Fictional Encyclopaedism in James Joyce, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Roberto Bolaño: Towards a Theory of Literary Totality

Kiron Ward

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis makes an intervention in the recent proliferation of work on encyclopaedism in fiction. By taking James Joyce’s Ulysses, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead, and Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 as its case studies, the project proposes that fictional encyclopaedism can be read through the responses authors make to the diverse forms that encyclopaedic thought and practice has taken throughout history. In this, I contend, ‘encyclopaedism’ can be dissociated from its commonplace conflation with ‘great white male’ theories of literature, and refigured as a literary category with the potential to restructure, or decolonise, both our sense of ‘greatness’ and ‘mastery’ in fiction and our idea of the world as a complete and coherent totality.

The project is divided into five sections. The introduction establishes the relationship between encyclopaedism and totality through a reading of the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s ‘Great American Indian Leaders’ exhibition in the 1980s, drawing particularly on the theoretical work of Gerald Vizenor and Walter D. Mignolo and on historians of encyclopaedism. The first and second chapters look to the ways Joyce and Silko, respectively, critique and re-tool specific forms of encyclopaedism, with Ulysses focusing on the Britannica and Almanac of the Dead reaching back to the encyclopaedic practices that gave epistemic shape to the European ‘conquest,’ or invasion, of the Americas (particularly those of Bartolomé de Las Casas). Both authors, I propose, imagine new, radical, decolonial encyclopaedisms that work by opening themselves up to their own productive failures. The third chapter explores how Bolaño uses 2666 to identify potential encyclopaedisms immanent to the contemporary, particularly through his dialogue with Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch. The conclusion synthesises the three authors’ forms of fictional encyclopaedism into the beginnings of a theory of literary totality as ‘totality-without-totality,’ along the lines of Jacques Derrida’s ‘messianism-without- messianicity.’
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Sussex
  • Boxall, Peter, Supervisor, External person
Publication statusPublished - May 2017


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