The Poetics of Fragmentation in Contemporary British and American Fiction

Vanessa Guignery, Wojciech Drąg (Eds.)

by Merritt Moseley (University of North Carolina at Asheville, USA), Mariano D’Ambrosio (University Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle, France), Alicia J. Rouverol (University of Manchester, UK), Wojciech Drąg (University of Wrocław, Poland), Grzegorz Maziarczyk (John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland), Côme Martin , Zofia Kolbuszewska (University of Wrocław, Poland), Deborah Bridle (University of Côte d’Azur, France), Caroline Magnin (Sorbonne University, France), Jarosław Hetman (Nicolaus Copernicus University, Toruń, Poland), David Malcolm (SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Warsaw, Poland), Teresa Bruś (University of Wrocław, Poland), Marcin Tereszewski (University of Wrocław, Poland), Gerd Bayer (University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany), Maria Antonietta Struzziero , Alison Gibbons (Sheffield Hallam University, UK)

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A dominant but deeply undertheorized feature of serious contemporary writing is its fragmentary nature. This book powerfully, intelligently, and rigorously fills that lack (lack being, of course, what fragmentation is forever exploring).

David Shields
Professor at the University of Washington, author of 'Reality Hunger'

'The Poetics of Fragmentation' offers a wide-ranging and original exploration of the many forms and aims of fragmentation in contemporary fiction from Great Britain and the US. Reading the art of the fragment against a long history of literary experimentation with broken forms, collage and montage, it turns to some of the most prominent figures of contemporary fiction — from David Mitchell to David Foster Wallace, David Markson or Jeanette Winterson.
More than a panorama of contemporary fiction, the volume also offers a bracing reminder that fiction cannot be read in isolation from its cultural context. Essays devoted to the architecture of fiction, the impact of transmediality or the “shuffle narrative” also propose new readings of fiction’s inspiring capacity to constantly remediate itself.
'The Poetics of Fragmentation' will convince any reader passionate about contemporary fiction that experimentation remains an urgent concern of literature. Appropriating plural semiotic systems, from digital media to music, literature is still analyzed as pushing at the frontiers of it own language and one can only be grateful to the editors of the volume for making room for those often debated experimentations with multimodality ; an emphasis on multimodality that will no doubt appeal to a different set of readers.
A clearly-argued, erudite, efficient and well-paced volume that will offer many varied points of entry into the issue of fragmentation and that offers a welcome take on aesthetic categories that seemed to have lost some of their critical purchase.

Dr Catherine Bernard, Professor of British literature and art history,
Paris Diderot University, France

[…] This volume makes for a fascinating read, not only for academics interested in fragmentary fiction, but also for readers interested in contemporary literature in general. It provides the right balance between authoritative theoretical considerations, literature surveys and case studies or close(r) readings of individual works. While it does strive towards coalescence (and a very helpful impetus of imposing some order on the present information overload that plagues the reader of contemporary literature), it is also inclusive and generous in accommodating conflicting viewpoints and tendencies, much to the reader’s delight.

[Extract from book review appearing on the journal 'American, British and Canadian Studies', 2020, Vol.35 (1), p.173-176. Reviewer: Corina Selejan (Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania). ]

The last decades have seen a revival of fragmentation in British and American works of fiction that deny linearity, coherence and continuity in favour of disruption, gaps and fissures. Authors such as Ali Smith, David Mitchell and David Shields have sought new ways of representing our global, media-saturated contemporary experience which differ from modernist and postmodernist experimentations from which the writers nevertheless draw inspiration. This volume aims to investigate some of the most important contributions to fragmentary literature from British and American writers since the 1990s, with a particular emphasis on texts released in the twenty-first century. The chapters within examine whether contemporary forms of literary fragmentation constitute a return to the modernist episteme or the fragmented literature of exhaustion of the 1960s, mark a continuity with postmodernist aesthetics or signal a deviation from past models and an attempt to reflect today’s accelerated culture of social media and over-communication.

Contributors theorise and classify literary fragments, examine the relationship between fragmentation and the Zeitgeist (influenced by globalisation, media saturation and social networks), analyse the mechanics of multimodal and multimedial fictions, and consider the capacity of literary fragmentation to represent personal or collective trauma and to address ethical concerns. They also investigate the ways in which the architecture of the printed book is destabilised and how aesthetic processes involving fragmentation, bricolage and/or collage raise ontological, ethical and epistemological questions about the globalised contemporary world we live in and its relation to the self and the other. Besides the aforementioned authors, the volume makes reference to the works of J. G. Ballard, Julian Barnes, Mark Z. Danielewski, David Markson, Jonathan Safran Foer, David Foster Wallace, Jeanette Winterson and several others.


