Travelling Concepts: New Fictionality Studies

by Monika Fludernik (Volume editor) Henrik Nielsen (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 184 Pages

Table Of Content


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About the author

The Editors
Monika Fludernik is Professor of English Literature at the University of Freiburg in Germany. She has worked in the areas of narratology, postcolonial literary theory, law and literature studies and the eighteenth century. Her two most recent publications are Metaphors of Confinement: The Prison in Fact, Fiction, and Fantasy and Narrative Factuality.

Henrik Skov Nielsen is a professor in narrative theory and fictionality studies at Aarhus University. His research has attempted to contribute to conversations on three areas of narrative theory: first person narration, unnatural narratology, and fictionality. He is one of the co-editors of Narratology and Ideology. He currently heads the Narrative Research Lab, Aarhus University, Denmark and Centre for Fictionality Studies, Aarhus University, Denmark.

About the book

Monika Fludernik / Henrik Skov Nielsen (eds.)

Travelling Concepts: New Fictionality Studies

The collection of essays in the book re-examines the much discussed fact-fiction distinction in light of the current burgeoning of research on fictionality. It provides a forum for ongoing work on fictionality from France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden and introduces this work to the Anglophone world. Although the focus of this collection is on fictionality studies, the foregrounded role of the factual and its decisive impact on the framing and constitution of the fictional are a recurring issue in the essays. In the current geo-political moment where the trust in truth, knowledge and science is under pressure, and where social media offer unlimited access to story-sharing, this book attempting to answer the question of fictionality is necessary.

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List of Contributors

Eva von Contzen, Englisches Seminar, University of Freiburg, Rempartstraße 15, 79085 Freiburg; Germany; eva.voncontzen@anglistik.uni-freiburg.de

Monika Fludernik, University of Freiburg, English Department, Rempartstrasse 15, D-79085 Freiburg, Germany, sekretariat.fludernik@anglistik.uni-freiburg.de

Johannes Franzen. Graduiertenkolleg ‘Gegenwart/Literatur’, Genscherallee 3, 53113 Bonn., jfranzen@uni-bonn.de

Simona Zetterberg Gjerlevsen, Aarhus University, Institut for Kommunikation og Kultur - Nordisk Sprog og Litteratur, Jens Chr. Skous Vej 2, building 1485, 424, 8000 Aarhus C, Danmark, norsgjerlevsen@cc.au.dk

Henrik Skov Nielsen, Aarhus University, Institut for Kommunikation og Kultur - Nordisk Sprog og Litteratur, Jens Chr. Skous Vej 2, building 1485, 318, 8000 Aarhus C, Danmark, norhn@cc.au.dk

Prof. Dr. Frank Zipfel, Gutenberg-Institut für Weltliteratur und schriftorientierte Medien, Allgemeine und Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, D - 55099 Mainz, fzipfel@uni-mainz.de

Françoise Lavocat, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3, 17 rue de La Sorbonne, LGC- esc C 2e étage, Tél.: +33 (0)1 40 46 29 20, Fax: +33 (0)1 40 46 29 38, Francoise.lavocat@sorbonne-nouvelle.fr

Stefan Tilg, Seminar für Griechische und Lateinische Philologie, University of Freiburg, Platz der Universität 3, 79085 Freiburg, Germany; stefan.tilg@altphil.uni-freiburg.de

Dr. Tobias Klauk, Göttingen.

Prof. Dr. Tilmann Köppe, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Seminar für Deutsche Philologie, Käte-Hamburger-Weg 3, D-37073 Göttingen.

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Monika Fludernik and Henrik Skov Nielsen

Travelling Concepts: New Fictionality Studies.
An Introduction

This special issue has been co-edited by representatives from the Freiburg graduate school “Factual and Fictional Narration” (GRK 1767, funded by the German Research Council) and the Aarhus Centre for Fictionality Studies. Nine scholars from Denmark, France and Germany re-examine the much discussed fact–fiction distinction in the light of the recent burgeoning of research on fictionality. This volume introduces recent work done in the discipline in German, French and Danish to readers in the anglophone world. For this reason, some researchers who have extensively presented their work in the English language do not figure in this collection of essays, but are of course referenced in the introduction and individual articles. (See, for instance, Walsh; Fludernik “Fiction vs. Non-Fiction”, “Factual Narrative”, and Phelan.) The cooperation between Freiburg and Aarhus from which this volume emerged is meant to provide a frame for the current discussions of fictionality between, on the one hand, a rhetorical approach towards the phenomenon of fictionality (represented emblematically in Nielsen, Phelan and Walsh) and the institutional model favoured in Germany. At the same time, both Scandinavian scholars and the Freiburg graduate school consider the factual along with the fictional, thereby extending the traditional perspectives current in literary studies. While the development in the graduate school “Factual and Fictional Narration” (http://www.grk-erzaehlen.uni-freiburg.de/english-summary/) has been in the direction of increasingly focusing on factual genres like witness reports, ethnological interviews, vision narratives and other religious texts, geographical treatises, psychological therapy sessions, postfactual narrative or captivity narratives, the work done in Sweden and at University of Southern Denmark by Per Krogh Hansen and Marianne Wolff Lundholdt and in Aarhus by Henrik Skov Nielsen, Rikke Andersen Kraglund and Stefan Iversen examines the function of fictionality within factual contexts such as political discourse, commercials and charity funding campaigns as well as in genres like the historical novel (see the essay by Gjerlevsen in this volume). Indeed, though the focus of this collection is on fictionality studies, the foregrounded role of the factual and its decisive impact on the framing and constitution of the fictional is a recurring issue in the essays published in this volume.

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Let us start with a brief review of why another book on the question of fictionality is necessary at this point in time. The last decade has seen an explosion of interest in fictionality and in its relation to adjacent discursive strategies. Recent contributions to fictionality studies and the fact-fiction distinction include: Richard Walsh’s seminal work The Rhetoric of Fictionality (2007); Klein and Martínez’ Wirklichkeitserzählungen (2009); Tobias Klauk and Tilmann Köppe’s Handbuch Fiktionalität (‘Handbook of Fictionality’, 2014); the “Ten Theses about Fictionality” (Nielsen/Phelan/Walsh 2015); Françoise Lavocat’s Fait et fiction (2015); Monika Fludernik’s volume Faktuales und Fiktionales Erzählen: Interdisziplinäre Perspectiven (co-edited with Nicole Falkenhayner and Julia Steiner; 2015); and the entry “Fictionality” in the Living Handbook of Narratology by Simona Zetterberg Gjerlevsen. There are also a series of brand new and forthcoming studies and reference works to be noted: the handbook Narrative Factuality edited by Monika Fludernik and Marie-Laure Ryan (a complement to Klauk/Köppe’s fictionality handbook in de Gruyter’s Revisionen series; published in December 2019); a handbook on fictionality edited by Ralf Schneider, with Lut Missinne and Beatrix van Dam (forthcoming with de Gruyter in 2020); and the volume Fictionality and Factuality (edited by M. W. Lundholt, C. A. Maagaard and D. Schäbler forthcoming in the Narratologia series). This renewed interest in fictionality and, with some researchers, factuality, has already led to critical debates in articles by Paul Dawson, Mari Hatavara and Jarmila Mildorf (“Fictionality”, “Hybrid Fictionality”).

During the same decade, several research centres, discussion groups and associations have been formed across Europe which focus on fictionality (and factuality). These include the Aarhus-based Centre for Fictionality Studies directed by Henrik Skov Nielsen; the Fictionality Research Group in York headed by Richard Walsh; the “Dangers of Fictionality” project – a collaboration between Tampere (Finland) and Aarhus; the graduate school “Factual and Fictional Narration” directed by Monika Fludernik in Freiburg; the “Arbeitsstelle Faktualität & Fiktionalität” at the ICN Hamburg; and the recently established International Society of Research on Fiction and Fictionality Studies/Société internationale des études sur la fiction et la fictionnalité (Paris, initiated by Françoise Lavocat) with over 100 members.

Concurrently with this theoretical boom we witness a geo-political moment where the trust in truth, knowledge and science is under pressure, and where social media offer unlimited access to story-sharing, providing both true and false information. Expressions such as alternative facts and post-enlightenment society point to circumstances in which the difference between truth and falsehood of information sometimes seems to have no consequences. In a situation ←10 | 11→where we are flooded with deliberate deception and with fabricated falsehoods, it remains an urgent task for the scholar in general and the narrative theorist in particular to analyze and describe the affordances and differences between discursive strategies and the often complex relationships between covert deceit in fake news, overt invention for the sake of entertainment and the deployment of fiction for political purposes in satire. This situation of an overbordering use of storytelling (Salmon) also has consequences for more traditional genres of fiction. For instance, we see a booming of fiction genres such as the TV-series which is now the main generic fiction outlet for distributing invented stories, though mostly watched on Netflix rather than on TV screens. The novel, too, is undergoing a number of developments and changes, for instance by integrating (auto)biographies into its fiction formats and thus undermining its constitutive fictionality (though the modernist tradition of the novel is still going strong as well). With fiction entering the domain of publicity campaigns, advertisement and politics, it seems more urgent than ever to have precise conceptions and adequate understanding of neighbouring but different discourse forms such as deceit, lies, irony, fictionality and historical writing. It is equally important to examine new genre developments and art practices.

1. A Brief Overview of Major Approaches to Fictionality

Fictionality theory has a long and varied history in philosophy, literary studies and related fields. In order to frame the current proposals and debates, it is therefore important to set them in relation to major approaches to the study of fictionality and in relation to the very different perspectives which underlie these diverse viewpoints.

One major traditional framework sees fictionality as based on (false) invention and makes the author responsible for what is often seen as lying or deliberate deception. The answer to this accusation of falsely inventing, of telling untruths, has been to claim a higher truth for fictions or to deny that fiction asserts truths, therefore eluding falsehood. This controversy is entirely circumvented by two other main directions of fictionality studies. Approaches inspired by Kendall Walton’s theory of make-believe (see below) emphasize that humans have an innate imaginative capacity and engage in play-acting and pretending by means of using whatever is at hand to perform imaginary situations in which they can try out alternative ways of action. This line of enquiry therefore focuses on the functions of fiction for human behavior; it is primarily pragmatic. It also aligns with cognitive and psychological studies of the pragmatics of human engagement with the world around us. An alternative answer to the denunciation of ←11 | 12→fiction as lying focuses on the social functioning of fiction within institutions of literature (on the institutional approach see below). Here the implication is that fiction does not so much depend ontologically on that which is invented but more importantly on that which is produced and consumed as fictional by authors and audiences interacting within a market and a legal framework that recognizes a genre of fiction. Such analyses of fictionality tend to be limited to literary fiction and focus on political and social frameworks; as a consequence, this raises the question whether these circumstances did or did not exist before the modern period or whether they can be assumed for Antiquity, the Middle Ages, or for other cultures both historical and contemporary (see Lavocat’s contribution in this volume).

Approaches to narrative inspired by cognitive studies, on the other hand, emphasize the use of narratives for the exemplification of argument and underline its didactic efficacy. From that perspective, stories are not necessarily true (exempla and anecdotes indeed often are fictive), but – like allegory – such stories serve beneficent ends in inculcating moral truths or aiding the remembrance of information. Much of recent unease with the upsurge in non-verifiable or deliberately untrue storytelling relates to the perceived abuse of what used to be accepted as (poetic) license in didactic narratives. (Marie-Laure Ryan classifies fables, parables and anecdotes under the category of “instrumental narrativity” – “The Modes”, 380–81.) Within philosophy, philosophers in the English tradition of Frege, Carnap and Kripke, definitely drawing a strong division between what is true and what is not, have focused on truth semantics, propositions and the paradoxes of fiction. Fictional statements are perceived to be paradoxical because such statements can be fictionally true but (outside fiction) are clearly untrue. Possible worlds theory (see below), too, contrasts an actual world (our reality) with possible invented worlds in which things are different from our everyday experience. Possible worlds theory therefore combines semantic analysis and the logics of analytical philosophy with the insight that fiction invents entire fictional worlds; this helps to broaden the outlook and raise it to a level that is more relevant to literary fictions. While philosophers often debate whether or not a particular person encountered in a novel exists or does not exist, such a character is now conceived of as part of a fictional world, which has more adequacy for readers or viewers of fiction.

In what follows we will very briefly characterize a few prominent approaches to fictionality. No exhaustiveness can be achieved in the limited space available. Our main purpose is, rather, to link the contributions in this special issue to the noted key approaches.

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Before doing so, however, we need to comment on some terminological problems. For readers interested in the terminological quagmire that persists between English, French, German, and other languages in their academic uses of the terms fiction, fictionality, and fictivity (German Fiktivität) we recommend Irina Rajewsky’s article in the handbook Narrative Factuality. Very briefly, German criticism on fictionality distinguishes between three terms: Fiktion, Fiktionalität and Fiktivität. Fiktion is the hypernym and can best be translated by the term fictionality in English; underneath the hypernym there is the contrast between Fiktionalität (fictionality, applying to texts or utterances) and Fiktivität (‘fictivity’, deployed for invented persons, places mentioned inside fictional texts or utterances by protagonists). A fictive number or fictive account (fiktiv) is therefore one which is made up (fictum), whereas a fictional text (Aristotle’s fictio) is one that is (institutionally) processed as belonging to the genre of fiction (fiktional).1 Fictional texts may include fictive entities (but need not). At the same time, in the English language, fiction tends to be equated with the novel and short story, i.e. with narrative fiction, and fictionality, that is the quality of being fictive/fictional, corresponds to that which in German would be called Fiktion. In this special issue these conundra giving rise to common misunderstandings have been partially avoided thanks to the specific approaches that figure in this collection of essays, but it is still important to bear the delineated linguistic differences in usage in mind when studying work from Germany and relating it to English criticism.

