For the opening event in our new Auto / Bio / Fiction series of talks and seminars, we are delighted to welcome Michael Lackey and Jenny Rademacher.
27 October 2022, 5.30pm BST (online)
Michael Lackey, “Zora Neale Hurston and Thomas Mann: Moses Biofictions as Political Interventions”
By their own admission, Zora Neale Hurston and Thomas Mann fictionalize the life of Moses in order to expose, debunk, and counter the Nazis’ political agenda. Hurston’s Moses, Man of the Mountain was published in 1939, while Mann’s “Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me” was published in 1943.
Since Mann was German and wrote his novella four years after Hurston’s, it would seem that he would have been better positioned to formulate a more compelling, insightful, and sophisticated critique of the Nazis. But as I intend to demonstrate, Hurston’s novel succeeds while Mann’s novella fails.
In this presentation, I will clarify what constitutes aesthetic failure and success in political biofictions, and I will specify what enabled Hurston to write a work that continues to resonate and have cultural and political value.
Jenny Rademacher, “Derivative Lives: 21st Century Spanish Biofictions in Speculative Times”
What do derivatives, speculation, game theory, and recent biographical novels have in common? My talk explores these unexpected connections.
In her podcast, historian Jill Lepore investigates the origins of the current cultural climate of distrust, or (more cheekily) “Who killed truth?” In my book, Derivative Lives, I explore literary forms that play out this unsteady reality. Biofiction is literature that uses the names of real, biographical figures as its protagonists and then opens those life stories to invention. While deriving from actual sources, biofictions liberate fiction from interacting only with invented worlds. Instead, they invite us to experiment with our biographical lives and to use fiction to imagine and shape real world concerns.
Accelerating in the past few decades, the speed, profusion, and anonymity of networks of information and images multiplied the creation of derivative identities while making it harder to authenticate the truth-claims offered. The expansion of biofiction is both an outgrowth of this dispersive reality and a mode for navigating this context, modeling alternatives for how we manage and rethink its possibilities and pitfalls. Such biofictional strategies are not limited to literary outlook, but rather reflect rearrangements in cultural logic that extend to other modes of inquiry and meaning-making in an uncertain world. Focusing on the growing but understudied area of Spanish biofictions, my book speaks to the belief that the questions explored in literature extend beyond disciplinary boundaries to reflect, inform, and challenge conceptions of the human experience.
The seminar will be chaired by Lucia Boldrini, Director of the Centre for Comparative Literature.
Attendance is free but booking is required to receive a link to attend. (The Zoom link will be sent shortly before the event itself: check the email with which you registered!) BOOKING IS NOW CLOSED.
Watch the video of the seminar:
Michael Lackey is the Distinguished McKnight University Professor at the University of Minnesota, where he teaches courses about twentieth- and twenty-first-century intellectual, political, and literary history. He has authored and edited twelve books and guest-edited five special journal issues about biofiction. He, with Lucia Boldrini, is one of the managing editors of Bloomsbury Academic’s new series Biofiction Studies, and he is currently working on a book about German biofiction.
Jenny Rademacher is Professor of Hispanic Literature and Cultural Studies at Babson College. She has published widely on genre, identity, and new narrative formats, including the contemporary surge in biofiction. She earned her PhD in Spanish Literature from the University of Virginia, M.A. in International Affairs from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and B.A. from Harvard University. She is a recipient of the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.