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The anomaly in question(s)

When Gregor Samsa and his relatives realize that the protagonist of The Metamorphosis has become a cockroach, their world is shaken not because he is no longer a man, but rather because he cannot go to work anymore. Therefore, Gregor’s metamorphosis is only relevant for fiction from the moment new ways of perceiving things irrupt and highlight the shackles of a society imprisoned in its material concerns. Beckett’s Happy days fits into the same scheme: as the sand gradually rises throughout the play, the character’s lack of reaction when she is about to be buried forces the viewer to shift the existential questions raised by the monologue and to give them another meaning, perhaps a more radical one. In both cases, it is a deviation from regularity that allows the reader to reassess the world he lives in. The anomaly is therefore a major force in these texts: of all the imaginative freedoms literature has to offer, the anomaly is certainly the most radical tool that fiction can exploit. However, the anomaly has often been described as a voluntary or involuntary infraction of norms and rules, and this concept has been linked to the “abnormal”. For a long time, the terminological confusion that resulted has hindered a precise reflection on the intrinsic characteristics of the concept of anomaly.

  • 1 Georges Canguilhem, The Normal and the Pathological, trans. Carolyn R. Fawcett & Robert S. Cohen, N (...)

In Le Normal et le pathologique1 (1966), Georges Canguilhem focuses on this etymological confusion: according to him, the anomaly is not an antonym for the word “nomos”, the norm. Its Greek etymology, “anomalia”, is rather the opposite of what is regular, even, smooth (omalos). As a result, the antonym of the “anomalous” is not the “normal”, but rather what is “uniform”, what does not have any bursts, any disruptions, because it is regular. Thus, the irruption of the anomaly shakes the linearity of events that are commonly accepted and recognized, not by opposing to them the transgression of norms, but rather by adding to them a phenomenon that is different, certainly possible, but improbable.

  • 2 Our translation. “Brisure, relief ou hiatus dans la linéarité des choses, l’anomalie pourrait aussi (...)

A crack, a relief or a gap in the linearity of things, the anomaly could be a source of unquietness as much as a salutary manifestation of the disturbance that arises, in the long run, from the permanency of the normal state. (Canguilhem, 1966: 216)2

Today, when we think of the anomaly as a tool for critical thinking or literary analysis, two challenges seem to emerge. The first one revolves around the symbiosis that linked the “anomalous” to the “abnormal” over time.

  • 3 Our translation. “En toute rigueur sémantique, anomalie désigne un fait, c’est un terme descriptif, (...)

With all semantic rigor, anomaly refers to a fact, it is a descriptive word, whereas the abnormal refers to a value, it is an appreciative and normative word; but a grammatical quid pro quo led to a collusion of meanings between these two words. The abnormal has become a descriptive concept and “anomaly” has become a normative concept3. (Canguilhem, 1966: 81).

Thus, it seems important to think about the anomaly as an independent concept, an extreme experience in itself, confronted with the limits of the frame where it appears, in order to highlight the renewed epistemic perception of the world that emerges with it.

The second challenge, which results from the first one, would be to set an explicative and critical framework that could allow us to apply the concept of anomaly to literature in a non-restrictive way. As a matter of fact, in literature, “irregularities” often respond to “deviations” that are expected by discourses and beliefs explaining the world. They sometimes came to be analyzed as “disruptions” in the narrative succession (Raphael Baroni and Jean-Michel Adam). However the anomaly has been integrated into specific genres which have their own “regular irregularities”, such as “fantastic literature” (Todorov in The Fantastic : A Structural Approach to a literary genre (1973)) “fantasy” or the variants of the “marvelous real” and “magical realism” in 20th century’s literature from the Latin-American boom. These categories undermine and defuse the problematic – and problematizing – aspect of the irruption of the anomalous within fictional and imaginary worlds.

Which framework can be designed for these irregularities? How can one build a discourse that preserves the singularity of the “deviation” that the anomaly opposes to norms and normality, without confusing it with the “abnormal”? How does the anomaly violate social, psychological and/or artistic parameters and established frameworks? How does it challenge the reader’s traditional patterns of reception and which new fields does it open to them?

Article proposals (3000 signs), along with a brief bibliography and containing only one title, must be sent by January 6, 2020 at the latest in a .DOC or .RTF file to In a separate file, the collaborator will send their personal presentation. Selected articles may be sent by Wednesday, March 25, 2020. We remind our collaborators that the journal of general and comparative literature TRANS- accepts articles written in French, English, Spanish and Italian. The journal committee evaluates the proposals according to their relevance, the originality of their corpus, their comparative approach or the quality of their theoretical reflection on the proposed theme. Articles previously published (as an article, book, book chapter), including in another language, will not be accepted. Presentation guidelines for the proposals are available on our website:


1 Georges Canguilhem, The Normal and the Pathological, trans. Carolyn R. Fawcett & Robert S. Cohen, New York, Zone Books, 1991

2 Our translation. “Brisure, relief ou hiatus dans la linéarité des choses, l’anomalie pourrait aussi bien être source d’inquiétude que manifestation salutaire du « trouble qui naît à la longue de la permanence de de l’état normal”. (Canguilhem, 1966 : 216)

3 Our translation. “En toute rigueur sémantique, anomalie désigne un fait, c’est un terme descriptif, alors que anormal implique référence à une valeur, c’est un terme appréciatif, normatif ; mais l’échange des bons procédés grammaticaux a entraîné une collusion des sens respectifs d’anomalie et d’anormal. Anormal est devenu un concept descriptif et anomalie est devenue un concept normatif”. (Canguilhem, 1966 : 81).

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