Henrik Christensen försvarar sin avhandling "We Call upon the Author: Contemporary Biofiction and Fyodor Dostoevsky"

Opponent är Frederick White, professor vid Utah Valley University.

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Abstract

This thesis studies fictional representations of Fyodor Dostoevsky in contemporary biofiction. The aim of the study is to present an intermedial theoretical framework for biofiction, a genre defined as fictional biographical and often metafictional narratives in which a biographical subject serves as the focal point for the story or plays a role integral to the narrative. Drawing on contributions from prior studies within different areas—biopics, the biographical novel, intermediality, transmedial narratology—the thesis identifies the most salient tenets of an increasingly important and ubiquitous genre—its fictional, intermedial, and metafictional properties—to suggest a medium-spanning definition. From this intermedial definition of the genre, it is suggested that biofiction studies should move beyond medium-specific analysis. By situating the genre firmly within the realm of fiction, the thesis underlines the fact that it is exactly the fictional element that allows the genre to open up important ways to engage with a certain biographical subject. Overall, the biofiction definition presented in the thesis is inspired by Jacques Derrida’s différance.

Arguing that contemporary biofiction arose from the larger aporetic shift in theory and fiction in the 1960s, which was directed toward various presuppositions undergirding epistemological, metaphysical, and ontological projects, it is contended that biofiction fictionalizes subjects to engage with and reassess the assumptions that suffuse our understanding of the subject. From their metafictional perspective, biofictions also employ subjects for various purposes to interrogate contemporary issues. Biofictions are thus turned toward both a historical moment and its own contemporary context. Buttressed by the intermedial perspective, it is argued that biofictions often employ sustained intermedial strategies—for instance, intermedial references and formal imitation—to engage not only with artistic subjects such as Dostoevsky and their work but also with the premises of creating art.

The thesis centers on five Dostoevsky biofictions within film and literature: Aleksandr Zarkhi’s biopic Twenty-Six Days from the Life of Dostoevsky (1980), Leonid Tsypkin’s novel Summer in Baden-Baden (1982), J. M. Coetzee’s novel The Master of Petersburg (1994), Lara Vapnyar’s novel Memoirs of a Muse (2006), and Vladimir Khotinenko’s television series Dostoevsky (2010). As contemporary biofictions, these fictional representations of Dostoevsky were all produced or written in the wake of the aforementioned aporetic shift and therefore comprise examples of the reflexive and metacritical form of biofiction that is discussed in the thesis. The inclusion of Dostoevsky biofictions is, in part, connected with the various critical perceptions of the writer; it is maintained that biofictions such as those analyzed in the thesis proffer new readings of issues that have been overlooked or have not received due attention, such as how Dostoevsky engaged with and augmented the rivalry polemics of his day; the ways in which his conceptualization of Russian identity rested as much on inclusion as exclusion; how Dostoevsky has been employed to propagate certain models of the muse, the genius, and canonicity; and how, in today’s Russia, the writer is employed to embody and express the hyperreal politics of Vladimir Putin’s administration.

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