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stronger & more flexible

A critical fiction is a piece of fiction* where form (story) and critical content are inseparable (and which explicitly addresses itself as a critique of another work of literature)

* or poetry

A reader asked for a definition of critical fiction in plain speech, and offered the following :
— Would an even simpler definition be : “a story written in the style or form of another story, with the aim of commenting on or illuminating that earlier story” ?

To which I answered :
— But that’s just it, a critical fiction need not be in the style or form of the work it critiques (but it must address or reference the text). In fact, it is sometimes in the collision of differing styles or approaches that an unexpected insight emerges. This exchange prompted me to state the definition which opens this post. I am the blacksmith pounding the steel to make it stronger and more flexible.

And, for now, enough of definition ; the next posts will discuss examples of critical fiction.



Critical fiction is the literary equivalent of what happens when a visual artist creates a work in direct response or hommage to another artist’s work.

One example: in 1985, when the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts mounted a retrospective of American artist Red Grooms, his relief painting William Penn Shaking Hands with the Indians (1967) was placed within view of Penn’s Treaty with the Indians (1771-72), the original work by Benjamin West, to whose “exemplary American behavior” Grooms paid colorful homage. The effect of juxtaposing the two works from across the centuries was dramatic and memorable.

Readers will be able provide further examples of their own from the history of art.


centrum circuli



CENTRUM CIRCULI is one of the Didactic Hoaxes produced by the late Reno W. Odlin, author of The People’s Republic of Oz and Other Linked Ruminations (privately printed, 1996). In a letter to Henry Wessells dated 26 March 2001, he described the Didactic Hoaxes as follows :

“The title is taken from an uncompleted project of Hollis Frampton’s youth. Absit omen ! Part One constitutes specimen pages as they might appear if brought back from Earth-like planets in their various Alternate Universes. Guy  Davenport has spoken of the over-all project as ‘speculative realities’, and I have no problem with that. I have come as close as I dared, or as the varying pretexts permitted,  to the Earth-Prime realities reported; the names have quite often been changed in the rapportage, of course — as is but prudent!

“The series now contains :

“5. CENTRUM CIRCULI :  Stephen Hawking’s World, where all the horror stories are true, and Thornton W. Burgess’ and Disney’s Beast Fables as well. Compare, perhaps,  John Crowley’s Little, Big.”

Examples of his Didactic Hoaxes and other typographic works were regularly exhibited at the Galerie Arnaud Lefebvre in Paris.

the door open

Welcome to « criticalfiction.net » , a website intended to encourage and promote the critical fiction as a means of literary discourse and formal innovation, and to provide a forum for discussion of texts, techniques, and related issues.

The critical fiction may be simply defined as a literary form that adopts the techniques and language found in one or more source texts to form a critical response and a satisfying fiction. It is an approach to reading, a way of looking, not an essay in discursive exegesis (i.e., expository writing). The form offers an approach to material otherwise resistant to ordinary criticism, and an opportunity to make something new and unexpected happen.

“Appraisal at Edgewood” is a critical fiction available here at the website;  please take a look at the Reading List for other examples

The CF Forum page will include topics for discussion and comment and will be updated frequently.

— Henry Wessells

« criticalfiction.net » is published by Temporary Culture, P.O. Box 43072, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043.

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