P6 Counterfactuality in Literature (Literary Studies)

Second Funding Period: Modelling Counterfactual History in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia

PI: Prof Dr. Riccardo Nicolosi, Department of Literary Studies, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich

Ph.D. Student: Maria Wargin, M.A., Department of Literary Studies, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich

The goal of this project is to examine the pragmatics of counterfactuals, i.e. of scenarios that take the question “What would have happened, if …” as a starting point, on the macro level of cultural processes. In this project, cultural conditions and functions as well as structural characteristics of counterfactual narration of the past will be explored. The project will equally focus on history, especially on its historiosophical component, and on fictional alternate histories in lit­erature.
We will examine the exemplary case of Soviet and post-Soviet culture: Its historical-cultural characteristics with the rejection of counterfactual thinking in the Soviet era followed by a strong propagation of conjectural history in post-Soviet Russia allow us to study the cultural mechanisms that foster the emergence of counterfactual models of history. Furthermore, in Russia, counterfactual scenarios are closely connected to cultural memory, whereby their social and historical-politi­cal function becomes clearly visible. Moreover, with a part of the project comprising a comparative perspective, more general literary and cultural theoretical conclusions can be drawn.

By answering the following questions, the project will provide a new view of counterfactual models of thinking and writing and their to date unexplored cultural dimension:

(i) Which historical-philosophical and literary conditions enable a culture to create counterfactual scenarios? Which is the relation of determinism and contingency, of idiographic and nomothetic approaches in and towards history and how are these aspects relevant for the emergence of counterfactual literature?

(ii) Which are the cultural functions performed by counterfactual scenarios? The project starts from the working hypothesis that historic and fictional enactments of unrealized possibilities are at the same time constitutive and dynamic elements of a cultural memory.

(iii) The aforementioned question regarding the cultural function of counterfactual speculations is closely connected to the question regarding their narrative structures: In what way are devices such as selection, segmentation, arrangement and presentation of unrealized events influencing the restructuring of elements of the cultural memory in thought experiments? And how do specifically fictional techniques like narrative conveyance, focalization or semantization of time and space in turn matter in literary uchronia?

(iv) Why does Russian culture of the 20th and 21st century show peculiar difficulties in dealing with the concepts of unrealized past? The examination of these to date unnoticed specifics of Russian culture is to allow for new conclusions regarding its handling of history.

First Funding Period: Narrating Counterfactuality: Thought Experiments in Science and Literature

PI: Prof Dr. Riccardo Nicolosi, Department of Literary Studies, Ruhr-University Bochum

Postdoc: Dr. phil. Natasha Grigorian

Ph.D. Student: Vera Shibanova, M.A.

Das Projekt untersucht die narrative Dimension kontrafaktischer Gedankenexperimente im Spannungsfeld von Wissenschaft und Literatur. Im Zentrum stehen zum einen die kognitive Funktion von Narrativen in kontrafaktischen Gedankenexperimenten sowie die Adaptation und Transformation dieser argumentativ-narrativen Strukturen in fiktionalen Texten. Zum anderen untersucht das Projekt, inwieweit bestimmte fiktionale Texte als narrative Gedankenexperimente zur kontrafaktischen Falsifizierung wissenschaftlicher Theorien und Hypothesen fungieren können. Ziel des Projekts ist die Ausarbeitung von erzähltheoretischen Kriterien für die Analyse von kontrafaktischen Narrativen und deren Transformationen zwischen wissenschaftlichem und literarischem Diskurs. Die Untersuchung wird am Beispiel der russischen Kultur des 19. und 20. Jhs. durchgeführt, die in einem gesamteuropäischen Kontext betrachtet wird. P5.1 analysiert russische literarische Texte im Umkreis des Naturalismus (ca. 1880-1900), die ausgehend von Zolas Konzept des „Experimentalromans” auf ihre Funktion als Gedankenexperimente zur Falsifizierung wissenschaftlicher Theorien wie Degeneration, Neurasthenie, Kampf ums Dasein hin untersucht werden. P5.2 fokussiert kontrafaktische Gedankenexperimente in Malthus’ Bevölkerungstheorie sowie deren Rezeption in der russischen Kultur des 19. und 20. Jhs., in der sie als Ausgangspunkt für den Entwurf sozioökonomischer Modellerzählungen und literarischer Dystopien dienen.