Spring 2024 Workshop:

Experimental Fiction as Philosophical Experiment

With Justin Smith-Ruiu

From Plato’s Symposium to the Bhagavad Ghita, to more recent figures such as Sartre and Camus, some of the most significant philosophical texts of human history have been written in the mode of storytelling. Avoiding the path of didactic truth, authors use basic tools of character and plot to tease out nuanced meditations upon love, truth, politics, enlightenment, and life itself. 

How does fiction lend itself to philosophical inquiry? In what ways does philosophy, in turn, broaden the horizons of fiction? When looked at closely enough, where do the boundaries between fiction and philosophy exist–if such boundaries exist at all? And how can writers begin to do philosophy through fiction?

Philosopher, author, and historian Justin Smith-Ruiu is an expert in undertaking experimental fiction as a form of philosophizing. Over the course of three sessions, he will share his perspective on the relationship between philosophy and experiment, and demonstrate the role of creativity in the philosophical project.

The workshop will unfold over three two-hour sessions. These will take place in person at the Library on 3 February, 10 February, and 17 February from 15h00 to 17h00 CET and are open to both Library Members and non-members.

In the first meeting, participants will be introduced to the subject matter of philosophical fiction, reading and discussing examples of philosophical texts. In the following two meetings, participants will bring their own ideas to the table through exercises and critique. We will explore thinking differently, writing strangely, and the avenues of expression which open up to us when we dare to break the rules.

Please note that this workshop is limited to 18 places. Register by scrolling to the bottom of the page and filling out the payment and contact form.


Week One (3 February)

  • What is philosophy? What is fiction? How do the two overlap? Some key moments in history: Lucian of Samosata, True History; Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote; Margaret Cavendish, Blazing-World; Voltaire, Candide
  • Why have some philosophers and some traditions preferred literary engagement with philosophical problems to direct argumentative treatises? Dostoyevsky, Brothers Karamazov; Sartre, Nausea.
  • What is “experiment”? How do genre-bending works, between philosophy and literature, help to illuminate the nature of both? Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones; Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities; OuLiPo.
  • What are the nature and aims of Justin Smith-Ruiu’s activities in this domain? With special attention to In Search of the Third Bird and other more recent work.
  • Week One objective: devising our own projects.

Week Two (10 February):

  • What is “metafiction”? Milorard Pavić, Dictionary of the Khazars; Roberto Bolaño, Nazi Literature in the Americas; Han Shaogong, A Dictionary of Maqiao. 
  • How does new technology shape our idea of what is possible / permissible in fiction-writing? Can there be internet-specific fiction? What can it / will it look like?
  • Week Two Objective: Developing our project

Week Three (17 February): 

  • Developing themes from the first two sessions. 
  • Week Three Objective: Presenting our own projects.

Justin Smith-Ruiu is a historian and philosopher of science. A professor at the University of Paris, Smith-Ruiu is the author of Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason (2019), The Philosopher: A History in Six Types (2016), and Divine Machines: Leibniz and the Sciences of Life (2011).

Advance payment and registration is required. Registration is non-refundable.

Members rate: 40€ per participant.

Non-members rate: 60€ per participant.

To register, please complete the contact information form and payment below.

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