Why academics should reference fiction more
Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the underlinen of a family of fourteen on a line in a gale of wind.
I’ve just finished reading Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and was struck by how much more pleasurable, insightful, provocative and better written it is than nearly all of the hundreds upon hundreds of academic books and articles I’ve read – as the exquisite quotation above on memory suggests. Beyond such quotations, Woolf’s narrative of Orlando – a person who lives for centuries, spontaneously changes from male to female and has sex with both men and women (including after changing into a woman) – says things about gender and temporality that I feel can’t be said outside of fiction. Reading novels, watching drama and otherwise engaging with fictions and fantasies has enriched my thinking so much, I’ve long wondered why I – and other academics – don’t reference these texts more often in our own work.