Our survey of key approaches starts in the twentieth century, since to summarize everything from Antiquity to the present is clearly not feasible. One prominent early representative of a philosophical approach to fictionality was the Kantian scholar Hans Vaihinger (1852–1933). Vaihinger developed a theory of the ‘as if’ (als ob), which he summarized in his magnum opus Die Philosophie des Als ob (1911). Vaihinger assumes that human beings make sense of the world by creating models that work ‘as if something were the case’. Since we cannot know the world and what it is really like, we approach it by creating models and then take these for reality, echoing Jeremy Bentham’s Theory of Fictions (which Vaihinger was unaware of when producing his theses).2 Vaihinger is important for his concept of ‘useful fictions’ (nützliche Fiktionen), which were later adopted by psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. By pretending that a possibly false model of the universe is true, we are able to achieve scientific progress. Vaihinger’s ‘as if’ ←13 | 14→does not necessarily help to understand what fiction is about, as Käte Hamburger already noted in The Logic of Literature: “Hamburger suggests that when we perceive literary characters ‘as fictive, this is not based on an as-if-structure, but rather, so we might say, on an as-structure’. Novels present us with a semblance or illusion (Schein) of reality that we don’t take in a conditional sense, but that we accept as reality so long as we remain absorbed in it” (Cohn, Distinction, 6; quoting Hamburger, 58; Cohn’s emphasis).

Analytical philosophy has been concerned with the truthfulness of propositions, and these propositions when encountered in sentences in fictional prose from a logical perspective cause many problems for the regular analysis of language. This is not the place to delineate the difficulties that logicians have with Sherlock Holmes living in Baker Street (for a recent survey see Freitag and Köppe, “Reference”). Recent work by Tobias Klauk and Tilmann Köppe continues this approach of logical semantics (Köppe, “Fiktive Tatsachen”; Klauk, “Fiktion und Modallogik”). An important attempt to counter these problems occurred in speech act theory when John Searle proposed that one should treat fictional sentences as non-serious or pretended speech acts, where the writer pretends to engage in a performance as if the sentence actually were true. The fictional world is therefore taken to be that which the speech acts inside the fictional text correctly or truthfully refer to, but the production of fiction is seen as a fictional speech act, one type of illocution. (See Onea for more details.)

Possible Worlds Theory relates fictionality to the capacity to project fictional worlds. Possible worlds theory in philosophy dates back to Leibniz (1710). Its roots are in modal logic, introduced in the 1950s by Saul Kripke and others, and its focus on discussions of possibility, necessity and contingency. Another major topic in modal logic is the treatment of counterfactuals (David Lewis, Robert Stalnaker). In narrative theory some of the main proponents are Thomas Pavel, Lubomír Doležel (Heterocosmica, Possible Worlds) and Marie-Laure Ryan (Possible Worlds). In this approach, fictional worlds – like counterfactual worlds – are just one type of possible world. Ronen distances fictional world theories from literary theory, because literary theory tends to view fictionality as the distinctive feature of literary texts. Famously, Marie-Laure Ryan’s principle of ‘minimal departure’ assumes that readers make inferences about an alleged fictional world by using knowledge about the real world, and by applying the principle of minimal departure in the sense that the real world works as a model for the reconstruction of the fictional world unless explicitly contradicted.

Kendall Walton has used the idea of Vaihinger’s ‘as if’ to describe how a person might be engaged in what he calls ‘a game of make-believe’. In his conception, all fiction engages us in a game of make-believe. Walton’s theory is not primarily ←14 | 15→concerned with literature but uses examples from children’s play, rehearsals or rituals as well as referring to paintings, sculptures and other artefacts. He is also particularly interested in the use of props to elicit fiction, for instance in children using a piece of wood to stand in for the witch (or whoever the play is about). Theorists that explain fictionality as an ‘as if’ construct, a pretense or make-believe, apply the concept not only to generic fiction; at the same time, they do not see the concept as something encompassing communication in general.

During the 1990s, there was an increase in studies devoted to the analysis of fictionality from various theoretical angles. In the year 1990 numerous such studies appeared, such as: Walton’s Mimesis and Make-Believe; two central essays by Genette (“Fictional Narrative”, “The Pragmatic Status”); Currie’s article on aesthetic properties (“Supervenience”); and Lamarque’s “Narrative and Invention”.

Among the works that are notable in the 1990s is another philosophical approach to literature which is represented by Peter Lamarque and Stein Haugom Olsen’s Truth, Fiction and Literature (1997). Lamarque and Olsen analyze the relationship of fictions and the world, focusing on the variegated and sophisticated manner in which the transfer between fiction and reality takes place. The main thrust of the study is to highlight how fiction explores issues of general human interest, and how fiction’s appeal to the readers’ imagination works to achieve these effects. Although Lamarque and Olsen do not defend literature on the basis of its truth-telling, they nevertheless insist on the important value of literature for society and for people’s lives. By examining the functions of mimesis and fictionality from the perspective of the methods of analytical philosophy, they attempt to provide literature with a distinctive status among other cultural practices. Peter Lamarque and Stein Haugom Olsen frame their logical semantics within a pragmatic model of fictional storytelling which could be compared to the so-called institutional model of fictionality (see below). They regard storytelling as a practice and see the storyteller as producing a fictive utterance, while the reader or listener adopts a fictive stance. Tilmann Köppe (Literatur und Erkenntnis) provides a similar account. This approach echoes John Searle’s speech act theory but extends its premises to social practices and their institutional grounding.

