Dpt. of English, Nadelberg 6, room 13
The Aesthetics and Ethics of Sincerity in North American Literary Production after Postmodernism
Over the past three decades, the notion of ‘sincerity’ has regained popularity in a number of discourses, producing literary, moral, and political inflections of the concept. The aim of my doctoral project is to develop a systematic understanding of literary sincerity, asking questions such as: What formal features (stylistic, generic…) make a work of fiction sincere? How can authors, narrating instances, or texts ‘speak’ sincerely? Based on which criteria do readers, reviewers, and scholars attribute sincerity to certain works of literature and not to others?
To approach sincerity in contemporary literature, I draw on historical uses of the concept, standard models of communication in literary texts, and key insights from Linda Hutcheon’s complementary modelling of irony. After combining and reworking these models, I want to apply and test them in the analysis of selected works of contemporary North American literature, notably by Ben Lerner (Leaving the Atocha Station; 10:04; The Hatred of Poetry) and Sheila Heti (How Should a Person Be?; Motherhood).
The expected findings are that
- sincerity can productively be understood as “transideological,” i.e. as a particular form of expression that is neither inherently reactionary nor progressive
- sincerity effects in literary communication are always co-produced by author, text, and reader, and
- sincerity is closely tied to the presence of a recognizable first-person “voice” in literary texts.
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