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Vid Stevanović

Vid Stevanović, M.A.

Auctorial Things: The Global Knowledge of Object-Narratives

Dissertation Abstract

The satiric genre of British Object-Narratives (also It-Narratives or Novels of Circulation) is defined by an atypical case of autodiegeis: objects - mostly commodities - relate the stories of their circulations through human societies. Although they are considered a minor genre-today, object-narratives rose to considerable prominence and - consequently economic success - in the long 18th century, particularly near the end of it. Their clear historic signature is no coincidence: they reach the peak of their commercial success in the late 1700s. In times that witnessed a series of dramatic upheavals for the social imaginary: the Inclosure Act of 1773, the independence of the North American colonies in 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789 all shake received notions of political and social order. Simultaneously, an empiricist paradigm of the preceding century solidifies itself institutionally and
increasingly structures all claims to knowledge-production. In the intersection of these axes, the emerging object-narrators assume a paradoxical function. On the one hand, they embody the fantastical perspective of a self-conscious object that is able to relate a tale; while on the other hand, the same speculative perspective is littered with claims to veracity, presenting its narration as distinctly more reliable than that of a human counterpart. They flesh out the fantasy of an access to a knowledge of the world that is not always already mediated by a potentially - morally or intellectually - unreliable human subjectivity. My wager here is that this inner tension is responsible for the fact that this genre assumes a highly conflicting relationship to the processes of early Globalisation that - through its expanding networks of circulation - forms the basis for the emerging of the genre.

For a considerable time, these texts had to be regarded as having fallen out of the canon of English literatures. It is only recently that the publication of the critical anthology "The Secret Life of Things", the Anthology "British It-Narratives, 1750-1830" and a renewed interest in theories of materiality and non-human agency have served to rekindle scholarly interest. My project aims at continuing the re-discovery of this genre by tackling a number of questions that are crucial to its understanding:

  • What are the implications of this peculiar autodiegesis for theories of narratology? What is the
    relation of its anti-mimetic narration to the simultaneously developing genre of fantastic fiction?
    Is it possible to discern a diachronic narratology of the genre, and, if so, how does it tie in with
    the historical developments of its broader literary context(s)?
  • What role does the constant preoccupation of the texts with the performance of deceit, of
    counterfeit and of the forgery of coins play in relation to its epistemological subtext and to
    structural shifts in the economic base? What are the wider implications of the literalised
    metaphor of the talking money when we consider the possible homology between semiotic and
    economic systems?
  • How are the circulating objects connected to those literary (travelogues, the picaresque novel) or
    economic (mercantilism, political economy) intertexts that establish implicit or explicit theories
    of circulation?
  • What is the economic basis for the emergence of this genre? How does its particular mode of
    production (widespread plagiarism, serial production) relate to its literary features? What are its
    (dis)similarities to established notions of the effects of reification, particularly the Marxist notion
    of commodity fetishism? How can they be grasped by contemporary conceptualisations of
    matter, such as New Materialism and Thing Theory?
  • What can this genre of the 18th century tell us about very contemporary anxieties, not only
    about the agency of things but also about the lasting embodiments of information about their

The answers to these questions will establish a structure that will help to provide a hypothesis on why those objects commence their stories at a moment in time shortly before widespread industrialization makes them radically available, but also interchangeable and increasingly unruly.

Short CV

Since 2018 PhD Candidate at the Research Training Group

2015-2018: Research Assistant at the Center for Advanced Studies, LMU Munich

2016: M.A. Comparative Literature, LMU Munich

2013: B.A. Modern Foreign Languages, Cultures and Economy, JLU Gießen


"Herakles in der Fabrik - Ein Nachwort." In: Vid Stevanović, Elisa Purschke, Maria Fixemer, Christiane Schäfer (Eds.). Literatur und Arbeit. Beiträge zum 7. SKK, Berlin: Frank und Timme, 2018, p. 237-247.