TEXT review

The slashed: well-nigh everything you wanted to know about ficto/criticism but were never going to ask

review by Rosslyn Prosser


FictoCritical Writing.jpg

Gerrit Haas
Ficto/critical Strategies: Subverting Textual Practices of Meaning, Other, and Self-Formation
Transcript-Verlag / Columbia University Press, New York 2017
ISBN 9783837637045
Pb 200pp AUD40.00


If there were a soundtrack for the ficto/critical it might be Lucinda William’s nine minute and six second song, Wrap My Head Around That:

I know what I think I saw
And what I thought I’d seen
And what was coming and what was going
And everything in between
And what I thought I heard you say
And what you really said
And what I thought you thought I thought
Was actually in your head
(Williams 2007)

In a text written first as a PhD thesis and now published as a book, Gerrit Haas’s Ficto/critical Strategies: Subverting Textual Practices of Meaning, Other, and Self-Formation, uses a genealogical approach that surveys the field in a comprehensive and informed way. Haas shows the ways that a form/genre might come into being, representing the tensions in naming, and in defining, positing as a starting point Muecke’s fictocritical essay ‘The Fall: Fictocritical Writing’ (Mueke 2010), referencing Derrida:

“Once Jacques Derrida, the French Philosopher, asked us for a name… The name we would have given him was ‘fictocriticism’, but he went on anyway to write, and to perform, critically, and sometimes fictionally, for instance by telling stories while making philosophical arguments.” (Muecke qtd on 10)

The work investigates the ways that the slash, the hyphen, the whole word, or the many definitions that stem outward and beyond the often indefinable nature of the ficto/critical have been produced. Citing Derrida: ‘a name, any name, would hasten in, from an unexpected angle, the very forces of genre those practices aim to exorcise’, Haas signals the problematics of naming and the ways that ficto/criticism may attempt to eschew any attempts at categorisation (10). He arrives at the conclusion that:

As always, the crux of the matter consists in its intersections. Here, most significantly, in the between that is both the textual relation and our wider discursive relating through it. (7)

The idea of writing fictionally whilst making philosophical or other arguments brings into relief the precursors for calling a work by this name. Haas moves from Krauss’s notion of the paraliterary, and then her shifts to the paracritical and the paratheoretical whilst carefully positing that Krauss:

already senses a creative relation between (modernist) meta-reflections and (post/modernist) experimentation and secondly, how she also references “reading as a much more consciously critical act” for which the writerly and critical acts almost converge. (10)

There are many trajectories and traces identified for the ficto/critical – the unpredictable nature of the form, where it ends up, where it has been taken up, who said what, and what they said. These considerations are collected in ways that suggest links and underpinnings for a diverse set of writings that are loosely assembled under the name. 

Providing a range of pre-cursors from literature and literary criticism, Haas presents the staging of the ficto/critical as beginning at no single point, but in a range of swirling and chaotic influences and movements. The significant place of experimental feminist writing from Australia and Canada in these uptakes and possibilities points to a willingness, on the part of Haas, to both acknowledge and critique the many shifts and actors involved – thereby emphasising the often un-nameable and highly diverse set of works that come to fall into the category of the ficto/critical. The work of Helen Flavell is acknowledged and outlines the important ways that ficto/criticism was taken up by feminist writers where the auto/biographical and auto/theoretical were already established as literary techniques.

As a substantial contribution through an extensive literature review, this text presents an excellent resource and field guide. The strengths of the work lie in the preparedness to take seriously and to interrogate existing material, whilst providing a genealogy, a set of potential definitions, and a record of key texts and authors. The work is an excellent study of how something comes into being and accounts for the many offshoots and ways of talking about ficto/criticism, which appears to have developed its own fixity. Haas presents the historical accounting through the genealogical approach of the conditions of possibility for the ficto/critical, while also reporting on the wide and varied influences and the important contribution of Australian writers and academics. In this way, Haas accounts for some of the key texts and their authors, including the precedents and their outcomes.

In the introduction ‘A Possible List of Fictocritical Textual Features’, Haas lists the many and varied modes and techniques taken up, in different ways, by a range of writers recognised as producing ficto/critical texts. This is an excellent introduction and, as a starting point for understanding both the form and the technique, has great potential for teaching the ficto/critical. With readings of works by Gail Jones, Stephen Muecke, Kathleen Stewart, Guy Maddin, Michael Taussig, Anna Gibbs, Heather Kerr and others, Haas has produced a significant contribution to the limited available analysis of many of these works.

Haas also suggests, rightly, that Schlunke’s Bluff Rock: Autobiography of a Massacre (2005) is an ‘exemplary ficto/critical text that instantiates all the defining traits that the present thesis proposes’ (167). The highly useful analysis of Schlunke’s work demonstrates the ways she ‘investigates the historiographic textual relation that allows local discursive entities to form, circulate, and effectively serve wider cultural functions’ (167). The close readings by Haas throughout the text make this a valuable and important work of analysis. The approach of a literary scholar who uses the knowledge of the fictocritical to analyse the fictocritical text is significant, illuminating the diverse ways that each text is constructed using the range of techniques found.


Works Cited

Muecke, S 2010 ‘The Fall: Fictocritical Writing’, Parallax 8, 4: 108-112 return to text



Dr Rosslyn Prosser is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide. Ros has published in a range of styles, forms and modes, most recently How to Make Whips’ in Cordite Poetry Review Chapbook: Queering Modes (ed A Coppe, November 2017), and co-authored with Barbara Baird ‘The Marching Dunstans: Performing Memory, Queering Memory’ in Media International Australia 165, 1.


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Vol 22 No 1 April 2018
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Julienne van Loon & Ross Watkins
Reviews Editors: Pablo Muslera & Amelia Walker