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Jessie Byron Ferguson


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The novel
20th century
latin american literature
German literature

Jessie Byron Ferguson

Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Literature

I began my doctoral studies at Stanford in 2007.  Before that, I studied Central European literature and culture as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, where I was also an enthusiastic member of the Women in Philosophy group.  I then received my M.A. from San Francisco State University with a thesis on history and autofiction in three novels of the mid-1990s. 

My dissertation focuses on the 20th century "essayistic" novel in Latin America (Cuba) and in Europe (Austria), in the context of distinct national/cultural traditions of philosophy and essayistic writing.  I am particularly interested in one shared aspect of these works: the evolving tensions between authorship and fictional creation in the 20th century.  Although my focus is on the era from roughly 1910 to 1965, this tension becomes increasingly salient as the century concludes; I argue that by studying earlier experiments in essayism, we can construct a crucial prehistory of autofiction and related postmodern subgenres on both continents. This is not a triumphalist history of radical uncertainty prevailing over dogmatic realism; it is equally the story of a counter-movement away from creativity and towards a more defensive posture, i.e. an attempt to assess the costs as well as the benefits of essayistic style without simply recapitulating Lukács (although you may draw the glasses and mustache on my portrait above, if you must).

I am also interested in the essay as form in world literature; in the construction and extension of "nonfiction" as a literary category; and, much more broadly, in the figure and theme of education within modern literature: as an imperative, as a curse, as a utopia, as a forest not seen for the trees.