture, authentic black identity and authentic black art are contingent on broader cultural and social conditions. In the search for individual authentic identity in an attempt to create art that is free, the black artist needs to negotiate the web of conditions under which they are creating their art: the laws of the market in the consumer society, expectations placed on them by that market, and the community they are always necessarily identified with, as well as their own need and desire to create art that is free from constraints and limitations placed on it by society at large. In such conditions, Vržina argues, both art and identity all too easily become a masquerade that renders the search for authenticity an almost impossible task.

NABIL N. BARHAM’s essay explores a contemporary issue, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to offer a new paradigm of identity politics in and through literature. For Barham, the political power of literature does not lie in its ability to represent, criticize, or even deconstruct the identity-forming binary oppositions that inform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Literature, through its ability to reimagine the conflict and to inspire empathy through aesthetic means, can offer a new model for a politics of reconciliation. In ← 10 | 11 → his discussion of poems by two Israeli and two Palestinian poets, Barham argues that poetry can have a potential for the future. Drawing on Michael Rothenberg’s notion of “multidirectional memory,” Dominick LaCapra’s “empathic unsettlement,” and Edward Said’s “contrapuntal reading,” Barham analyzes how these four poems treat the conflict’s history and the ensuing mythologization and abstraction of its key moments and images (the Nakba and the Sabra) that result in the conflict’s perpetuation. Barham shows how the four poems negotiate these abstractions by offering a new imagery of co-resistance that is able to escape the established stereotyped narratives and thereby generate novel readings of, and rationales for, those founding moments and images. “Musing through” is Barham’s shorthand for the strategies of poetic mediation and imagination that can open up a space for a vision of the future that is informed, but not trapped, by the past and can thus envision a path toward reconciliation.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (October)
Politik in der Fiktion Identitätsnarrative Ironie Postkoloniale Literatur Räume in der Fiktion
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 200 pp.

Biographical notes

Louisa Söllner (Volume editor) Anita Vržina (Volume editor)

Louisa Söllner is a lecturer in American Literature at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU), Munich. Anita Vržina teaches literature at the American Studies Department at LMU Munich.


Title: Fictionalizing the World
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
202 pages