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ICNS Seminar: Aarhus School Approaches to Fictionality

Friday 7 February 2020, 6.00PM

A seminar comprising two papers from visiting speakers Simona Zetterberg Gjerlevsen and Henrik Skov Nielsen, both from Aarhus University. The Aarhus School approach to fictionality adopts a rhetorical model, in response to The Rhetoric of Fictionality (Walsh, 2007), and has examined fictionality both inside fiction and in various other discourses including commercials, campaigns, political rhetoric, documentaries, and parables. The papers presented here discuss the relationship between fictionality, fact and history in the early historical novel and in contemporary times.


Simona Zetterberg Gjerlevsen, “Inventing History: Exploring Fictionality in Early Historical Fiction”

The historical novel is a particularly interesting case in exploring fictionality. In the words of novel theorist Diana Wallace, “[t]he very term ‘historical fiction’ is a kind of oxymoron, joining ‘history’ (what is ‘true’/’fact’) with ‘fiction’ (what is ‘untrue’/invented’, but may aim at a different kind of truth)” (Introduction, x). In both Britain and Denmark, the historical novel had its breakthrough with one enormously popular novel author, Walter Scott in Britain, and B. S. Ingemann in Denmark. Yet, their relationships to fact and fictionality was very different, and the contemporary reviews expressed contrasting views regarding their approach to this distinction. In the paper, I show how a rhetorical concept of fictionality may shed light on different relationships between history, reality and fictionality in early historical fiction.


Henrik Skov Nielsen, “Fictionality beyond Fiction: Postfactuality, Post-Enlightenment and the Contemporary Novel”

In the paper, I discuss pros and cons of Walsh’s approach to fictionality. Drawing on the distinction between fiction and fictionality, I examine two meanings of “fictionality beyond fiction,” in the sense of outside generic fiction in non-fictional genres and after fiction in a perceived destabilization of the novel as a genre of fiction.  I quite speculatively offer some assumptions about the relationship between the Enlightenment project and the diachronicity of fictionality, and discuss the relationship between developments in the novel as a genre, and Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment situations respectively. In conclusion, the paper makes the case that a clearly delimited concept of fictionality, as intentionally signaled invention in communication, can help us navigate in a landscape where distinctions between invention, lie, deception and truth are often blurred.


An Interdisciplinary Centre for Narrative Studies seminar in the 'Historicising Fictionality' series.

'Historicising Fictionality' is a strand of the 2019-20 ICNS programme, concerning the idea of fiction understood as an evolving communicative and rhetorical resource, with a traceable cultural history. The changing uses of the rhetoric of fictionality can be situated within the recursively reflexive cultural (and cognitive) logic of narrative itself.


Location: Seminar Room BS/007, Berrick Saul Building, University of York Heslington West Campus