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Magnus UllénProfessor

About me

Magnus Ullén received his PhD from Uppsala University in December 2001. He became docent (associate professor) in Comparative Literature at Stockholm University in 2009, and Professor of English at Østfold University College, Norway, and at Karlstad University in 2012, where he worked for ten years. In 2018, he joined the English Department at Stockholm University.

Ullén’s research takes place in the interstices between rhetoric and literary studies. Regardless of whether it deals with canonical literature, such as the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, or controversial phenomena, such as pornography or the concept of political correctness, it insists on situating texts not merely within the cultural context in which they were written, but in relation to the institutional practices and professional beliefs that determine how they are read. 

He is the author of The Half-Vanished Structure: Hawthorne’s Allegorical Dialectics (2004), and Bara för dig: pornografi, konsumtion, berättande (“Just for you: pornography, consumption, narrative”) (2009), a study on pornography and narrativity in consumer society, as well as numerous articles on literature, rhetoric, culture studies and literary theory.

In his spare time, Ullén is an avid record collector with a special fondness for Motown and Christmas music. 


A selection from Stockholm University publication database

  • The Ugly Smell of Nortoniensis

    2021. Magnus Ullén. ESQ. A Journal of the American Renaissance 67 (1), 39-84


    About two thirds into Nathaniel Hawthorne's romance about a man seeking to produce an elixir of life, Septimius, the protagonist, finally encounters that singular flower he hopes will enable him to realize his pursuit. When his friends examine it, they find it is spotted with dewdrops or some moisture oozing out of its heart that "resemble drops of blood."1 The flower has, indeed, grown out of the grave of a young Englishman whom Septimius kills at the onset of the story, which is also the onset of the American Revolutionary War, a circumstance the narrator subtly underlines.

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  • The Art of Judgment

    2020. Magnus Ullén. Nordic Journal of English Studies 19 (4), 195-217


    The present article critiques the so-called postcritical position for refusing to acknowledge the literariness of literature. As a case in point, it considers Toril Moi’s Revolution of the ordinary: literary studies after Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell, which has been greeted as a pivotal specimen of postcritique. Like other practitioners of postcritique, Moi would replace literary theory with an art of judgment, based upon good faith in, rather than suspicion of, the literary text. In theory, all that is needed to practice this art of judgment is a willingness to pay close attention to the specifics of the particular case. In practice, however, the postcritical claim to go beyond ‘the hermeneutics of suspicion’ is compromised by its refusal to confront the literariness of literary text, as the present essay demonstrates by subjecting Moi’s own reading of the particular cases of Paul de Man and Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik to rhetorical analysis.

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  • Fascisten som anti-fascist

    2019. Magnus Ullén. Tidskrift för litteraturvetenskap 49 (2-3), 68-77


    The Fascist as Anti-Fascist. Teratologen, Literary Criticism, and the Literary Commodity

    The present article takes as its point of departure the debate that ensued when antiracist magazine Expo revealed that Swedish writer Niklas Lundkvist (a.k.a. ”Nikanor Teratologen”) over several years as ”Ezzelino” had published massive amounts of racist and anti-semitic writings in an online forum. The article suggests that Ezzelino’s ideological stance is in fact detectable in Teratologen’s critically acclaimed literary works as well, and asks why Swedish literary critics have been prone to read the latter as an anti-fascist parody of fascist ideology rather than as an attempt to promote fascist views by rendering them aesthetically acceptable. It traces this inclination to the critics’ adherence to a Barthesian conception of textuality, which delivers the critic from having to think of the author as the historical origin of the literary text. The article goes on to suggest that this textual principle is trumped by the fact that literary texts today appear to us as literary commodities, that is, in a form that re-inscribes the authorial function into the literary text as the very product that is on sale. While critics quite rightly point out that one cannot equate Teratologen with Lundkvist, it is not our understanding of Lundkvist’s intentions that are affected by the revelation that Ezzelino and Teratologen are the same person, it is our understanding of how the Teratologen-commodity functions that changes – or at least, that should change, if we want literary criticism to be a means to resist fascist ideologies.

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  • Unfinished Work

    2019. Magnus Ullén. College literature (Print) 46 (4), 860-887


    Taking issue with recent "post-critical" attempts to valorize the aesthetic aspects of literature, the present article suggests that Lloyd Bitzer's concept of the rhetorical situation is a more productive means to approach the question of the ideological and aesthetic dimensions of literature. Through readings of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Nathaniel Hawthorne's prefatory remarks to Our Old Home, it suggests how the concept of the rhetorical situation may help us bring out the interdependence of the rhetorical and the aesthetic dimensions of the texts in question. Rather than think of text and context as distinct, we had better think of them as joint aspects of a literary situation comprising both. Both texts deal explicitly with the Civil War, but while Lincoln's address turns the conflict into a model for future-directed hope, Hawthorne's remarks turn the war into a problem of the past that refuses to go away.

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