Fact and Fiction: Creation, Forms, Boundaries

Friday, May 19 - Saturday, May 20

Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society
5701 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60637

This symposium takes the contested and porous border between fact and fiction as the point of departure for a wide-ranging cross-disciplinary dialogue. Understanding fiction not as a literary genre but as an operative category in various modes, disciplines, and discourses, we aim to identify the general features that define imaginary worlds, while also considering the historical and cultural variability of practices, the specificity of media, and the blurring of distinctions. Why and how do we create fictions, and what kinds of truths can these fictions convey? Should fiction be defined in ontological, logical, or pragmatic terms? How do human minds distinguish between factual and fictional narratives, actual and virtual realities? Can we identify “signposts” of fictionality and factuality? Bringing together perspectives from the humanities, social sciences, cognitive sciences, and art practice, we offer an exploratory approach to these questions, with an emphasis on collective discussion.

This conference is free and open to the public. While no advance reading is required, primary source documents and other related materials will be made available in advance on the conference website, and are intended to facilitate understanding and debate.

This event is organized by the Fact and Fiction research project at the Neubauer Collegium. Other institutional partners include the France Chicago Center, the Franke Institute for the Humanities, the Committee on Social Thought, and the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.


Thomas Pavel (University of Chicago):“Fictional Worlds, Thirty Years Later”

Andrei Pop (University of Chicago): “From Make-Believe to Platonism”

Anna Abraham (Leeds Beckett University, UK): “How the Brain Tells Reality from Fiction: A Neurocognitive Perspective”

Françoise Lavocat (Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3, Neubauer Collegium Visiting Fellow): “Signposts of Factuality in an Intermedial Perspective”

Julie Orlemanski (University of Chicago): “Medieval Fictionality”

Alison James (University of Chicago): “From Human Documents to Fiction as Alibi: Modes of Reference in the French Novel”

Maria Anna Mariani (University of Chicago): “Primo Levi’s Evil Wet Nurse and the Sin of Fiction”

Victoria Saramago (University of Chicago): “The Backlands in the Mirror: Environmental Mimesis in João Guimarães Rosa’s Work”

Françoise Lavocat (Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3, Neubauer Collegium Visiting Fellow) and Meredith Reiches (University of Massachusetts Boston): “A Comparative Demography of Characters”

Christian Raby (Photographer): “When Photography Constructs Identity”

Paola Iovene (University of Chicago): “Collective Reportage in 1930s China”

James Cahill (University of Toronto): “Big Toes and Other Beasts”

Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky (University of Chicago): “The Process Genre, or On Being Absorbed in Work” 

Patrick Jagoda (University of Chicago): “Alternate Reality Games as Cultural Probes”

Olivier Caïra (Université d’Evry-Val-d’Essonne): “Interactivity: The Final Frontier between Fact and Fiction?”