UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


Fostering Active Readers

12 February 2024, 11:00 am–12:00 pm

Woman reading a book on the floor

A SSEES Research Student seminar with Agnieszka Puchalska

This event is free.

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Fostering Active Readers: Narrative Instability and Change in Walter Benjamin and Olga Tokarczuk’s Novels

Please note that this event will now take place online.

Can literature create readers that become more active in the world outside of text? If yes, what kind of literature would that be? To answer this question, I look at a contemporary Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk and literary strategies she employs, such as experimental fractured form, mixing narrative voices, including meta-literary and philosophical content. I investigate how these can help to turn readers into narrative’s co-creators within and beyond her texts. My research also incorporates theories of a German critic Walter Benjamin (1892-1940). Benjamin’s work, especially his thought on baroque allegory, can offer a surprisingly revealing perspective into how narrative’s instability, changeability, and readers’ engagement link.

I investigate the shared interest of Tokarczuk and Benjamin in narrative change and argue that this phenomenon can be systematically studied within literature and subsequently applied in real-world contexts. My research explains the inherent instability and changeability within any narrative. And it also describes the roles played by the narrator and the reader in the narrative process.

In this talk I will focus on melancholy, which is a key theme for both Tokarczuk and Benjamin. Melancholy is an integral and crucial part of the narrative voice that Tokarczuk chooses in her texts. I explain how melancholy in Tokarczuk and in Benjamin is seen as a mood linked to epistemological instability and how, because of that, it is presented as a source of insight.

Bio: Agnieszka Puchalska is a doctoral candidate at UCL’s School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies. Her research is situated at the intersection of literary theory and critical analysis. Her primary focus is on Walter Benjamin's theory of baroque allegorical representation, which can be used as a critical strategy in her examination of novels by a contemporary Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk. Agnieszka co-runs Walter Benjamin Research Collective, a platform for interdisciplinary dialogue and scholarly exchange.

Image credit: George Milton on Pexels