Gérard Genette and Dorrit Cohn are representatives of the narratological analysis of the fact–fiction distinction. Cohn introduced the idea of signposts of fictionality (“Signposts”, Distinction). Dorrit Cohn defines fiction as “literary non-referential narrative” (Distinction, 12, 13). A work of fiction, “[f];irst and foremost, … creates the world to which it refers by referring to it” (13). Non-referentiality entails two aspects of fictional texts: they “are not bound to accuracy” and they do not “refer exclusively to the real world outside the text” (15). ←15 | 16→Cohn additionally proposes that “referential narratives are verifiable and incomplete, whereas non-referential narratives are unverifiable and complete” (16). In her study of factual narratives (historical writing and Freud’s case studies), Cohn highlights the fact that these discourses rely on sources that they have to interpret, thus requiring a third level beyond the discourse and story levels of classical narratology: “reference/story/discourse” (112). She proposes three criteria for the characterization of fictional narratives (1990 and 1999): a specific structure of the story/discourse relation (namely double rather than triple, as in history); certain narrative modes of presenting consciousness; and the doubling of the narrating instance into author and narrator. One of the distinctions between history and fiction, according to Cohn, is, for instance, history’s limitation to plot construction (intrigue or emplotment) in the sense of Ricoeur: “literary narrative” alone “can make the reader share in a character’s rich and vital experience of time” (Distinction, 9). Among the techniques for representing consciousness, free indirect discourse and interior monologue figure prominently, whereas historical writing’s emphasis on external focalization, collective mentalities and the preponderance of summary over scene is noted by way of contrast (120–21). For the elementary distinction between author and narrator Cohn relies on the philosopher Félix Martínez-Bonati, who insists that the author as a “real being … cannot be part of an imaginary situation” and that “[c]onsequently, the author of works of narrative is not the narrator of these works” (Distinction, 126, citing Martínez-Bonati, 85). Like other narratologists (Wayne C. Booth, Löschnigg, Fludernik, “Fiction vs. Non-Fiction”), Cohn also sees unreliable narration as a typical signpost of fictionality (129). Cohn contends that the signposts all point to the “differential nature of fiction” (1999, 131).

Cohn’s list of distinctive markers or signposts of fictionality has been extended in narratological discussion to include paratextual markers, generic formulae (Once upon a time), excessive framing by editorial material (what in German is called the Herausgeberfiktion, the ‘fiction of editing’), metafictional commentary as well unreliable narration. (See Nünning, Löschnigg, Fludernik.3) Of these, only unreliable narration, for which the consensus now is that it constitutes an interpretation of the narrative and in many cases cannot be unequivocally established (see Nünning and Nünning), and metafictional commentary tend to be unequivocal signals of fictionality. In contradistinction to Cohn, Gérard Genette notes that markers of fiction(ality) are sometimes found outside the ←16 | 17→genre of fiction, and hence these signals cannot be incontrovertible evidence of a text’s fictionality. He goes on to observe that “the devices of ‘fictionalization’ which Käte Hamburger enumerates have in recent years become widespread in certain forms of factual narrative” (1990, 772). Both Cohn and Genette take the identities of authors, narrators and personae inside the text to be crucial to determining a text’s pragmatic status. Thus, Genette proposes a triangle in which the identity of author and narrator (but non-identity with the actants of the text) represents factual narrative, while the identity of narrator and character/actant is typical of homodiegetic narrative; the identity of all three yields (factual) autobiography, with heterodiegetic fiction providing no identities between the three positions. (Genette’s patient application of the categories of his narratological typology does not concern us here.)

The so-called Institutional Theory of Fictionality (see Köppe, “Die Institution”) recognizes that signposts of fictionality are unreliable indices for determining whether or not a particular text or work is or is not fictional. Not only is it the case that markers of fictionality can be deployed in factual texts in genres like popular journalism; there also exist markers of factuality, and these are often redeployed in fictional texts (Lavocat, “Pseudofactual”). The thesis that fictionality is a practice and phenomenon determined by its institutional setting therefore tries to obviate the paradoxes of such a linguistic analysis of the narrative text for the purpose of classification as fictional or factual. Fictional texts or media are not taken to be intrinsically fictional either because of their material form or because of their referential relation to the world. Instead, the theory looks at conflicts that arise from mis-classification or in the wake of scandals and acts of censorship arising from the perceived transgression of accepted norms and conventions of fictionality. The institutional theory of fictionality thus strongly emphasizes the reception side of fiction, though the intentions of the author, his ‘fictive stance’ (according to Lamarque and Olsen) is also important. As Köppe notes, for literary text’s fictionality within the literary system induces a particular type of reception (“literarische Rezeptionshaltung” – 39), so that the author’s fictional utterance acts (“fiktionale Äußerungsakte” – 40) result in a particular imaginative engagement of the reader or viewer with the fictional artefact (“vielschichtige imaginative Auseinandersetzung” – ibid.). The reader’s interpretative practice also includes a search for secondary real-world relevance of fiction (46).

Since the publication of Richard Walsh’s The Rhetoric of Fictionality in 2007, scholars working in the broad area of rhetorical narrative theory have likewise evolved an approach to fictionality. Rhetorical fictionality studies is founded on a key distinction between, on the one hand, generic fictions such as the novel, ←17 | 18→short story and fiction film and, on the other, the quality of fictionality, understood as a mode of discourse prevalent across genres and media. This distinction between fiction and fictionality makes generic fictions a subset of the large class of discourses (typically having some narrative dimension) in which fictionality is employed to communicate about invented, imagined and non-actual states of affairs. The principle implies that fictionality as a communicative strategy to signal invention is prevalent also outside fiction as a generic category. This approach, practised by the Aarhus Centre of Fictionality Studies and exemplified in Nielsen, Phelan and Walsh’s “Ten Theses”, combines several strands of previous research while striking out in a new direction. Thus, the distinction between generic fiction and fiction in general goes back to Vaihinger and Käte Hamburger; rhetorical fictionality studies also foreground the functions of storytelling, though focusing on invented stories; and the approach is particularly topical because it extends the core area of narratological study from written narratives to narratives in various media, especially social media. Fictionality, from this perspective, is not a quality of fiction only. Rhetorical fictionality studies consider fictionality to be intentionally signaled invention in communication (Nielsen and Zetterberg Gjerlevsen).

Françoise Lavocat’s magisterial Fait et fiction, summarized in her article in this volume, combines analyses of a number of different earlier approaches (possible worlds theory, cognitive approaches to fictionality, cross-medial considerations) to convey a thesis that is both transcultural and transhistorical. Instead of proposing a ‘rise of fictionality’ at a particular cultural point in time, Lavocat contends that fictionality as an institutionally based practice is historically variable; its incidence can be more or less in evidence depending on religious and social circumstances. She therefore emphasizes the role of religion in censorship. Secondly, fictionality is treated as a phenomenon that occurs not only at different periods of time but also in different parts of the world (it is therefore neither merely modern nor merely ‘Western’), and she additionally argues that there are societies that do not have fictionality.

The graduate schoolFactual and Fictional Narration” in Freiburg, Germany (see http://www.grk-erzaehlen.uni-freiburg.de/english-summary/) does not actually attempt to propose a theory of fictionality or factuality. Instead, the interdisciplinary setup of the school has set the debate about the problems of defining fictionality and factuality aside and has moved from an initial consideration of fictionality based on Genette and Cohn to a more institutional theoretical outlook. Its major concern has been the introduction of the question of factuality and how to approach it from a narratological perspective (Fludernik, “Factual Narrative” and “Narratological”; Fludernik et al.). This has involved ←18 | 19→the attempt to situate factuality not merely as the opposite of fictionality but to consider different kinds of the nonfictional and different types of the nonfactual (see Packard and Wolf). The graduate school has also emphasized medial and interdisciplinary types of storytelling as well as cross-cultural and transhistorical aspects of fictionality and factuality. Like Klauk and Köppe’s handbook on fictionality, Fludernik and Ryan’s handbook of narrative factuality contains a section on the fact–fiction distinction in Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the early modern period; the handbook Narrative Factuality moreover includes contributions on African (Kisuahili), Arabic, Persian, Indian, Chinese and Japanese factual narratives.

