Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

The Future of the Novel: Vanishing Boundaries?

Dr. Anne-Marie Feenberg.

On what basis do we distinguish today between what belongs to popular literature, in particular mystery novels, and what belongs to serious literature? Boundaries between the two genres seem to be vanishing. In this paper I would like to engage this issue by looking at popular contemporary European fiction, considered either “entertainment” or “serious” literature.
In our era, writers loosely called “postmodern,” such as Borges, and Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, Thomas Pynchon, Paul Auster, often put the mystery and the search for a solution at the heart of their writing. They subvert the narrative techniques of the detective genre in anti-detective fiction. Mysteries tantalize but are not solved; realistic techniques of representation are abandoned; causal explanations and logical plot developments often no longer pertain.
Of course, the conventions of the mystery novel too underwent change as the genre evolved with the rest of the culture. The emphasis on the puzzle and ratiocination shifted to concentrate on either the search and resulting adventures, or incorporated psychological and sociological analyses from the realistic novel to raise existential questions. So then the question remains, what allows us to distinguish between serious literature using mystery conventions and entertainment literature, or have the boundaries been eliminated? This paper will try to propose criteria that may give preliminary answers.


Dr. Anne-Marie Feenberg  (Canada)
Associate Professor in the Humanities
Humanities Department
Simon Fraser University

Born in France, educated in France and the Netherlands, I obtained the Licence and Diplome Superieures d'Anglais from the Sorbonne (Paris), and a Ph.D. in comparative Literature at the University of California, San Diego. After teaching in several universities in California, I am now settled in Vancouver, Canada, teaching at simon Fraser University.

  • Postmodern Literature
  • Mystery conventions

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)