Civic Storytelling: The Rise of Short Forms and the Agency of Literature

A deep history of storytelling as a civic agency, recalibrating literature’s political role for the twenty-first century


Published (US):
May 23, 2023
Published (UK):
Jul 18, 2023
6 x 9 in.
7 b/w illus.
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Why did short narrative forms like the novella, fable, and fairy tale suddenly emerge around 1800 as genres symptomatic of literature’s role in life and society? In order to explain their rapid ascent to such importance, Florian Fuchs identifies an essential role of literature, a role traditionally performed within classical civic discourse of storytelling, by looking at new or updated forms of this civic practice in modernity. Fuchs’s focus in this groundbreaking book is on the fate of topical speech, on what is exchanged between participants in argument or conversation as opposed to rhetorical speech, which emanates from and ensures political authority. He shows how after the decline of the Ars topica in the eighteenth century, various forms of literary speech took up the role of topical speech that Aristotle had originally identified. Thus, his book outlines a genealogy of various literary short forms—from fable, fairy tale, and novella to twenty-first century video storytelling—that attempted on both “high” and “low” levels of culture to exercise again the social function of topical speech. Some of the specific texts analyzed include the novellas of Theodor Storm and the novella-like lettre de cachet, proverbial fictions of Gustave Flaubert and Gottfried Keller, the fairy tale as rediscovered by Vladimir Propp and Walter Benjamin, the epiphanies of James Joyce, and the video narratives of Hito Steyerl.