In the following section we briefly outline how each essay relates to the plethora of approaches sketched out above in the order of their appearance in the issue.

2. Essays in This Special Issue

This special issue includes eight essays. Freiburg has contributed two articles by a former PhD student and later postdoc of the graduate school, Johannes Franzen, and the other by two PIs, Eva von Contzen and Stefan Tilg. Two essays come from the Aarhus Centre for Fictionality Studies (Nielsen; Zetterberg Gjerlevsen). There are three other contributors from Germany, Frank Zipfel (Mainz), who wrote a definitive study on fictionality in the 1990s in German, and Tobias Klauk and Tilmann Köppe, the editors of the handbook on fictionality. Finally, for France, we have Françoise Lavocat (Paris). By giving the English reading public access to these European discussions in English, we hope to initiate a debate between diverse approaches to fictionality and to stimulate international debate and cooperation.

Frank Zipfel opens this special issue with an essay on the fundamental characteristic of fiction, namely its inventedness. He therefore reiterates an ontological definition of fictionality and proposes that even institutional definitions of fictionality must take account of the inventedness of fictional worlds. The article moreover engages with intentionalist theories of fictionality and with reader-response theories. Zipfel’s critique of current positions is especially interesting in the final section which discusses approaches that try to replace the inventedness of fictive entities by recharacterizing invention as imagination.

Johannes Franzen adopts an institutional approach, highlighting negotiations about permissible and impermissible forms of factual reference in fictional prose. From the perspective of the fictional licenses enjoyed by authors of fiction, the violation of socially established ethical norms by a fiction’s transgressive use ←19 | 20→of facts demonstrates the limits of such licenses within the institution of literature. As is appropriate for a former member of the graduate school Factual and Fictional Narration, Franzen thus comes to emphasize the problematic status of factuality within fiction.

Françoise Lavocat in her contribution presents the ramifications of her comprehensive theory of fictionality in Fait et fiction. Her two major innovations are the cross-cultural and transhistorical perspective on fictionality. Her work relies on possible world theory and cognitive approaches to the question of fictionality.

Eva von Contzen and Stefan Tilg, both associated with the Freiburg graduate school, extend a diachronic approach to fictionality by presenting a comprehensive diachronic overview of theories of fictionality and by discussing to what extent the concept of fictionality is or is not appropriate for Antiquity and the Middle Ages. This contribution centrally touches on the question of what are the key characteristics of fictionality since in order to determine whether fictionality existed or not in a particular period, one needs to clarify first whether one is looking for invented fictional worlds or for an institution of fictionality.

Simona Zetterberg Gjerlevsen, also drawing on the Aarhus School’s distinction between fiction and fictionality, focuses on the historical novel as a genre that serves to highlight the equivocal relationship between fictionality and factuality. She compares Sir Walter Scott and his novel Waverley with the Danish historian and fiction writer B. S. Ingemann and his novel Valdemar Seir in the service of history.

Tobias Klauk and Tilmann Köppe, arguing from a distinctly logico-narratological perspective, contend that, logically speaking, there is no need to posit a narrator (as distinct from the author) for all fictional narratives. Their analysis concentrates on a variety of positions defending narrators in fiction. They illustrate their thesis by reference to a little-known novel by Jean Paul, Hesperus.

Henrik Skov Nielsen represents the Aarhus school approach to fictionality outside fiction and examines two meanings of “fake news” from a rhetorical perspective. He thus instantiates the Aarhus school’s focus on narratives in the media and also links the use of fiction in commercials and other political and advertising texts to the issue of fake news and their ramifications in current critical exchanges. His contribution shares a number of analogies with speech act theory.

Works Cited

Bareis, J. Alexander. Fiktionales Erzählen. Zur Theorie der literarischen Fiktion als Make-Believe (‘Fictional Narrating. On the Theory of Fiction as Make-Believe’). Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis, 2008.

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Booth, Wayne C. The Rhetoric of Fiction [1961]. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1983.

Cohn, Dorrit. The Distinction of Fiction. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Cohn, Dorrit. “Fictional versus Historical Lives: Borderlines and Borderline Cases”. The Journal of Narrative Technique 19.1 (1989): 3–30.

Cohn, Dorrit. “Historisches und Literarisches Erzählen”. Sprachkunst 26 (1995): 105–112.

Cohn, Dorrit. “Signposts of Fictionality: A Narratological Approach”. Poetics Today 11.4 (1990): 775–804.

Currie, Gregory. Narratives and Narrators. A Philosophy of Stories. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Currie, Gregory. “Supervenience, Essentialism and Aesthetic Properties”. Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition 58.3 (1990): 243–257.

Currie, Gregory. The Nature of Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990.

Dawson, Paul. “Ten Theses Against Fictionality”. Narrative 23.1 (2015): 74–100.

Doležel, Lubomír. Heterocosmica: Fiction and Possible Worlds. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1998.

Doležel, Lubomìr. Possible Worlds of Fiction and History: The Postmodern Stage. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2010.

Fludernik, Monika. “Factual Narrative: A Missing Narratological Paradigm.” New Narratologies: Recent Developments and New Directions. Ed. Ansgar Nünning. Special Issue of GRM 63.1 (2013): 117–134.

Fludernik, Monika. ʺFiction vs. Non-Fiction. Narratological Differentiations.ʺ Erzählen und Erzähltheorie im 20. Jahrhundert. Ed. Jörg Helbig. Heidelberg: Winter, 2001. 85–103.

Fludernik, Monika. “Narratologische Probleme des faktualen Erzählens” (‘Narratological Problems of Factual Storytelling”). Faktuales und Fiktionales Erzählen: Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven (‘Factual and Fictional Narration: Interdisciplinary Perspectives’). Ed. Monika Fludernik, Nicole Falkenhayner and Julia Steiner. Würzburg: Ergon, 2015. 115–38.

Fludernik, Monika, Nicole Falkenhayner, and Julia Steiner. Eds. Faktuales und Fiktionales Erzählen: Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven (‘Factual and Fictional Narration: Interdisciplinary Perspectives’). Würzburg: Ergon, 2015.

Fludernik, Monika, and Marie-Laure Ryan. Ed. Narrative Factuality. A Handbook. Revisionen, 6. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2019.

