About this Project

2016 – 2017

The boundary between fact and fiction is a contested site in contemporary culture. On the one hand, a familiar set of binaries opposes fiction to its various others: the fiction/nonfiction divide that structures the literary market (in the United States and elsewhere); fiction film versus documentary film; fictional versus “reality” television. On the other hand, the proliferation of generic hybrids (docudrama, literary journalism, nonfiction novels, autofiction) increasingly calls these demarcations into question. The current taste for reality simultaneously undermines the creation of autonomous fictional worlds, and provokes suspicion of the fictionalization of everyday life in the form of the simulacrum, the spectacle, and the false image. The resulting conceptual confusion both expands and erodes the concept of fiction.

Fiction is, in fact, not a literary genre but an operative category in various media, disciplines, and discourses, and designates a range of functions and relationships to reality—from the pragmatic uses of legal fictions to the fictionalization of the profilmic referent in cinema. Any investigation into factuality and fictionality demands both disciplinary expertise, to enable the adequate analysis of specific forms of representation, and the articulation of common ground between different academic disciplines and artistic media. Indeed, the divide between the factual and the fictional raises fundamental questions for humanistic inquiry. Why do human beings create fictions, and what kinds of truths can these fictions convey? Conversely, how are facts established? How do we distinguish factual from fictional representations, and what is at stake in this separation?

The project brought a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to these questions. It had two main components: first, the appointment of Françoise Lavocat, Professor of French and Comparative Literature at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle–Paris 3, and a leading scholar of theories of fiction, as a Neubauer Collegium Visiting Fellow in Spring 2017. The second element was the formation of a working group composed of University of Chicago faculty from a number of departments and divisions. The core group held monthly meetings to discuss participants’ ongoing research, arranged visits by invited outside speakers, and organized public symposia. This close collaboration ultimately aimed to engage students and faculty in campus-wide conversations, while building connections between Chicago researchers and an international network of scholars.


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