Dunja Dušanić: Cold Facts -- The Non-Fiction Novel in the Age of Atrocity

cold facts


Presentation by Dunja Dušanić, University of Belgrade

Friday March 4, 2022 at 3:00 PM, Foster Hall Room 107, 1130 E 59th St, Chicago, IL 60637. 

Do the many texts and subgenres associated with the non-fiction novel have something in common, besides the fact that they all probe the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction? If we turn our attention to how these texts are labeled, presented, and received, the strong reactions they provoke, a distinct pattern emerges. This pattern can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century when witnesses of the Great War published novels about their experiences. Works as diverse as Henri Barbusse’s Under Fire, E.M. Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, and Stevan Jakovljević’s Serbian Trilogy, caused the outrage of readers who questioned the truthfulness of the novels’ depiction of war. Anticipating Elie Wiesel’s dictum that “a novel about Treblinka is either not a novel or not about Treblinka,” some objected to the attempt of using fiction as a means of conveying “the Truth” of atrocities. This talk will examine the ways witnesses’ war novels make sense of individual human experience of the horrors of history. 

Dunja Dušanić is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Belgrade and a Fellow of the European Graduate School in Saas-Fe. She has written on testimony and witnessing in literature, the memory and representation of trauma in Serbian and Yugoslav literature, and Yugoslav Modernism. She is the author of Fiction as Testimony: The Experience of World War I in Serbian Modernist Fiction (Belgrade, 2017) and Against Immeasurable Forces: Poets as Witnesses to Modern Terror (Belgrade, 2021), as well as co-editor of Yugoslav Literature: The Past, Present, and Future of a Contested Notion (Belgrade, 2019).