Literature as Experiment: The Ontological Commitment of Fiction


  • Gert-Jan van der Heiden Radboud University



experiment, literature, Agamben, Ricoeur


In which sense can literature be conceived as an experiment? What type of experiment and experience does literature offer and what type or dimension of reality is at stake in literary investigations? What are the ontological stakes of literature in its construction of another world or a second nature? In this essay, I adress these questions in discussion with two authors who explicitly understand literature as experiment, namely Paul Ricoeur and Giorgio Agamben. To get a better sense of these ontological stakes of the experiment of literature, I will first turn to Ricoeur’s account . Subsequently, I will offer a critical discussion of how his concept of configuration, a central notion in his theory of narrative, actually limits the sense of the literary experiment and its ontological stakes. This discussion will address the relation between the concepts of potentiality, contingency, and event. Finally, I will turn to Agamben’s reading of Herman Melville’s famous story Bartleby, the Scrivener to offer a different sense of both the ontological stakes of the literary experiment and the relation between these three concepts.







Is there truth through literature?