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Franzen, Johannes, Frauke Janzen, Patrick Galke and Marc Wurich. Eds. Geschichte der Fiktionalität. Diachrone Perspektiven auf ein kulturelles Konzept (‘A History of Fictionality: Diachronic Perspectives on a Cultural Concept’). Würzburg: Ergon, 2018.

Freitag, Wolfgang. “Reference in Philosophy”. Narrative Factuality. A Handbook. Revisionen. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2019. 245–57.

Genette, Gérard. Fiction and Diction [1991]. Trans. Catherine Porter. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.

Genette, Gérard. “Fictional Narrative, Factual Narrative”. Poetics Today 11 (1990): 755–74.

Genette, Gérard. “The Pragmatic Status of Narrative Fiction..” Style 24.1 (1990): 59–72.

Gjerlevsen, Simona Zetterberg. “Fictionality”. The living handbook of narratology. http://www.lhn.uni-hamburg.de/article/fictionality. Hamburg: Hamburg University Press (5 April 2016).

Gjerlevsen, Simona Zetterberg and Henrik Skov Nielsen. “Distinguishing Fictionality”. Factuality and Fictionality: Blurred Boundaries in Narrations of Identity. Ed. Cindie Maagaard, Marianne Wolff Lundholt, and Daniel Schäbler. De Gruyter: Narratologia, forthcoming.

Hamburger, Käte. The Logic of Literature [1955]. Trans. Marilynn Rose. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1973.

Hatavara, Mari, and Jarmila Mildorf. “Fictionality, Narrative Modes and Vicarious Storytelling”. Style 51.3 (2017): 391–408.

Hatavara, Mari, and Jarmila Mildorf. “Hybrid Fictionality and Vicarious Narrative Experience”. Narrative 25.1 (2017): 65–82.

Hempfer, Klaus W. “Some Problems Concerning a Theory of Fiction(ality)” [1990]. Style 38.3 (2004): 302–324.

Klauk, Tobias. “Fiktion und Modallogik” (‘Fiction and Modal Logic’). Fiktionalität. Ein Interdisziplinäres Handbuch (‘Fictionality: An Interdisciplinary Handbook’). Revisionen, 4. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014. 255–73.

Klauk, Tobias, and Tilmann Köppe. Ed. Fiktionalität. Ein Interdisziplinäres Handbuch (‘Fictionality: An Interdisciplinary Handbook’). Revisionen, 4. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014.

Klein, Christian, and Matías Martínez. Eds. Wirklichkeitserzählungen. Felder, Formen und Funktionen nicht-literarischen Erzählens (‘Narratives of Reality: Areas, Forms and Functions of Non-Literary Storytelling’). Stuttgart: Metzler, 2009.

Köppe, Tilmann. “Die Institution Fiktionalität” (‘The Institution of Fictionality’). Fiktionalität. Ein interdisziplinäres Handbuch. Ed. Tobias Klauk and Tilmann Köppe. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2014. 35–49.

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Köppe, Tilmann. “Fiktive Tatsachen” (‘Fictive Facts’). Fiktionalität. Ein interdisziplinäres Handbuch. Ed. Tobias Klauk and Tilmann Köppe. Revisionen, 4. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014. 190–208.

Köppe, Tilmann. Literatur und Erkenntnis: Studien zur kognitiven Signifikanz fiktionaler literarischer Werke (‘Literature and Knowledge: Studies on the Cognitive Significance of Literary Works of Fiction’). Paderborn: Mentis, 2008.

Köppe, Tilmann. “Reference in Literature / Literary Studies”. Narrative Factuality. A Handbook. Revisionen, 6. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2019. 259–66.

Lamarque, Peter. “Narrative and Invention: The Limits of Fictionality”. Narrative in Culture. Ed. C. Nash. London: Routledge, 1990. 131–53.

Lamarque, Peter, and Stein Haugom Olsen. Truth, Fiction and Literature. A Philosophical Perspective. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997.

Lavocat, Françoise. Fait et fiction, pour une frontière. Paris: Le Seuil, 2016.

Lavocat, Françoise. “Pseudofactual Narratives and Signposts of Factuality”. Narrative Factuality. A Handbook. Revisionen, 6. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2019. 577–92.

Leibniz, Gotthold Wilhelm. Theodicy. Wipf & Stock, 2001.

Lewis, David. On the Plurality of Worlds. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986.

Löschnigg, Martin. “Narratological Categories and the (Non)-Distinction Between Factual and Fictional Narratives”. Recent Trends in Narratological Research. Ed. John Pier. GRAAT, 21. 1999. 31–48.

Lundholt, M. W., C. A. Maagaard, and Daniel Schäbler. Fictionality and Factuality. Narratologia. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2019. forthcoming.

Martínez-Bonati, Félix. Fictive Discourse and the Structure of Literature: A Phenomenological Approach. Trans. Philip W. Silver. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Nielsen, Henrik Skov, James Phelan and Richard Walsh. “Ten Theses About Fictionality”. Narrative 13.1 (2015): 61–73.

Nünning Ansgar. “How to Distinguish between Fictional and Factual Narratives: Narratological and Systems-Theoretical Suggestions”. Fact and Fiction in Narrative: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Ed. Lars-Ake Skalin. Örebro Studies in Literary History and Criticism 4. Örebro: Örebro University Press, 2005. 21–56.

Nünning, Ansgar, and Vera Nünning. Ed. Unreliable Narration: Studien zur Theorie und Praxis unglaubwürdigen Erzählens in der englischsprachigen Erzählliteratur. Trier: WVT, 1998.

Onea, Edgar. “Fiktionalität und Sprechakte” (‘Fictionality and Speech Acts’). Fiktionalität. Ein interdisziplinäres Handbuch. Ed. Tobias Klauk and Tilmann Köppe. Revisionen, 4. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014. 68–96.

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Packard, Stephan. “Factualities and their Dependence on Concepts of the Fictional and the Mendacious”. Narrative Factuality. A Handbook. Revisionen, 6. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2019. 95–109.

Pavel, Thomas. Fictional Worlds [1975]. Cambridge. MA: Harvard University Press, 1986.

Rajewsky, Irina. “Theories of Fictionality and Their Real Other”. Narrative Factuality. A Handbook. Revisionen, 6. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2019. 29–50.

Riffaterre, Michael. “Fear of Theory”. New Literary History 21.4 (1990): 921–938.

Ronen, Ruth. Possible Worlds in Literary Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Ryan, Marie-Laure. “Fiction as a Logical, Ontological, and Illocutionary Issue”. Style 18 (1984): 121–39.

Ryan, Marie-Laure. “The Modes of Narrativity and Their Visual Metaphors”. Style 26 (1992): 368–87.

Ryan, Marie-Laure. Possible Worlds, Artificial Intelligence, and Narrative Theory. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991.

Salmon, Christian. Storytelling. Bewitching the Modern Mind. London: Verso, 2010.

