Docufiction in Contemporary Literature
On the subject of "Docufiction in Contemporary Literature", two essays shall examine different forms and functions of the documentary in fictions.
“Docufiction”—according to its name—takes place between the blurred lines of fact and fiction. The term originates in film theory and has only recently been adapted for literature. However, theory building is still in the making, and there is no fixed canon of works belonging to a genre of that name, yet. Without attempting to holistically theorize docufiction, the essays written in this subproject approach the field from different angles. The term docufiction will be discussed based on specific literary works, while the manifold figurations and issues that arise with such a genre designation will be set forth.
"Write that down"* – Fictional Documentation and Political Action
This essay deals with docufictions that decidedly take on political realities. The focus lies on narratives that do not paratextually claim to be 'documentaries', but which apply documentary techniques to real-world events or situations, while remaining in the fictional universe. Thus, the focus of interest lies in the possibilities of shaping the relationship between narrative and fiction, in the question of whether and how the factual becomes narratable. One example of this is the novel Alle Hunde sterben (2020) by Cemile Sahin. The book cover describes it as a "Chronicle about a country marked by militarism and nationalism" (translation H. Karakurt), referring to Turkey and the violence the state exerts on its own citizens. This introduces questions about the narratability of (war) crimes, traumas, atrocities and real violence, i.e. about an actual ‘documentability’ in fictional texts. What role do paradoxes of (eye-)witnessing play, especially from the distance of the diaspora? To what extent is a documentary aspect of a work inscribed by its reception, which believes it is dealing with a testimony? These questions can be connected to the general research interest of the project by discussing the significance of such narratives for the relationship between fiction and politics, or fictional writing and political action.
* Recurring chiffre in Cemile Sahin, Alle Hunde sterben, Berlin: Aufbau Verlag 2020, e.g. p. 21, translation H. Karakurt.
Completed Essay Projects:
Populism in Contemporary Literature
Lea Liese: Left-Wing Theory, Right-Wing Narrative? (Post) Political Indiscernibility in the Works of Michel Houellebecq Considered from Narrative Theory
Will be published as: "Linke Theorie, rechte Narrative? (Post-)Politische Ununterscheidbarkeit bei Michel Houellebecq erzähltheoretisch betrachtet", in: Transdisziplinäre Popkulturstudien / Transdisciplinary Studies in Popular Culture, Bielefeld 2021 (in press).
The essay project compares two French and two German novels regarding their political storytelling under the banner of the post-political. Even though Michel Houellebecq would strongly reject the accusation of pop-cultural self-marketing, fiction and public enactment are barely separable with him. The author and his novels both came under suspicion of populism even before „Submission“ (2015). The political in Houellebecqs novels manifests itself less in right-wing populist narratives than in the critique of a by now merely commodified liberalism. The staging of trivial everyday practices, of sex and mass consumption, however, proves to be explicitly political in its politically apathetic decadence. Against the theoretical frame of a critique of capitalism, Houellebecq’s novelistic work appears to be spiked with fears of competition and displacement, which he invokes just as much in his speeches and interviews. Entirely different the feminist writer Virginie Despentes: With „Vernon Subutex“ (2015-2017) she presented a trilogy of novels that, even though it tells a story of decline in a similar unadorned-vulgar manner, is not a monotonous swansong to pluralism as Houellebecq supposes it, but a social panorama that combines populism and protest in a polyphonous way.
Lea Liese: From ‚urban legend‘ to conspiracy rumor. The politics of modern myth formation
Will be published as: "Von der ‚urban legend’ zum Verschwörungsgerücht. Die Politik moderner Sagenbildung", in: Fabula 1-2/2024 (in press).
The essay project wants to question the subject matter of established urban legends regarding their sociopolitical relevance. To that end, their narratological and media sociological operating mechanisms are examined in equivalence to currently circulating „Verschwörungsgerüchten“ (Butter 2018) in social networks. Since the 1930s, urban legends have been a much-discussed object of folk narrative research, despite, or precisely because, they not only exhibit ontological problems of truth but also ontological problems of structure. On the one hand, they spread like rumors in accordance to the so called FOAF-Model (friend of a friend), which, firstly, worsens the source situation and, secondly, emphasizes the ‚audience effect‘, i. e. the audience’s significance. On the other hand, in this genre of modern myth the real is blended with elements of the collective unconscious (Petzoldt 2002). Urban legends deal with the present in the mode of the past; on one side by referring back to handed down (lack of) knowledge, on the other side by updating their subject matter thematically and formally to the new crises and media of the present. By mainly narrating experiences of loss, erecting dichotomies and mobilizing affects, modern myths are culturally fabricated expressions of fear, too. This is mostly expressed by xenophobic narratives („The foreign neighbors have eaten my pet!“), homophobic AIDS-rumors („AIDS-Mary,“ deliberately placed AIDS-pathogens in food and public commodities) and conspirative stories of contaminations of all sorts (contaminated drinking water, chemtrails etc.). In spite of that, a decidedly political positioning has so far stood behind their mediatization as a pop-cultural phenomenon, which could have contributed to the popularization and normalization of racist, antisemitic and sexist positions. The essay project wants to closer examine these issues.