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Artist's tales (TRANS- journal n. 31)

Organization: TRANS- Revue de littérature générale et comparée (Sorbonne Nouvelle)
Event: TRANS- journal n. 31
Categories: Postcolonial, Hispanic & Latino, Comparative, Literary Theory, World Literatures, Narratology, Aesthetics, African & African Diasporas, Asian & Asian Diasporas, Australian Literature, Canadian Literature, Caribbean & Caribbean Diasporas, Indian Subcontinent, Eastern European, Mediterranean, Middle East, Native American, Scandinavian, Pacific Literature
Event Date: 2024-10-01 Abstract Due: 2024-05-15

Since the end of the 18th century, European literature has been populated by many artist characters, especially since the Künstlerroman became a central model for Romantic German literature. This “artist’s novel” allows a reflection both on the individual and his creation, but also on the links that unite literature and art in general. In his thesis, defended in 1922, but published in 1978, Herbert Marcuse studies this tradition from Novalis to Thomas Mann[1]. He adopts a Hegelian perspective, which links the origin of this narrative model to the affirmation of the modern artist. According to Marcuse, the modern figure of the artist ceases to be an emanation of his own community and becomes a particular form of life by developing a certain tension with society. Marcuse identifies two main models of the artist’s novel: a Romantic one, in which the artist pursues his aesthetic ideal by ultimately detaching himself from the bourgeois world dominated by utilitarianism, and a model that blends into the Bildungsroman, in which the conflict between ethics and aesthetics that governs the artist’s life is resolved through the renunciation of art in favour of adulthood, marriage, or a more useful profession – this is the case of Wilhelm Meister (1795-1796) by Goethe, or Henry the Green (1880) by Gottfried Keller. If, for the artist in tension with society, reintegration into the community is an object of nostalgia, by the character’s act of renunciation, the community is symbolically recovered.

What functions do these artists have in the texts? Can we consider the literary figure of the artist as a way for the writers to reflect on their own work, the status of art, the nature of works of art and the relationship between different arts? How does the artist’s representation invite the writers to reflect on their own practices and on the phenomena of trans-disciplinarity that sometimes underlines them? How do these problems come into play when we approach corpora in a comparative way? And how do the artist’s representations echo with each other, according to the era, the linguistic and cultural areas, the societies in which they find place? What considerations can these comparisons arise?

The next issue of the journal TRANS- aims to explore the possible narrative declinations of the artist’s representations in its theoretical, aesthetic and narratological implications, expanding the discourse beyond the novel, by also including the study of the role of artist’s secondary characters in plots, and by considering a timeframe ranging from ultra-contemporary to the use of anecdote and narration in premodern artistic writing.

Several lines of reflection can be addressed; the following list is in no way intended to be exhaustive.

What are the « artist’s novels »? What do they have in common, and what limits are given to this designation? It will thus be possible to question the boundaries of the artist’s narrative, considering the different genres in which it is declined (biofiction, autobiography, etc.). This generic reflection seems essential to any analysis of the model’s functions.

Another possibility of investigation concerns the variations of the figure of the artist as a form of life in tension with the bourgeoisie: this is the basis from which the novel questions the creation, in parallel with the birth of modern aesthetics and the development of thought on the autonomy of art. Thus, we can compare Marcuse’s assertions about the typologies of the artist’s novel to identify other models or to explore what answer any individual text gives to the question of the nature of the artist’s relationship with society and the notion of community.

More broadly, by paying particular attention to contemporary literature, one may wonder whether this tension underlying the romantic artist novel is still relevant. Thus, in a book which, almost a hundred years after Marcuse’s thesis, goes back to the tradition of European artist’s novel with a theoretical and comparative perspective, Peter Zima states that postmodern novels no longer present art as an ideal, leaving room for the sole possibility of a parody of the artist’s novel[2].

A socio-cultural approach is also welcome: how does literature speak of art as a work? In other words, what are the possible portraits of the artist as a worker[3] that literature offers us? How does the artist confront the market, especially in a world characterized by precariousness? How does literature describe the artist’s relationship with the plurality of professional figures of the art world[4], which we can find, for example, in La carte et le territoire by Michel Houellebecq?

Intermediality represents another possible approach: how are the different arts translated into the literary medium[5]? What are their mutual limits? What is the reason for a possible iconotextual choice for the artist’s narrative? In this context, how is the arts discourse integrated into the narrative (dialogues, digressions, essays, etc.), and how is the relationship between the author and the hero developed?

Moreover, how can the staging of the artist question the limits of the conditions of his representation? Many of the artist’s novels involve specular motifs or even mises en abyme, multiplying points of view and challenging the canons of a traditional realistic representation. How can the storytelling of the artist question the art forms?

In the end, we can approach the problem from a gender perspective. « Women are unable to paint, unable to write... », this sentence of Mr Tansley obsesses Lily Briscoe in To the Lighthouse (1927): by considering creation as a mode of subjectivation, it will be possible to question any specificities of the female artist’s story, and the vocational modalities (or others) that give rise to the parable of the artist.

At the same time, we must not forget the failed artists, because the impossibility of creation by the characters always implies a questioning of the very possibility of creation by the writer. Many artists are considered as such although they have not produced any artwork, such as the character of Bobi Bazlen in Lo stadio di Wimbledon (1983) by Daniele del Giudice[6]. What is these artists’ status within the artist’s narratives? These reflections will lead us to ask ourselves what defines the artist except for his artwork, and whether there is an identity of the artist independently of the artwork.


This is an open subject with no constraints period or genre. However, a comparative approach is required. Proposals for articles (3000 characters), together with a brief bibliography, must be sent by May 15, 2024 at the latest, as a .DOC or .RTF file to lgcrevue@gmail.com. Contributors should send their personal presentation in a separate file. Selected articles must be sent by October 1, 2024.

We remind you that TRANS- Journal of general and comparative literature accepts articles written in French, English, Spanish and Italian. The Committee evaluates proposals according to their relevance to the call, the originality of their corpus, their comparative approach, or their quality of theoretical reflection on the proposed theme. Papers that have already been published (article, book, book chapter), including in another language, will not be considered.


[1] Herbert Marcuse, Schriften I. Der Deutsche Künstlerroman, Frankfurt-am-Main, Suhrkamp, 1978.
[2] Peter V. Zima, Der europäische Künstlerroman. Von der romantischen Utopie zur postmodernen Parodie, Tübingen et Bâle, A. Francke Verlag, 2008.
[3] Pierre-Michel Mengers, Portrait de l’artiste en travailleur. Métamorphoses du capitalisme, Paris, Seuil - La République des Idées, 2002.
[4] Howard Becker, Les mondes de l’art, traduit par J. Bouniort, Paris, Flammarion, 1988.
[5] For instance, we can think of Bernard Vouilloux’s research concerning the visual arts.
[6] Jean-Yves Jouannais, Artistes sans œuvre. « I would prefer not to », Vanves, Hazan, 1997.



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