Rethinking Realistic Worldmaking

How does literature relate to the world we live in, and how does it deal with the realities we acknowledge? Realism is one of the most complex concepts of literary criticism. It has been understood in various ways from a historically defined period to a transhistorical style of mimesis and to a discursive practice conducive to the plausible representation of reality in fiction.

The project Rethinking Realistic Worldmaking introduces a new approach to the study of realism. By emphasising cognitive and affective aspects of literary worldmaking, we explore how realistic literature creates its peculiar reality effects, presents human experience in fiction and shapes our world by building up reality-like fictional worlds that affect readers cognitively, ethically and emotionally. What kind of genres, intertexts, themes, philosophical ideas and rhetorical structures of literary works shape the fictional worlds of realism? What kind of cognitive and cultural frames pertaining to these areas are essential to the production and reception of realist works? How can the question of realism be understood vis-à-vis the modes departing from the constraints of realistic worlds, such as fantasy and allegory?

The theoretical approach is tested by case studies of Finnish realistic literature with an emphasis on its interworld connections with French, English and Scandinavian realism.

Rethinking Realistic Worldmaking a three-year research project (2013–2015) funded by the University of Helsinki.