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P.I. :
Fernando Guerreiro


The direct connection of art to reality (be it physical, human, or social) and their distancing from one another have been fundamental coordinates orienting our thoughts on ‘representation’ since classical Antiquity. In the context of modern aesthetics, and particularly since Romanticism, those relations have been reconfigured in the light of phenomena such as the emergence of Aesthetics as a philosophical category, the creed in ‘art for art’s sake’ and the development of art criticism, the tense correlation between literary realism and the supernatural, and the increasing complexity of the codes of painting from strict imitation to pure abstraction. Reconsidering this important historical and theoretical background, the RIAL project proposes to address the relations between reality and imagination in art and culture from the nineteenth century to present times.

Working with a team of researchers associated with the fields of literary studies and film studies, but also philosophy and art history, the project has a markedly interdisciplinary and inter-artistic nature that engages in contemporary trends in Comparative Studies. Our research will focus primarily in works of art from cinema and literature, but will also take into account, with no geographical or linguistic limitations, other means of representation and areas of knowledge.

Studies developed under this project will explore a conceptual network that, in essence, relates to areas of contamination and interchange between art and life, fiction and history, human perception and fact, illusion and experience, the prosaic and the extraordinary, systems of symbols and material culture, as well as other problematic pairings viewed through the lens of complementarity and co-mingling and not only in terms of opposition. Individual and collective works will look into certain moments of history, authors, and particular works, in which the interlinking of our two basic concepts (reality and imagination) clearly constitutes a crucial problem.  We take as exemplary cases of this problematic: the aesthetic current of nineteenth-century realism; the advent of the photographic image, and, at the turn of the century, of cinema; modernist and avant-garde movements from the first quarter of the twentieth century; melodrama as a syncretic genre and a paradigm of modernity (Ben Singer), in which several forms of artistic expression coalesce, as well as different understandings of ‘music’ and ‘drama’, according to the genre’s association with various media, publics, and traditions.

As a consequence, and seeking to offer meaningful and thorough replies to our problem of departure our collective work will be distributed along three common lines of research: 1) Narrative: modes of literary realism; 2) Melodrama: genre, spectacle, and imagination; 3) Image: audiovisual materiality and spectrality. Although these lines represent specific developments of the project’s initial proposal, we intend to make them communicate and be understood, above all, in their basic relational and dialogical dimensions.

Individual works among the project’s team will generate a number of proposed activities, such as regular meetings to present on-going work and research, one-day meetings on specific subjects pertinent to the project, lectures with guest speakers from outside the project, conferences, open courses, film cycles, and publications in multiple formats. The diversity of the proposed tasks is meant to enable us to achieve the following goals:

  • Promoting a critical discussion around the philosophical concepts of reality and imagination, taking into account their semantic breadth and also relating them to concepts more fundamentally connected to literary studies and the art sphere, such as fiction, realism, invention, the imaginary, imitation and representation, among others.
  • Mapping the historical evolution of our original problem and assessing its present configuration – both as regards artistic practices themselves and the critical and theoretical discourses they originate – not only from a diachronic but also from a prospective point of view.
  • Contributing to the field of inter-art studies with a work that, always keeping in mind the theoretical potential of the underlying concepts, is intended to tackle aesthetic questions pervasive to all art forms and to the material specificities of different media.
  • Collaborating with other research units and external researchers specialized in related subjects, so as to widen the scope of the work undertaken in the project, thus promoting a true plurality of perspectives and approaches.
  • Promoting activities with our partners outside the university, aiming not only to publicize all our outputs, but also to extend the debate that should lead from them to a larger and more heterogeneous audience.

Lines of research:

1) Narrative: modes of literary realism

  • Third-person omniscient narrator, subjective stance, perspective, and worldview;
  • Tensions of realist aesthetics: storytelling, description, and suggestion;
  • Nineteenth-century novel as a model: literary and social transformations between the Romanesque and material culture;
  • Short story, novella, conte and other forms of short fiction traditionally associated with social portraiture, but also with the supernatural and the speculative;
  • Modernism(s): deceptive realism, continuities and ruptures.

2) Melodrama: genre, spectacle, and imagination

  • Drama, music, performance, and the operatic roots of melodrama;
  • Nineteenth-century sensational melodrama and its development in silent film;
  • Genre, rhetoric, reflexivity, and questions of style;
  • Melodrama between classical and modern cinema;
  • Melodrama as a transnational notion with specifically national configurations;
  • The persistence of melodramatic motifs in twentieth-century and contemporary literature;
  • Melodrama, society, and politics.

3) Image: audiovisual materiality and spectrality

  • Theoretical approaches to the concept of image in literature;
  • The photographic image, Spiritism, and ghosts;
  • The notion of ‘image’ in the context of twentieth-century avant-garde movements;
  • The mimetic, realist, and documental values of photography and cinema (put into question);
  • Reflexive representations of optical and specular elements and objects;
  • The materialities of visual arts, photography, and film, both analogue and digital.


Coordinator: Fernando Guerreiro (CEC/FLUL)

Amândio Reis (CEC/FLUL)

Clara Rowland (IELT/FCSH-UNL)

Jeffrey Childs (CEC/UAB)

João Pedro Cachopo (CESEM/FCSH-UNL)

José Bértolo (CEC/FLUL)

Luciano Brito (CERC/Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3)

Margarida Medeiros (CECL/FCSH-UNL)

Maria Inês Robalo (CEC/FLUL)

Mário Jorge Torres (CEC/FLUL)

Susana Nascimento Duarte (IFILNOVA/ESAD-IPL)



Osvaldo Silvestre (FLUC)

Pedro Serra (U. Salamanca)

Rosa Maria Martelo (FLUP)

Teresa Castro (Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3)


Past activities:



2016 José Bértolo, Imagens em Fuga: Os Fantasmas de François Truffaut [Images on the Run: The Ghosts of François Truffaut] (link)

2015 Amândio Reis, O Livro Encenado: Escrita e Representação em Ana Teresa Pereira [The Staged Book: Writing and Representation in Ana Teresa Pereira] (link)

2015 Fernando Guerreiro, Cinema El Dorado – Cinema e Modernidade [El Dorado Cinema – Cinema and Modernity] (link)


Scientific meetings

2016 October: Open Seminar “Melodrama among the arts” (University of Lisbon School of Arts and Humanities) (link)



2014, March: Film cycle “1910s melodrama (Bauer, Chaplin, DeMille, Gasnier & MacKenzie, Griffith, Perret)” (University of Lisbon School of Arts and Humanities)  (link)



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