Schneider, Ralf, Lut Missinne, and Beatrix van Dam. Ed. Fiktionalität. Grundthemen der Literaturwissenschaft. New York: de Gruyter, 2019. Forthcoming.

Searle, John. “The Logical Status of Fictional Discourse”. New Literary History 6 (1975): 319–32.

Vaihinger, Hans. Die Philosophie des Als ob. Berlin: Reuter & Reichard, 1911.

Walton, Kendall L. Mimesis as Make-Believe. On the Foundations of the Representational Arts. London, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Walsh, Richard. The Rhetoric of Fictionality: narrative theory and the idea of fiction. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2007.

Wolf, Mark J. P. “Typology of the Nonfactual”. Narrative Factuality. A Handbook. Revisionen, 6. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2019. 111–26.

Zipfel, Frank. Fiktion, Fiktivität, Fiktionalität. Analyse zur Fiktion in der Literatur und zum Fiktionsbegriff in der Literaturwissenschaft (‘Fiction, Fictivity and Fictionality: An Examination of Fiction in Literature and of the Concept of Fiction in Literary Studies’). Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, 2001.

1 For a very brief survey of the history of the word fiction see Cohn (Distinction, 9–11).

2 On Bentham’s legal fictions and Vaihinger see also Cohn (Distinction, 5).

3 See also Hempfer for a very useful distinction between qualities of fiction and signposts of fiction.

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Frank Zipfel (Mainz)

Invention and Fictionality

Abstract A great many attempts to conceptualize fiction or fictionality assiduously obliterate any reference to invented objects. Concepts of fiction, however, that see the attribution of the label ‘fictional’ to a text in no way dependent on whether the depicted events have really taken place or not are highly unsatisfactory. The meaning of the terms fiction or fictionality gets increasingly blurred when one denies that their specific function consists in distinguishing between representations of real objects or events and representations of objects that are not considered to be real or of events that did not occur in reality. The question to ask is: What is the point of the terms fiction and fictionality when this distinction is not central to their meaning? In this paper it is argued that the common-sense assumption that fiction has something to do with the presentation of invented, non-real characters or events can easily be incorporated into a differentiated theory of literary fiction based on the concept of institutional practice. The basic elements of such an institutional theory of fiction will be presented shortly in the first section. In the following sections, this theoretical backdrop will be used to discuss and critique several theories which claim that the unreality of presented states of affairs is irrelevant for a conceptualization of literary fiction. The analysis of these theories will show that even in explicit attempts to eliminate any discourse about invented objects, the question about the unreality of the presented states of affairs sooner or later resurfaces and that in spite of allegations to the contrary the unreality of representational content is contained implicitly in these theories. Moreover, I argue that the theories in question in some way or another try to compensate for the blind spot produced by the obliteration of invented content by proposing explanations that focus on other aspects of fictionality. It is, therefore, argued that the presentation of fictional objects, events or situations is to be considered as one of the core conventions of fictionality in an institutional theory of fiction.

Keywords: fictional objects, institutional theory, fictive utterance, fictive stance, imagination

In everyday language the word fiction when applied to literary texts or narrative artworks in other media or art forms (e.g. film, graphic novels, computer games …)1 is commonly associated with invented events, made-up states of affairs, imaginary characters, i.e., simply put, with the presentation of something ←25 | 26→that is not real. The strong semantic connection between fiction and non-reality in everyday language is reflected in the entries of dictionaries in different languages. For instance, the OED provides the following present-day meanings, among others:

That which, or something that, is imaginatively invented; feigned existence, or state of things; invention as opposed to fact.

The species of literature which is concerned with the narration of imaginary events and the portraiture of imaginary characters.2

Some of the scholars engaged in a scientific explanation of literary fiction take up this everyday meaning and try to incorporate it to their theories. Jean-Marie Schaeffer, for example, states: “Invented entities and actions are the common stuff of fiction, and for this reason the idea of the non-referential status of the universe portrayed is part of our standard understanding of fiction” (105–106). In a similar vein, Christopher New sees the presentation of invented states of affairs as one of the major characteristics of fiction: “the notion of invention […] is part of the notion of fiction” (48). Henrik Skov Nielsen, James Phelan and Richard Walsh, too, although they are more interested in potential functions of fictionality than in a comprehensive definition, consider fictionality as “the intentional use of invented stories or scenarios” (62) and describe fictive discourse as a mode that “overtly invents or imagines states of affairs” (63).3 In this volume, Françoise Lavocat upholds the same viewpoint.

On the other hand, a great many attempts to conceptualize fiction or fictionality assiduously obliterate any reference to invented objects. Already in 1978, Barbara H. Smith apodictically stated in her The Margins of Discourse that “the essential fictiveness of literary artworks is not to be discovered in the unreality of the characters, objects, and events alluded to, but in the unreality of the alludings ←26 | 27→themselves” (11). This sentence is, of course, not devoid of insight (depending on the interpretation that it is given), but it has often been used in the last forty years to support the view that in a theory of fiction the unreality of narrated events is to be considered as either irrelevant, useless, inadequate or even misleading.4 In my opinion, however, concepts of fiction that see the attribution of the label ‘fictional’ to a text is in no way dependent on whether the depicted events have really taken place or not are highly unsatisfactory. I would argue that the meaning of the terms fiction or fictionality gets increasingly blurred when one denies that their specific function consists in distinguishing between representations of real objects or events and representations of objects that are not considered to be real or of events that did not occur in reality. The question to ask is: What is the point of the terms fiction and fictionality when this distinction is not central to their meaning?

From my point of view, the common-sense assumption that fiction has something to do with the presentation of invented, non-real characters or events can easily be incorporated into a differentiated theory of literary fiction based on the concept of institutional practice. The basic elements of such an institutional theory of fiction will be presented shortly in the next section. In sections 2, 3 and 4, this theoretical backdrop will be used to discuss and critique several theories which claim that the unreality of presented states of affairs is irrelevant for a conceptualization of literary fiction. The analysis of these theories will show that even in explicit attempts to eliminate any discourse about invented objects, the question about the unreality of the presented states of affairs sooner or later resurfaces and that in spite of allegations to the contrary the unreality of representational content is contained implicitly in these theories. Moreover, I argue that the theories in question in some way or another try to compensate for the blind spot produced by the obliteration of invented content by proposing explanations that focus on other aspects of fictionality. In what follows, I will distinguish three categories of ‘unreality irrelevance theories’ according to the manner in which they try to achieve this compensation: compensation by reference to a specific intention on the part of the author (section 3); compensation ←27 | 28→by attributing a specific attitude to the reader (section 4); and compensation by means of the concept of the imagination5 (section 5).

