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Writing Literary Character(s)

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Organizer: Daniel Aureliano Newman

Co-Organizer: Kayla Goldblatt

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Character is one of the trickiest of literary concepts. Most theorists agree that narrative, by definition, requires human or human-like characters, but of course characters are not really humans: they exist as a function of words on a page (Barthes 1974); they inevitably include a synthetic dimension (Phelan 1989); they are necessarily incomplete (Gallagher 2006). Of character in Victorian realism, Megan Ward notes that characters are “artificial beings [that] both replicate human subjectivity and create it anew, representing and embodying a complex set of interwoven experiences that define what it means to seem—rather than be—human” (Ward 3). However, according to anecdotal evidence as well as empirical psychological studies, characters often feel very real to readers and viewers of literary texts (Keen 2015). This dual nature of character epitomizes larger debates among theorists regarding the nature of character and characterhood, which seem to be as various as the perspectives we bring to the topic. These debates extend beyond literary studies, most obviously into creative writing, but also further afield into philosophy, history, visual arts, psychology, sociology and AI research.

Rather than try to pin down character, this proposed seminar will survey its multiplicity by considering a wide variety of interpretations and theoretical insights on literary character, in the spirit of exchange and cross-pollination.

A tiny sampling of the questions the seminar might entertain: What is a character? What are the conditions of characterhood? How are characters constructed and deconstructed? How does the concept of character present challenges for different theoretical schools or approaches? What can characters teach us about real people or groups of people? How might a writing craft perspective inform or challenge our theories and models of character?

To address these and many other questions, we invite a diversity of perspectives from various fields and disciplinary practices within literary studies and theory (including creative writing), as well as beyond, for example in writing studies, ethnography, philosophy, science and technology studies and more.

Works Cited
Barthes, Roland. 1974. S/Z: An Essay. Translated by Richard Miller. Macmillan.
Gallagher, Catherine. 2006. “The Rise of Fictionality.” In The Novel, Edited by Franco Moretti. Vol. 1. Princeton University Press.
Keen, Suzanne. 2015. Narrative Form, 2nd edition. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Phelan, James. 1989. Reading People, Reading Plots: Character, Progression, and the Interpretation of Narrative. University of Chicago Press.

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