Life and Its Imitation in Modern Fiction

Rochelle Tobias

Frontiers of Narrative Series

222 pages
1 photograph, 3 figures, index


July 2021


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July 2021


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July 2021


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About the Book

Pseudo-Memoirs redefines the notion of fiction itself, a form that has all too often been understood in terms of its capacity to produce a seeming reality. Rochelle Tobias argues that the verisimilitude of the novel derives not from its object but from the subjectivity at its base. What generates the plausibility of fiction is not the referentiality of its depictions but the intentionality of consciousness.

Edmund Husserl developed the idea that consciousness is always intentional in the sense that it is directed outside itself toward something that it does not find so much as it constitutes as an object. Pseudo-memoirs reveal the full implications of this position in their double structure as the tale of their own telling or the fiction of life-writing. In so doing they reveal how the world of fiction is constructed, but more important they bring to the fore the idealist premises that fuel the novel and guarantee its truth, even when it remains an invention of the imagination.

Rochelle Tobias explores novels by Thomas Mann, Robert Walser, Thomas Bernhard, and W. G. Sebald in conjunction with philosophical and theoretical texts by René Descartes, Husserl, Friedrich Nietzsche, György Łukács, Roland Barthes, and Maurice Blanchot.


Author Bio

Rochelle Tobias is a professor of German at Johns Hopkins University and the director of the Max Kade Center for Modern German Thought. She is the author of The Discourse of Nature in the Poetry of Paul Celan: The Unnatural World and editor of Hölderlin’s Philosophy of Nature.


"Pseudo-Memoirs is a great scholarly achievement that has lain the groundwork for new directions in research on (auto-)biographical fiction."—Benjamin Schaper, Germanic Review

"The literary eccentrics studied here have been gathered together before . . . but Tobias's highly original and creative philosophical argument makes it a gathering worth attending."—Paul Buchholz, Monatshefte

“With its bold reevaluation of the relationship between fictional and nonfictional discourses, Pseudo-Memoirs offers an important new perspective on the concept of realism and invites us to rethink our understanding of the ideological force of authorial paradigms.”—Jan Mieszkowski, author of Crises of the Sentence

“Remarkable. . . . Refreshingly immune to the passing fads of our critical situation, Rochelle Tobias’s sober and caring study makes valuable and lasting contributions to the intersection of literature and philosophy, German studies, comparative modernism, literary theory, narratology, and the study of aesthetic autobiography.”—Gerhard Richter, University Professor of Comparative Literature and German Studies at Brown University

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Introduction: Phenomenology and the Truth of Fiction
1. The Character: Thomas Mann’s Felix Krull
2. The Narrator: Robert Walser’s Jakob von Gunten
3. The Work: Thomas Bernhard’s Extinction
4. The Author: W. G. Sebald’s Vertigo
Conclusion: On the Value of Dissembling

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