The Fuss about Fiction: A View from Medieval German Studies

In this response, I offer a perspective on the topic of fictionality from the point of view of medieval German studies, where discussions of what constitutes fiction in medieval literature have been of special interest to scholars since the early 1980s. My own addition to this debate is inspired by discussions among German scholars about the problematic authorship of mystical revelations and devotional literature. That is to say, while these discussions tend to claim that attributions of authorship for mystical texts are ill advised (because of either the problematic situation of the textual transmission or because they are so indebted to hagiographical convention), the discussions nevertheless inherently rely on a notion of invention that implies agency ("das fingierte" in German). Similarly, neither the debates on fiction in German scholarship nor those considered in Michelle Karnes' and Julie Orlemanski's essays consider the implied agency in their definitions of fiction. That is, there is no reflection on who the inventor might be, despite the fact that most medieval texts (like mystical texts) come down to us in versions that are quite distant from any particular author. My comment ends then with a suggestion to add "author" as a category that (despite its inevitable connection to present-day perspectives) is also in play whenever we try to understand medieval fictionality in its various contexts.