Fragmentary Writing in Contemporary British and American Fiction 

22-23 September 2017

University of Wrocław, Poland

Keynote speakers:

Dr Alison Gibbons
(Sheffield Hallam University)
Dr Grzegorz Maziarczyk (John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin)
Dr Merritt Moseley (
University of North Carolina at Asheville)


In 1968, Donald Barthelme had one of his narrators declare: “Fragments are the only forms I trust.” The last decades have brought a number of acclaimed novels in Britain and the US that illustrate their authors’ interest in fragmentary structures. David Mitchell constructed Cloud Atlas (2005) out of six stories with different settings, characters and generic features. David Markson produced an 800-page-long tetralogy, culminating in The Last Novel (2007), which juxtaposes several thousand succinct anecdotes and quotations with metafictional references to the elusive authorial figure. The year 2014 saw the publication of three notable fragmentary novels: Will Eaves’s The Absent Therapist – an amalgam of the voices of 150 speakers, Richard McGuire’s Here – a graphic novel created out of over 150 images (non-chronologically arranged) of the same location throughout several million years, and Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation – an account of a marriage crisis narrated with the use of several hundred loosely connected paragraphs. As the example of Cloud Atlas – alongside those of Zadie Smith’s NW, Anne Enright’s The Green Road and, most recently, Julian Barnes’s The Noise of Time – demonstrates, fragmentation is not only the domain of niche, “experimental” writing.

Although it may have arguably earlier origins, fragmentation has been a vital aspect of twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature. Several canonical novels of modernism – such as Ulysses and The Waves – could be classified as fragmentary, since they are constructed in parts that refuse to cohere and as Gabriel Josipovici suggested, the fragmented form of modernist works may be seen as a response to the human need to escape linearity. More radical examples of fragmented novels were written in the 1960s and 70s by authors sometimes associated with postmodernism: J.G. Ballard, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, B.S. Johnson and Gabriel Josipovici. Despite the fact that many renowned novelists have contributed to fragmentary writing, the term itself is rarely used in Anglophone criticism. The aim of our conference is to postulate a renewed engagement with fragmentary literature. We are particularly interested in contemporary writing and invite papers that approach chosen aspects of fragmentation in British and American fiction published over the last five decades (post-1966). We wish to examine the typical ingredients of the fragmentary mode (such as enumeration, non-linearity and the unconventional layout of the page), the mechanics of organising the disparate parts, and the various rationales for writing in fragments.

Proposals may consider but are not limited to:

*   the extent to which fragmentation in contemporary literature borrows from modernist (or postmodernist) experiments and the degree to which it creates its own aesthetics,

*   the correspondence between literary fragmentation and the social, political and technological reality of the contemporary world (e.g., Twitter fiction),

*   the influence of various art forms (particularly the visual arts and cinema) on literary fragmentation (e.g., Joseph Frank’s notion of “spatial form” and Sharon Spencer’s conception of the “architectonic novel”),

*    the fragmentation of a single monolithic reassuring voice into a myriad of voices,

*    the physical fragmentation of the page,

*    card-shuffle texts,

*    forking-path narratives,

*    novels built out of potentially self-contained parts (blurring the distinction between the novel and the collection of short stories),

*    generic eclecticism and the aesthetics of mash-up,

*    collage-like works, altered fictions and other examples of appropriation.



Proposals (300-400 words), together with a biographical note, should be sent to Wojciech Drąg ( and Vanessa Guignery ( by 15 March 2017.


Conference fee: 75 euros


Scientific Committee:

Prof. Vanessa Guignery, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon
Dr Wojciech Drąg, University of Wrocław

Dr Marcin Tereszewski, University of Wrocław


Organising Committee:

Prof. Vanessa Guignery, École Normale Supérieure de Lyon

Dr Wojciech Drąg, University of Wrocław

Ewa Błasiak, MA, University of Wrocław

Krzysztof Jański, University of Wrocław

Jakub Krogulec, MA, University of Wrocław

Angelika Szopa, MA, University of Wrocław