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Sonja Pyykkö

Sonja Pyykkoe

PhD Candidate

Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin



PhD Candidate Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany


Humboldt Research Track Scholarship Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany


Master of Arts in British Studies Centre for British Studies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany

Thesis on transforming subjects in contemporary addiction memoirs by British women.


Bachelor of Arts in Literature University of Tampere, Finland

2011-2012 Comparative Literature University of Turku, Finland



Student Research Group: The Language of Confession in New Media 
(funded by the Berlin University Alliance)

Work Experience


Freelance Writer and Editor



Academic Editor Finnish Youth Research Society. Editing research publications in social sciences, history, and cultural studies.



Editorial Intern Nuori Voima -literary magazine. Commissioning and editing submissions.

The Fallible Self: The Language of Confession in the Contemporary American Novel (dissertation project)

Dissertation in Literature

Mentoring team:
First supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ulla Haselstein
Second supervisor: Prof. Dr. Mark Currie 
Third supervisor: Prof. Dr. Florian Sedlmeier 

It is by no means easy to say what is meant by ‘confession’: Sinners and criminals confess their wrongdoings, of course, but what about the confessions of lovers and believers? So far, scholars have mainly followed Michel Foucault’s example and focused on the confession of guilt, which has been treated as a coercive mechanism for policing the modern individual—the “confessing animal,” in Foucault’s rather famous phrase. Cultural and literary critics especially have used Foucault’s theses to expose how our current ‘culture of confession’ masks a generalized obligation to confess, leading to a demand for transparency which appears irreconcilable with subjects’ own interests and rights.

When it comes to studying works of literature, the Foucauldian approach has its limitations; it is not difficult to imagine how the approach described above would produce (and, in fact, has produced) exactly the kind of “suspicious” criticism derided recently by Rita Felski, among others. A major problem with such ‘knowing’ approaches, in my opinion, is that they are bound to miss the incredible richness of the language of confession. It is this expressiveness which I seek to understand as I investigate the language of confession in literature. Contemporary American novels especially appear to revel in the internal paradoxes of the language of confession, which allows for the creation of suspenseful and polyvalent dramas of revelation. This evocativeness becomes apparent in novels like Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1955), James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (1956), Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (1991), and Jordy Rosenberg’s Confessions of the Fox (2018). Reading these modern classics for the first time against the confessional canon, which includes both novels and autobiographies, I demonstrate that far from ‘clever’ confessional parodies or pastiches, contemporary novels use the language of confession to ask original and persistently troubling questions about what it means to be a human being. By focusing on such questions, my research casts new light on both the aesthetic and the ethical engagements of contemporary American fiction.

Even if my observations about contemporary confessional fiction appear largely irreconcilable with Foucault’s genealogy of the “confessing animal,” I did discover a philosophical framework that resonates with the novels’ own concerns in Paul Ricoeur’s thoughts about finitude, fallibility, and fault—the principles underlying Ricoeur’s “ethical vision” of “the language of confession”—and the role that narrative plays in creating meaning for human existence. Combining Ricoeur’s insights allows me to re-define confession as the narrative of a fallible self. One consequence of this philosophical realignment, I hope, is to redeem the generative, ethical value of confessing for creating responsibility and accountability—qualities we desperately need more of in the twenty-first century.

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft