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28, 2024  Displacements of Fiction?, edited by Alison James and Alison Rice

Proposal deadline: Juin 15, 2023

Never has the taste for fiction seemed more pronounced than in the twenty-first century, the golden age of television series and cinematographic fictional universes. The literature of the imagination, in the form of fantasy, science fiction, or other “genres of the marvelous” (Besson and Jacquelin, 2015), is experiencing a renewed boom, while video games have cleared a new terrain for interactive fiction. And yet, the novel conceived as a work of the imagination no longer dominates the contemporary literary landscape. Recent literary prizes bear witness to this fact, including the Prix Goncourt in 2022 for an autobiographical narrative (Vivre vite by Brigitte Giraud); or else the Nobel Prize which crowned that same year the resolutely factual work of Annie Ernaux—who, in La Place, declared the novel “impossible” (Ernaux 1983, p. 24).

Between the two poles of fantasy and the factual, a zone of tension has emerged that encompasses very diverse practices, giving fiction—in the usual sense of imaginary creation—a highly variable place. The real and the fantastic mingle in Ultramarins, by Mariette Navarro (2021); taking up the legend of the island of Ys, Dominique Scali describes in Les Marins ne savent pas nager (2022) an imaginary place in an alternative eighteenth century; the narrator of Totalement inconnu (2022) by Gaëlle Obiégly reinvents Finland through the images and voices that traverse her thoughts. Reality is expressed through allegory, fable, or myth in L’A’Fric (2008) by Jacques Fame NDongo or in Le conteur, la nuit et le panier (2021) by Patrick Chamoiseau. As an imaginary projection, fiction allows us to probe the relationship between humans and animals in Olivia Rosenthal’s Que font les rennes après Noël (2012), Joy Sorman’s La Peau de l’ours (2014), or Audrey Wilhelmy’s Le corps des bêtes (2018). Joining forces with the counterfactual, fiction makes it possible to question history: Laurent Binet imagines a counter-history of modernity in Civilizations (2020); in La Porte du voyage sans retour (2021), David Diop takes up the topos of the discovered manuscript to offer an alternative version of the French botanist Michel Adanson’s journey to Senegal in the eighteenth century; Mohamed Mbougar Sarr draws inspiration for La plus secrète mémoire des hommes (2021) from the case of the Malian writer Yambo Ouologuem (to whom the book is dedicated). On a more personal level, in Enfant de salaud (2021) Sorj Chalandon combines the story of the Klaus Barbie trial, which the author had covered as a journalist in 1987, with an imaginary confrontation between the narrator and his father. Current events also provide material for works of fiction: in Milwaukee Blues (2021), Louis-Philippe Dalembert reinvents the events leading up to the murder of George Floyd and its consequences; in Le Mage du Kremlin (2022), Giuliano da Empoli recounts the recent history of Russia through the voice of a fictional political adviser.

Reclaiming territory from the social sciences (see Jablonka 2014), the contemporary novel integrates knowledge, sometimes imitating the forms and rhetorical codes of factual genres. This is the case for the encyclopedic fictions of Pierre Senges and Emmanuelle Pireyre (see Demanze 2015; Kieffer, 2021). Camille de Toledo gives fiction new extensions, whether through the (micro-)fictional excavation of the contemporary world (Vies pøtentielles, 2015) or the creation of potential institutions (the hearings of the Loire Parliament). Contemporary biofiction presents a range of approaches, from the fictionalized lives of historical figures (the bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin in Patrick Deville’s Peste et choléra [2012] or the painter Gustave Courbet in David Bosc’s La Claire fontaine [2013]) to unbridled fictionalization (the reinvention of Joan of Arc in Guillaume Lebrun’s Fantaisies guérillères, 2022), or to the creation of complex devices interweaving fact and fiction (the narrator’s conversations with the gymnast Nadia Comăneci in Lola Lafon’s La petite communiste qui ne souriait jamais, 2014). The creation of characters nonetheless remains one of the privileged spaces in which to question the powers of narration and the grasp of fiction on the world (Martin Mongin, Francis Rissin, 2019; Philippe Marczewski, Un corps tropical, 2021; Dimitri Rouchon-Borie, Le Démon de la colline aux loups, 2021). The field of self-fictions (see Jordan 2021) reveals another conception of fiction, in line with Lacan, for whom the “primordial form” of the I “situates the agency of the ego, prior to its social determination, in a fictional direction that is forever irreducible for any single individual” (Lacan 1966, 94). However, beyond autobiographical narratives that aim to be strictly factual (Annie Ernaux, Édouard Louis, Emmanuel Carrère) and autofiction in its postmodern and psychoanalytical conception (Doubrovsky 1977), we are now witnessing a return of sorts to the autobiographical novel, which involves the staging of an author’s alter-ego in Claudie Hunzinger’s Un chien à ma table (2022) or Léonora Miano’s Stardust (2022). While Jean-Marie Schaeffer’s question “What is fiction?” (1999) retains its relevance, we might also replace it with the question “Where is fiction?” What is the role of fiction within individual works and, more generally, in the contemporary literary landscape? Taking up these questions, this special issue of Fixxion aims to take stock of the place and displacements of fiction and fictionality in contemporary French and Francophone literature.

