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Like a novel:
crossing perspectives between knowing,
story and digression

New deadline: 15th July 2016.

Editors: Matteo Bensi (matteobensi@gmail.com)
Matteo Marcheschi (marcheschimatteo@gmail.com)

How is it configured and what is nowadays the relationship among novel, story and knowing? What are the conditions, the access paths and starting points of scientific, historical and philosophical research? Which are those of the novel? How are novel and philosophy intertwined, not outwardly but theoretically,? And what about romance and history, novel and epistemological reflection?

The purpose of this issue is to investigate the ways of addressing the problem of the relationship between narration, truth and fiction in the novel, in historical research, in philosophy and in science.

Other questions are the following: What would be the differences between a novel and a scientific paper? What kind of narrative models are available to the historian or to the scientist? What is the cognitive effect for the researcher and for the narrator stemming from the choice of one or the other model?

The problem to be solved is still to find a way to the universal, to a temporary synthesis, hard to get to without recasting the relationship and the interaction between the true, the false and the fiction (Ginzburg, Mazzarella). The path of scientific research is not very different from that of the novelist, littered as it is of false and fake, fragments, traces and spies (Ginzburg); all these elements are all seemingly insignificant details, but they are often able to open new scenarios and perspicuous representations (Wittgenstein), they set generalizations that do not lose the concreteness of their starting point. The universal element to explore appears more similar to the part for the whole than to the whole for one of its parts.

Against such background, the third issue of Odradek aims to question the possibility that the study of the novel, of its means and its techniques, could provide an easy way to answer the questions posed above: if the meta-narration – the auto-reflection of novel itself on its knowing status – it is not only a characteristic of postmodern narrative, but a constitutive element of the novel tout court (Shklovkij, Bachtin), then the possibility of an inquiry on the “novel” as a “a way of knowing” is open.

This call encourages papers focusing on the question of the poetic origin of the novel by adopting a multidisciplinary perspective: at issue will be not only a historical reconstruction of the genesis of the novel, but an investigation into its theoretical value, into the contribution novel gives, can give and has given to philosophical, artistic, historical and scientific knowledge.

Influenced by the Nietzschen genealogical critique of the truth, the 20th century thought has questioned the possibility of a form of human knowledge characterized by clarity and certainty. The boundaries between subject and object, observer and observed object, cause and effect have become blurred. This leads to reaffirm the value of the cognitive processes by analyzing the detriment of their outcome. The 20th-century novel sees the affirmation of metaphors and rhetoric at the expense of rigorous logical argumentation.

In light of this, 20th-century epistemology reflected on the constitutive role of metaphors in scientific thought (T.S. Kuhn) and on that of autobiographical stories in the biological constitution of living (Gould; Bocchi-Ceruti); history, even without coming to the radical conclusions of Metahistory (H. White), has tried to stage the image of its gears, by emphasizing the traits of a study made of detours, blocked roads, prejudices and errors (Ginzburg and Prosperi); fiction revealed its genetic processes, combining and messing up, in the manner of Borges and Calvino.

Moreover, by recognizing themselves in the dizzying analogy of truth and fiction (Diderot), the different fields of knowledge had to deal with what really owns the novel: the power to create knowledge avoiding the coarse mesh of true and false, by ranking instead in terms of what is neither true nor false but plausible (Halliwell).

In this perspective, the novel ceases to be placed on the ground of absolute otherness in comparison to higher knowledge, patching up a wound that the history of philosophy has always sought to heal and, at the same time, to reproduce. Thus, one can bring forward the hypothesis that narration and philosophical inquiry are getting closer when knowledge has made itself rhetorical and logological knowing (Cassin). Such knowing would be human because of its restless, always reversible and temporary, provincial (local) and atmospheric way of being (Ortega y Gasset; Mazzoni), able to catch a glimpse of the universal in the particular (Auerbach).

We feel the philosophical necessity, on the basis of studies of Perelman, Garin and Fumaroli among others, that history and philosophy, science and literature, focus on their possible poetic (Vico) and artisanal (Sennett) origins – plausible and always changing – by investigating their proximity to the novel as a form of knowledge.

Starting from the perhaps fictional nature of human knowledge, we propose to investigate the encyclopaedic character of this knowledge.

In the manner of Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, human knowledge is made of rewritings – translations and betrayals (Kundera) – and narrations that accompany the main story, subverting the order of what is a priority and what is not. Details become a fruitful path of research, now dead end. Nevertheless, they provide a clear picture of a knowledge always referring to something else, .for proximity and morphological distance (Goethe, Wittgenstein). The final result is that the detail, the individual, the fictional, are the only point of view suitable for generalisation.

The topics of the issue may include, but are not limited to:

  1. The origins of the novel: the fictional way of knowing
  2. Novel and History: debts, contamination and epistemological proximity
  3. Fiction and science: a cognitive proximity
  4. Novel and rhetoric: proximity and theoretical distances
  5. Novel and fiction: the work questioning the genre, the genre shining through the work
  6. Knowledge, novel and encyclopaedia
  7. Concept-interpretation and representation (mimesis), the representation-interpretation (mimesis) of the concept
  8. Like a novel: the whole emerging from the detail; or the possibility of telling the general by starting from the particular