Fiction is an opportunity to entertain roads not taken, to live vicariously, to test the boundaries of one’s empathic potential and open-mindedness. Even the most autobiographical writers are aware of this dimension of their art. Philip Roth, who coined the word “counterlife,” might be the most thorough living explorer of this function of literature. In his oeuvre, counterlives are a trope, a theme, and a prompt for reflection on that exclusively human way of conquering mortality called imagination. The lecture will consider Roth’s counterlives in the context of the Western tradition, e.g., Homer, Plato, Shakespeare, Kierkegaard, Fernando Pessoa, and Kafka.
Katia Mitova holds an MA in Comparative Slavic Studies from the University of Sofia, Bulgaria and an MA and PhD from the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. Her research and teaching interests include storytelling as well as the relationship between ethics and aesthetics. She is the 2008 recipient of the Graham School of Continuing and Professional Studies Excellence in Teaching Award for the Basic Program.