Why Literature? Parabasis, Friendship, Empathy and the Future of Literary Studies

Symposium and masterclass with Prof. Gregory Jusdanis (Ohio State University)

Date: April 23, 2015, 10:00-17:00
Venue: Leiden University, P.N. van Eyckhof 1, Room 003C
For: PhD Candidates and RMa Students. MA Students may attend as auditor.
ECTS: 1 (not for MA students)
Respondents: Looi van Kessel (MA) and Dr. Liesbeth Minnaard (UL)
Organization and chair: Dr. Maria Boletsi (UL)
Note: This event is fully booked, please send us an e-mail with your name, university and research school. We will put you on our waiting list.

What role can literature play in the 21st century? The ongoing financial and social crisis is rapidly changing the global political and cultural landscape and currently forces literature and humanities departments to justify their existence in terms of efficiency, productivity and the output of ‘deliverables’. In times of severe budget-cuts and downsizing actions the issue of the importance of literature for life and society arises with new urgency. What are the cultural and social functions of literature? Which of the various answers to this question – Marxist, humanist, aesthetic, cognitivist etc. – are still compelling today or need to be abandoned for more convincing and up to date approaches? And which could that be?

This mini-symposium and masterclass will explore and probe some of the positions in the contemporary debate on literature’s functions and the value of engagement with fiction against the backdrop of the current (and age-old) attacks against the humanities. Our exploration these issues will take the two latest books by prof. Gregory Jusdanis (Ohio State University) as a starting point: Fiction Agonistes (2010) and A Tremendous Thing: Friendship from the “Iliad” to the Internet (2014). In his essay Fiction Agonistes Jusdanis reminds us that the arts have always been under attack and offers a pragmatic defense of literature, arguing that it performs a social function in dramatizing the break between illusion and reality, life and the life-like, permanence and metamorphosis. He argues that literature allows us to imagine alternate possibilities of human relationships and political institutions, even in the world of the Internet. In A Tremendous Thing, Jusdanis explores the entanglement of friendship and fiction, arguing that both occupy structurally similar positions in society by being non-essential, non-productive activities and squanderers of time. While offering no direct instrumental advantage, they both facilitate imaginative and empathic thinking, transporting us into other worlds and minds.

The first part of the program comprises a lecture by prof. Jusdanis and three brief responses by scholars taking different positions in the debate outlined above. This exchange is followed by a discussion with all participants.

The second part of the program consists of a masterclass led by Prof. Jusdanis, in which a discussion will take place based on texts that will have been distributed and studied in advance by the participants. Students who participate actively in this masterclass and prepare discussion points on the assigned reading materials in advance can get a credit of 1 EC for this event.
Participants are asked to prepare 1 thesis or 1 question based upon the required  readings and send it to osl-fgw@uva.nl before April 14th.


  • Gregory Jusdanis. Fiction Agonistes: In Defense of Literature. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010
  • Mark Roche. Why Literatures Matters in the 21st Century. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004. 17-48.
  • Lisa Zunshine. Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2006. 3-22.
  • Paul Jay. The Humanities “Crisis” and the Future of Literary Studies. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. [kort stukje; kan nog worden vervangen]
  • Gregory Jusdanis. A Tremendous Thing: Friendship form the ‘Iliad’ to the Internet. Cornell, UP [kort stukje; kan nog worden vervangen]