Fiction and Facts in Narratives of Political Conflict

University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway

8-11 March 2018

Narratives in literature, audiovisual arts, social media and oral testimonies addressing historical events call for a critical reflection on the relationship between fiction and facts. When related to real experiences of political conflicts such as war, terror, ethnic cleansing, and imperialistic violence, narratives are frequently constructed by means of artistic conventions and patterns on the one hand, and by discourses and images associated with documentary genres on the other. The combination of these two kinds of representation demands readings that are sensitive both to their claims of being true, real and trustworthy, and to their fictional and imaginative qualities.

One approach to the topic is trauma theory. In their critical discussion of the trauma concept, Fassin and Rechtman (The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood, 2009) underscore the importance of understanding potentially traumatizing events in the perspective of their political premises and social consequences. They also remind us of the fact that trauma obliterates experiences and therefore operates as a screen between the event and its context on the one hand, and between the subject and the meaning he or she gives it on the other. Interpretation of testimonies (from primary witnesses and in fiction) and literary trauma narratives can hardly avoid addressing this representational complexity.

A second approach concerns combination of text and image. Since public awareness of violence, terror, and war to a considerable extent is informed and shaped by media images, the image as such is a recurring topic in narratives of political conflict. Photographs, TV images, video, and digital media, which often serve to strengthen the air of authenticity in a text, may be included in or described by words in verbal narratives. In addition, imagery of any kind can have narrative expressivity and perform stories. In either case, literature possesses an epistemological quality and contributes to the intellectual debate on the status and significance of the preponderance of images in today’s global communication.

We invite contributors to critically address the fiction-fact dichotomy in narratives of various kinds that deal with twentieth-century European conflicts and political atrocities. Which are the challenges of interpreting narratives that insist on representing historical facts? What are the effects of incorporating documentary elements in fictional expressions, and vice versa? How do narratives of political conflict make use of media imagery, and to what extent do they negotiate their influence and meaning?

Keynote speakers

Alison Landsberg, George Mason University Fairfax, Virginia

Timotheus Vermeulen, University of Oslo, Norway


Please send an abstract (max 300 words) and a short biographical statement to Unni Langås ( and Charles Armstrong ( Deadline 15 November 2017.

Registration fee

Ordinary participants: 120 €

Students: 80 €


Charles Armstrong, Professor of British Literature, University of Agder

Eneken Laanes, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, Tallinn University/UTKK

Unni Langås, Professor of Nordic Literature, University of Agder

Hanna Meretoja, Professor of Comparative Literature, University of Turku

The symposium is being held in collaboration with the University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway.