Philipp Schweighauser (University of Basel)

May 2, 2018, 10-12 a.m.,  P 10

This talk starts with a brief overview of the three main subgenres of the early American novel—the picaresque, the gothic, and the sentimental—before zooming in on deception. The stories these novels tell abound in con men, seducers, and deceivers that consistently dupe their victims. Yet deception happens not only within these texts; deception is also what fictions do as they hoodwink readers into taking fictional worlds as the real thing. When the first American novels were published, no one noticed this more clearly than the detractors of the anti-fiction movement, who denounced fictions as lies. I take these attacks seriously as I read deception both as a subject matter and a literary function. I aim to supplement dominant political readings of these novels with aesthetic readings. Understanding aesthetics both as a theory of art and beauty and „the science of sensuous cognition,“ I argue that these novels‘ negotiations of deception respond as much to shifts in the social order as they do to reconsiderations of the place of literature, art, and sensory perception in the early republic.


Philipp Schweighauser is Professor in the Department of English at the University of Basel, CH.