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The Dossier Novel: (Post)Modern Fiction and the Discourse of the Archive


This paper focuses on the relationship tying modern novels to the archive in the Modern Age following the centralization of the national archives during the French Revolution. It argues that a specific type of fiction that it calls the dossier novel embodies the significant intersection between archival and novelistic discourses.

The archive is the location where society preserves the heritage of its past, the workplace where the bureaucrat copies and stores records, and the institution where documents are authenticated by matching them with their originals. It establishes a peculiar truth that relies on the exhibition of written proofs. Novelistic discourse significantly overlaps that of the archive. Since writing means recording, an innate archival quality must be inscribed in the novel, the only major literary genre in the Western tradition that originates in the written page. Novels, too, above all historical and realist novels, aim at being stored as written records, in the archives available to society. Telling the truth by printing it on paper is the bread and butter of the novel, so to speak.

Dossier novels are hybrids that find an operational balance between narrative and documentation. They perform a dynamic compromise between archives, novels, and printed books. They collect records, and are structured, at times, as dossiers, presenting factual evidence of those ties linking the archival and novelistic discourses which represent the concern of this study.

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