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Sonja Pyykkö

Sonja Pyykkoe


Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin

Research Interests

  • Confession and/in the novel
  • Philosophy, psychoanalysis, literary and narrative theory
  • Language, selfhood, subjectivity, consciousness

Relevant Experience

07/2015 Freelance Writer and Editor
Academic Editor Finnish Youth Research Society. Editing research publications in social sciences, history, and cultural studies.
Editorial Intern Nuori Voima -Magazine. Commissioning and editing submissions.



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 Literary Studies University of Tampere, Finland
09/2011 -
Comparative Literature University of Turku, Finland

Confession and the Twentieth-Century Novel: Toward a Literary Theory of Confession (Dissertationprojekt)

Dissertation in Literatur

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

Confessions are a difficult topic to approach, in part because they lack both an authoritative definition and a uniform theory. Broadly understood as a form of truth-telling, the language of confession has for centuries validated and authenticated self-discourse in religious and legal contexts alike. Confessions are also found in various literary genres, from philosophical and spiritual autobiographies to poetry and popular memoirs—and of course in the genre that incorporates all others: the novel. Yet reading confessional novels, particularly those written since the 20th century, one would not think to call confessing a form of truth-telling at all. Instead, if there is one quality that characterizes confessions in the modern and postmodern novel it is their failure to produce truth: Riddled with omissions and resistances, told by unreliable narrators, and inconclusive to the point of exasperation, the confessional novel forces its readers to surmise that confessing must serve other functions besides telling the truth, at least in fiction.

Recognizing that the currently predominant way of thinking about confessions is clearly not very well suited to the analysis of fictional confessions leads me to the question of how to understand confessions if not as truth-telling. The project that I undertake is essentially twofold. In the first part, I develop an alternative to the predominant way of theorizing confessions as a form of truth-telling by reconceptualizing confessions as signification. In fact, I distinguish between three individual processes of signification within the confession: the interpretive analysis that precedes every confessional utterance; the confessional utterance itself; and the interpretive analysis that follows the confessional utterance. Poststructuralist ideas of selfhood, hermeneutics, and language demonstrate, however, that this process of confessional signification is doomed to fail. Signifying the self in its entirety may be the ultimate goal of confessing, but one that confessions are destined to fall short from reaching, always remaining incomplete and one slip away from their intended meaning. This is the real confessional paradox: motivated by the desire to finally signify the self in its entirety—tout dire, as Rousseau puts it—but relying on a method that is fundamentally flawed, confessing becomes a Sisyphean effort. This is a productive paradox, however, because like all such efforts, it makes confessions not only inconclusive but also essentially interminable.

I then turn toward developing a literary theory of confessions by combining the insight of the first part with a formal treatment of narrative structure and plot. In this second part, I argue that literary confessions transform the faultiness of confessional signification into the kinds of deferrals and delays that are crucial to any act of storytelling. From this perspective, the failure of 20th-century confessional novels to produce truthful or even meaningful narratives of the self appears to be less of a modern or postmodern anomaly. Instead, modern and postmodern confessions become only the most blatant examples of how literature uses the faultiness of confessional signification to turn the desire to confess into a plot, which requires that between the story’s beginning and end lies a frustrating middle.