These displacements are lexical ones as well. There is a discrepancy here between two conceptions of fiction: on the one hand, especially in an Anglophone context, fiction is identified with a specific form of non-referential literary narrative, characteristic of the modern era (Gallagher 2006; Paige 2011; cf. Fludernik 2018); on the other, fiction is understood more generally as a universal anthropological competency, inventive capacity for invention, or “shared ludic pretense” (Schaeffer 1999). French usage of the term, in favoring this second more abstract meaning, allows the term “fiction” to become pluralized and to proliferate. It thus becomes a vast, unstable, mobile notion—which also explains its appeal. Thus, Assia Djebar evokes her “desire for live fiction” which pushes her towards a form of writing that is marked by “incessant mobility” (1999). For other writers, however, the inflation of the term goes hand in hand with a regrettable devaluation of the novel as the privileged literary form (Lang 2011). In any case, scholars of contemporary literature must confront a certain conceptual blurring as well as a shift in usage. Thus the novel gives way to “critical fictions” (Viart 2002)—where “fiction” no longer means inventing stories but rather investigating reality and questioning representations in a particular way—or to a whole set of hybrid genres (autofiction, exofiction, biofiction, semi-fictions...) whose variations are yet to be exhausted. These designations posit as a generic norm the inextricable mixture between fact and fiction—at the risk, however, of conflating fictionality and literarity, when the former is assumed to confer a literary character (a “constitutive” literarity, according to Genette’s terms [1991]) upon factual material. Moreover, while the significant factual or documentary component of contemporary literature is no longer in doubt (Ruffel 2012; Zenetti, 2014; Viart, 2019), the increased visibility of these “territories of non-fiction” (Gefen 2021) casts a shadow of ambiguity over the place of fiction today. 

In response to this situation, some theoretical approaches strive to defend the boundary (or boundaries) of fiction (Lavocat 2016), or, conversely, the specificity of factual representations and narratives (Pouillaude 2020; Fludernik and Ryan 2020). Yet, as we have seen, contemporary practices unquestionably produce new intersections of the factual and the fictional, which give rise to certain “narrative disorders” (cf. Schaeffer 2020). Should we see in these developments a renewal of pre-existing sub-genres (the writing of the fait divers or the roman à clef), or the harnessing of an openness to the world that has always characterized the novel or the novelistic (romanesque) (Murat 2018; Donnarieix, Kieffer, Mecker & Viart 2022). Or are we seeing the emergence of a new “regime” of literary invention (Paige 2011) specific to our historical moment?

Themes and directions of inquiry

Contemporary literature is often read in terms of a “return to reality” or the development of new forms of realism—e.g., documentary realism (Ruffel 2012), “degenerative realism” (Wampole 2020). Do these realisms, which are no longer exclusively identified with the novel, have a specific relationship with fiction? 

  • Which literary genres or sub-genres privilege fictional invention today, and what is the place of genre fiction (fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction) in the contemporary renegotiation of fictionality (cf. Hollister 2019)? How do the “uses of imagination” (Baty-Delalande, Foglia & Zimmermann, 2018) operate in contemporary times?

