The Novel in a Postfictional Age

ES 203 (English Department)

ES 203

English Department

Anna Thiemann, Gulsin Ciftci

We will be joined by Prof. Timothy Bewes to discuss his Free Indirect, a finalist for the 2022 NBCC Award for Criticism.

This workshop engages with Prof. Bewes’s latest book, Free Indirect: The Novel in a Postfictional Age (Columbia University Press, 2022), which shakes the grounds on which the theory of the novel has long been standing and offers new ways of seeing and engaging with literature.

About the Book

Everywhere today, we are urged to “connect.” Literary critics celebrate a new “honesty” in contemporary fiction or call for a return to “realism.” Yet such rhetoric is strikingly reminiscent of earlier theorizations. Two of the most famous injunctions of twentieth-century writing—E. M. Forster’s “Only connect . . .” and Fredric Jameson’s “Always historicize!”—helped establish connection as the purpose of the novel and its reconstruction as the task of criticism. But what if connection was not the novel’s modus operandi but the defining aesthetic ideology of our era—and its most monetizable commodity? What kind of thought is left for the novel when all ideas are acceptable as long as they can be fitted to a consumer profile?

This book develops a new theory of the novel for the twenty-first century. In the works of writers such as J. M. Coetzee, Rachel Cusk, James Kelman, W. G. Sebald, and Zadie Smith, Timothy Bewes identifies a mode of thought that he calls “free indirect,” in which the novel’s refusal of prevailing ideologies can be found. It is not situated in a character or a narrator and does not take a subjective or perceptual form. Far from heralding the arrival of a new literary genre, this development represents the rediscovery of a quality that has been largely ignored by theorists: thought at the limits of form. Free Indirect contends that this self-awakening of contemporary fiction represents the most promising solution to the problem of thought today.


Before beginning at Brown in 2004, Timothy Bewes held teaching and research positions at University of Sussex, the University of North London, Liverpool John Moores University, and Brandeis. He held a post-doctoral fellowship at the Pembroke Center at Brown in 2003-04. He is the author of Cynicism and Postmodernity (Verso 1997); Reification, or The Anxiety of Late Capitalism (Verso 2002); The Event of Postcolonial Shame (Princeton UP, 2011), and Free Indirect: The Novel in a Postfictional Age (Columbia UP, 2022). He has also edited several collections of essays, including The Anagonist (Duke UP, 2020), Jacques Rancière and the Novel (Duke UP, 2014), The Contemporary Novel: Imagining the Twenty-First Century (Duke UP, 2012), Georg Lukács: The Fundamental Dissonance of Existence (Aesthetics, Politics, Literature) (Continuum, 2011, with Timothy Hall), Cultural Capitalism (Lawrence and Wishart 2001, with Jeremy Gilbert), as well as a special issue of New Formations titled After Fanon (2002). His articles have appeared in such journals as AmerikastudienNew Left ReviewNew Literary HistoryRadical PhilosophyTextual PracticeContemporary LiteratureParallaxGenreDifferencesTwentieth Century LiteratureNew Formations and Cultural Critique. He has served on the editorial board of New Formations since 1998, and as an editor of Novel since 2005. He convenes the Film-Thinking series at the Cogut Institute for the Humanities.