List of figures

Introduction: the art of the fragment
Vanessa Guignery, École Normale Supérieure in Lyon
Wojciech Drąg, University of Wrocław

Part One
Forms of fragmentation: past and present

Chapter 1 What is fragmentary fiction?
Merritt Moseley, University of North Carolina at Asheville

Chapter 2 Fragmentary writing and polyphonic narratives in twenty-first-century fiction
Mariano D’Ambrosio, University Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle

Chapter 3 The short story: fragment and augment
David Malcolm, SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw

Part Two
The fragment and the whole

Chapter 4 The architectural fragment: ruins and totality in J. G. Ballard’s fiction
Marcin Tereszewski, University of Wrocław

Chapter 5 Fragmentary transtextuality: David Mitchell and his novel
Gerd Bayer, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg

Chapter 6 Fragmentary writing and globalization in Ali Smith’s Hotel World
Alicia J. Rouverol, University of Manchester

Chapter 7 Lives, etc.: fragments of lives in short stories by Julian Barnes
Teresa Bruś, University of Wrocław

Chapter 8 “Make it new” to return as rupture and difference: a study of Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time
Maria Antonietta Struzziero

Part Three
Fragmentation in the age of crisis

Chapter 9 Collage manifestos: fragmentation and appropriation in David Markson’s This is Not a Novel and David Shields’s Reality Hunger
Wojciech Drąg, University of Wrocław

Chapter 10 Fragmentation in David Foster Wallace’s fiction
Jarosław Hetman, Nicolaus Copernicus University, Toruń

Chapter 11 Trauma and the mechanics of fragmentation in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Caroline Magnin, Sorbonne Université

Part Four
Multimodal and multimedial fragments

Chapter 12 Singularity, multimodality, transmediality: fragmentary future(s) of the novel?
Grzegorz Maziarczyk, John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin

Chapter 13 From Wunderkammer fragmentation to alternative history in Hexen 2.0 by Suzanne Treister
Zofia Kolbuszewska, University of Wrocław

Chapter 14 Unbox the story: a look at contemporary shuffle narratives
Côme Martin

Chapter 15 Fragmentation as building practice: the literary and musical collaboration between Thomas Ligotti and Current 93 for In a Foreign Town, in a Foreign Land
Deborah Bridle, University of Côte d’Azur

Chapter 16 Fragments of a postscript
Alison Gibbons, Sheffield Hallam University



Vanessa Guignery is Professor of Contemporary English and Postcolonial Literature at the École Normale Supérieure in Lyon. She published The Fiction of Julian Barnes (2006) and Conversations with Julian Barnes (co-edited with Ryan Roberts, 2009). She is the author of Seeing and Being: Ben Okri’s The Famished Road (2012) as well as monographs on B.S. Johnson (2009) and Jonathan Coe (2015). She is the editor of several books on contemporary literature in English, including a collection of interviews with eight contemporary writers, Novelists in the New Millennium (2012) and The B.S. Johnson – Zulfikar Ghose Correspondence (2015).

Wojciech Drąg is Assistant Professor at the Institute of English Studies, University of Wrocław. He is the author of Revisiting Loss: Memory, Trauma and Nostalgia in the Novels of Kazuo Ishiguro (2014) and co-editor of War and Words: Representations of Military Conflict in Literature and the Media (2015) and Spectrum of Emotions: From Love to Grief (2016). In 2018, he received The Kosciuszko Foundation fellowship at the University of Utah.

fragmentary writing, modernism, postmodernism, braid, bricolage, mosaic, Zeitgeist, collage, montage, heteroglossia, multiplicity, polyphonic novel, liberature, typographical experimentation, metafiction, appropriation, shuffle narratives, multimodality, multimediality, short story, novel, deconstruction, transtextuality, uncreative writing

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Bibliographic Information

Book Title

The Poetics of Fragmentation in Contemporary British and American Fiction





Number of pages


Physical size

236mm x 160mm


3 B&W

Publication date

December 2019