Literature and Skepticism

By Pablo Oyarzun

Subjects: Literary Criticism, Philosophy, Critical Theory, Continental Philosophy, Narrative
Series: SUNY series, Literature . . . in Theory
Hardcover : 9781438486796, 230 pages, January 2022
Paperback : 9781438486802, 230 pages, July 2022

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Table of contents

Introduction Literature and Skepticism

1. Montaigne: Writing and Skepticism

2. Superb Imposture: Satire, Common Sense, and Skepticism in Swift's A Tale of a Tub

3. On the Insignificant: Figures of Lichtenberg

4. Kleist, the Puppets, and the Vanishing Point of Meaning

5. Kafka and Skepticism: A Note

6. Borges: Essay and Fiction

A Few Words of Conclusion

Works Cited

Examines the skeptical foundations of literature in order to reassess the status of fiction.


Literature and Skepticism links the skeptic attitude to the conditions of possibility in (modern) literature—in particular, the narrative form and the essay. Pablo Oyarzun proposes that narrative and the essay document the relationship between literature and skepticism in different but complementary and, at the same time, complicit ways. As the narrative performance reaches the structural limit of the literary—understood as the domain of fiction—a sort of para-discursive reflection critically accompanies this performance, discussing it, ironizing it, feigning to disbelieve it, or overtly belying it. Yet the narrative doubtfully takes distance from itself, surrendering all right to a final truth at the very moment at which truth emerges, essayistic, to the surface. The authors considered—Montaigne, Swift, Lichtenberg, Kleist, Kafka, and Borges—are eminent representatives of one and the other form, and all of the works analyzed are cases of a complex interplay between narrative and essay.

Pablo Oyarzun is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chile. He is the author of several books, including Doing Justice: Three Essays on Walter Benjamin (translated by Stephen Gingerich).


"This is a fine study. Skepticism, as Oyarzun unpacks it, is at once a philosophical sub-tradition and a 'disposition'—a playful and inconclusive address to the truth, reality, knowledge, and authority. But skepticism also predicates a canon (or anti-canon) of subversive texts joined over time by their deployment of philosophical logic and aesthetics in the service of challenging what would otherwise be patent, self-evident, or certain." — Henry Sussman, author of Around the Book: Systems and Literacy