  • To what extent can the theory of fiction, which initially took the realist novel as its primary object, account for contemporary practices? Can it shed light on the degrees of fictionality at work in different texts, or on the presence in those same texts of a restricted or “local” fictionality (Nielsen, Phelan & Walsh, 2015). Conversely, how do contemporary French and Francophone texts allow us to test theoretical hypotheses?

  • How do we define the contemporary proximity between fiction and counterfactual speculation (cf. Gallagher 2018), whether in the context of uchronia/alternate history (Laurent Binet's Civilizations, 2019), biofiction (David Diop's La porte du voyage sans retour, 2021), or autobiographical narrative (Brigitte Giraud's Vivre vite, 2022)?

  • How do we understand works that escape generic designations and reflect on their own status (Yanick Lahens’s Failles, 2010; Chahdortt Djavann, Je ne suis pas celle que je suis, 2011, Maryse Condé’s Mets et merveilles, 2015)?

  • How is the fiction/document relationship conceptualized and put into play in contemporary literature? What do we make of the insertion of archival documents and photos into fictional texts (Maïssa Bey, Entendez-vous dans les montagnes…, 2002; Jean-Marie Le Clézio, L'Africain, 2004); or conversely, the presence of moments of fiction in a documentary context?

  • How do we approach the many texts inspired by “true stories” or “faits divers” that sometimes constitute points of departure for polyphonic works (Fabienne Kanor’s Humus, 2009) or non-chronological works (Leïla Slimani’s Chanson douce, 2016), or investigative narratives linked to an autobiographical exploration (Monica Sabolo, La Vie clandestine, 2022)?

How is the relationship between fiction and lies rearticulated in the age of fake news and conspiracy theories (Cf. Devi 2017; Bayard 2021; Decout and Mecke 2021), and to what extent does fiction constitute a site of resistance to the reign of Big Data (Pireyre 2014)? 

Deadline: June 1, 2023. Proposals for contributions (approximately 300 words), covering French-language literatures, should be sent in French or English to fixxion21@gmail.com (an assistant will register you as the author and send you the journal’s MSWord template).

After notification of the acceptance of the abstract, the text of the final article (entered in the Word template and respecting the styles and instructions of the Editorial Protocol) must be sent to fixxion21@gmail.com before December 15, 2023 for evaluation and proofreading by the members of the Revue critique de fixxion française contemporaine/Critical Review of Contemporary French Fixxion.

Selected Bibliography

Baty-Delalande, Hélène, Aurélie Foglia et Laurent Zimmermann, eds. 2018. “Recours à l’imagination.” Special issue, Littérature, no. 190.

Bayard, Pierre. 2020. Comment parler des faits qui ne se sont pas produits? Paradoxe. Paris: Minuit.

Besson, Anne and Évelyne Jacquelin, eds. 2015. Poétiques du merveilleux. Fantastique, science-fiction, fantasy en littérature et dans les arts visuels. Études littéraires. Mayenne: Artois Presses Université.

Caïra, Olivier. 2011. Définir la fiction: du roman au jeu d’échecs. Paris: EHESS.

Decout, Maxime and Jochen Mecke (ed.). 2021. “Figures du mensonge et de la mauvaise foi dans le roman contemporain.” Special issue, Revue critique de fixxion française contemporaine, no. 22.

Demanze, Laurent. 2015. Les Fictions encyclopédiques. De Gustave Flaubert à Pierre Senges. Paris: Corti. 

Devi, Ananda. 2017. L’illusion poétique. Chamonix: Éditions Paulsen.

Dion, Robert. 2018. Des fictions sans fiction ou le partage du réel. Montréal: Presses de l’Université du Montréal.

Djebar, Assia. 1999. Ces voix qui m’assiègent. Paris: Albin Michel.

Donnarieix, Anne-Sophie, Morgane Kieffer, Jochen Mecker, and Dominique Viart, eds. 2022. La Machine à histoires: le romanesque dans les écritures contemporaines. Lille: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion. 

Doubrovsky, Serge. 1977. Fils. Paris: Galilée. 

Ernaux, Annie. 1983. La Place. Paris: Gallimard. 

Ferraris, Maurizio. 2014. Manifeste du nouveau réalisme. Paris: Hermann. 

Fludernik, Monica. 2018. “The Fiction of the Rise of Fictionality.” Poetics Today, vol. 39, no. 1: 67-92. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-4265071

Fludernik, Monica and Marie-Laure Ryan, eds. 2020. Narrative Factuality: A Handbook. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Gallagher, Catherine. 2006. “The Rise of Fictionality.” In Franco Moretti, ed., The Novel, vol. 1, 336–363. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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Gefen, Alexandre. 2014. Vies imaginaires. De Plutarque à Michon. Paris: Gallimard.

Gefen, Alexandre, eds. 2021. Territoires de la non-fiction. Cartographie d’un genre émergent, Brill/Rodopi.

Genette, Gérard. 1991. Fiction et diction. Paris: Seuil. 

Hanrahan, Mairéad. 2014. Cixous’s Semi-Fictions: Thinking at the Borders of Fiction, Edinburgh University Press.

Hollister, Lucas. 2019. Beyond Return: Genre and Cultural Politics in Contemporary French Fiction. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Jablonka, Ivan. 2014. L’Histoire est une littérature contemporaine. Paris: Seuil.

Jordan, Shirley. 2021. “Fictions of Self.” Contemporary Fiction in French. ed. Anna-Louise Milne and Russell Williams, 152-166. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kieffer, Morgane 2021. “Import-export: réflexions sur certaines modalités contemporaines du rapport fiction/document.” In L’Esprit créateur 61, no. 2: 24–36.

Lacan, Jacques. 1966. “Le stade du miroir comme formateur de la fonction du je. In Écrits, 93–100. Paris: Seuil.

Lang, Luc. 2011. Délit de fiction: la littérature, pourquoi? Paris: Gallimard.

Laugier, Sandra. 2019. Nos vies en séries. Philosophie et morale d’une culture populaire. Paris: Flammarion.

Lavocat, Françoise. 2016. Fait et fiction. Pour une frontière. Poétique. Paris: Seuil.

Murat, Michel. 2018. Le Romanesque des lettres. Paris: Corti. 

Nielsen, Henrik Skov, James Phelan, and Richard Walsh. 2015. “Ten Theses about Fictionality.” Narrative vol. 23, no. 1: 61–73.

Paige, Nicholas D. 2011. Before Fiction : The Ancien Regime of the Novel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Pireyre, Emmanuelle. 2014. “Un environnement assez contraignant pour les datas.” dans Inculte, Devenirs du roman 2. Paris: Inculte.

Pouillaude, Frédéric. 2020. Représentations factuelles: Art et pratiques documentaires. Paris: Les éditions du Cerf.

Ruffel, Lionel. 2012. “Un réalisme contemporain: Les narrations documentaires.” In Usages du document en littérature, ed. Camille Bloomfield and Marie-Jeanne Zenetti. Special issue, Littérature no. 166: 13-25.

Schaeffer, Jean-Marie. 1999. Pourquoi la fiction? Poétique. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1999.

––––. 2020. Les Troubles du récit. Pour une nouvelle approche des processus narratifs, Vincennes: Thierry Marchaisse.  

Viart, Dominique. 2002. “Les Fictions critiques dans la littérature contemporaine.” In Le Goût du roman, ed. M. Majorano, 30–47. Bari (Italy): B.A. Graphis.

Viart, Dominique. 2019. “Les Littératures de terrain.” Revue critique de fixxion française contemporaine, no. 18: 1–13.

Wampole, Christy. 2020. Degenerative Realism: Novel and Nation in Twenty-First Century France. New York: Columbia University Press.

Zenetti, ​​Marie-Jeanne. 2014. Factographies: L’enregistrement littéraire à l’époque contemporaine, Paris: Classiques Garnier.

Zetterberg Gjerlevsen, Simona. 2016. “Fictionality.” In The Living Handbook of Narratology, ed. Peter Hühn et al., Hamburg University Press, http://www.lhn.uni- hamburg.de/article/fictionality

Zipfel, Frank, 2001. Fiktion, Fiktivität, Fiktionalität: Analysen zur Fiktion in der Literatur und zum Fiktionsbegriff in der Literaturwissenschaft. Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag GmbH & Co KG.

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