1. Theoretical Background: An Institutional Theory of Fiction

To conceptualize the notion of fiction by means of the so-called institutional theory implies that one considers fictionality as a literary phenomenon that can be explained as a cultural, communicational and institutional practice. This practice can be called cultural because it depends on cultural contexts, for instance on conventions that are socially accepted und mutually recognized in a specific culture. It can be called communicational because it concerns the manner in which people communicate via texts in a certain cultural frame. Finally, it can be called institutional because it consists in a “rule-governed practice which makes possible certain (institutional) actions which are defined by the rules of the practice and which could not exist as such without those rules” (Lamarque and Olsen 256).6 Such a practice “is constituted by a set of conventions and concepts which both regulate and define the actions and products involved in the practice” (Lamarque and Olsen 256). A large number of the contributions to the discussion about the notion of fiction during the last fifty years either are, or can be read as, attempts to explicate and clarify these conventions and concepts. The conventions are usually explained in terms of fictive utterance, that is, they are presented as based on conventions regarding the production of fictional texts (e.g., author’s intentions or specific speech acts) or in terms of fictive stance, that is, as conventions concerning the processing of fictional texts (e.g., in terms of the specific attitudes of the reader).

Theories that try to explain the conventions in terms of the fictive stance are particularly abundant. As far as I can see, it is possible to distinguish at least four types of theoretical approaches to fictive stance. For the first, adopting the fictive stance means using the text as a prop in a game of make-believe (e.g. Walton, Bareis, Pavel). For the second, adopting the fictive stance relies on the distinction between the real author and the fictional narrator or between the fictional ←28 | 29→addressee and the real reader (e.g., Genette, Cohn, early writings of Currie7). Thirdly, for another group of scholars, the fictive stance implies that the reader is invited to imagine the depicted events or to build up an imaginary world in accordance with what is related in the text (e.g., Carroll, Scruton, Sutrop, Gertken and Köppe). Finally, for the fourth approach, the fictive stance consists in a “willing construction of disbelief” (Gerrig 240): the reader deliberately (or even willfully) sets aside the commonly accepted modes of textual reading and thereby considers that certain designations and propositions lack denotative8 reference (see, e.g. the research of Gerrig, Gerrig and Rapp, Kablitz). A closer inspection and evaluation of these differing attempts to explain the conventions of the fictive stance is beyond the scope of this paper.9 However, it could be argued that each of these four ways of explaining the fictive stance only makes sense when the events depicted in the fictional text are not taken to be real. For this reason (and for others on which I will elaborate in the following sections) I argue that an institutional theory of fiction that aims at a comprehensive conceptualization of literary fictionality should incorporate not only conventions that concern the production of fictional texts or reader’s responses to them but also conventions regarding representational content and that these conventions imply that some of the presented states of affairs are not real.

Although ontological and metaphysical questions are beyond the purview of this paper, talking about reality, unreality and non-reality calls for some explanation. Briefly, the concept of reality here stands for whatever a specific cultural community more or less consensually takes to be real.10 In this understanding, the concept of fictionality is to some extent independent from ontological, metaphysical or epistemological aspects of the underlying concept of reality. In fact, the distinction between factual and fictional representations already presupposes that some kind of reality does exist and can be represented. Or to put it differently: the institutional theory of fiction does not entail any presuppositions about the ontological or epistemological design of our concept of reality.

In the present context, I have to limit myself to these brief remarks about the structure and the goals of an institutional theory of fiction. In the following ←29 | 30→sections I will use this theoretical background in order to analyse how theories of fiction that obliterate the aspect of non-real content try to substitute a different explanation for this aspect and in what form the unreality of fictive entities resurfaces at closer inspection. In doing this, I will try to invalidate the widespread scientific scepticism against invented representational content as one basic aspect of the conventions that constitute fictionality.

2. The Substitution of Invention by Author’s Intention

Gregory Curry and David Davies both propose that texts can be fictional even when they present stories that are completely real.11 In The Nature of Fiction Currie argues that it is possible for a presentation of a story in which the events really happened to be treated as fictional but only if the correspondence between narrated story and real events occurs accidentally, for example when the author is not aware that what he presented as fictional did actually happen. But what if an author publishes a text as fictional but knows that the presented story has actually taken place? That is the question Davies asks, thereby carrying to the extremes Currie’s thought experiment.

In Davies’s opinion, factual narration is governed by the “fidelity constraint” (Davies, Aesthetics 46) which entails that a factual narration only represents events that the author believes to have happened and in the order in which they occurred. In other words: the sequence of events in the story12 of the factual text is motivated by the sequence of events as they occurred in real life (or by the author’s beliefs about what really happened). However, if an author narrates a story, which he knows to be real, but the fidelity constraint plays no role in his presentation of the story, then the narrative can be considered as fictional even though its content is real.

This allows an author to select, as the narrative content of a fiction, a sequence of events he or she knows or believes to have actually occurred, as long as it is the satisfaction of some other constraint by this sequence of events that governs the choice. For example, aiming to tell a story with certain kinds of thematic or structural properties, the author selects these actual events because they exemplify the properties in question. (Davies, “Fiction” 350)13

←30 | 31→

This thought experiment aims at advocating the thesis that a text can be fictional even though not a single element of the story is invented. For Davies, it is sufficient that the author did not have the intention of organizing the depicted sequence of events according to the fidelity constraint and that he has arranged the representation of events exclusively according to aesthetic principles. In that case, the author has presented the story exactly as it happened in real life, but he did so only for artistic reasons. The ultimate goal of this thought experiment is to argue that unreal content is not, cannot and should not be part of an explanation of fictionality. Davies believes to have shown that the presentation of invented states of affairs is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for a text to be fictional.

In my opinion, Davies’s thought experiment is ill chosen and, therefore, his arguments are not convincing. Davies starts from a traditional explanation of fictionality, namely that for fictional texts the fidelity constraint is irrelevant. The question to ask is: for what reason or under what circumstances can the fidelity constraint be set aside? I can think of only two: either the depicted events do not correspond at all to anything that really happened, or the depicted events did really happen but are transformed in a way that the representation is not to be considered as a representation of real events. In the first case the fidelity constraint is not applicable because there simply are no real events which the narration could correspond to; in the second case the fidelity constraint is not relevant because the transformation of reality shows that the text is not governed by the intention to depict reality. Thus, the claim that for fictional texts there is no obligation to observe the fidelity constraint is just another way of saying that their narrative content is unreal. Davies, however, construes the rather abstruse case in which irrelevance of the fidelity constraint and reality of the depicted events come together.

Moreover, Davies seems to assume that artistic exemplification14 (which is one form of artistic composition) is not compatible with factual narration. I do not see any acceptable reason for this assumption. It is possible to explain the fact that a text which narrates real events also provides insight by means of exemplification (or other forms of artistic composition) without necessarily having to declare that text to be fictional. In my opinion, an author can perfectly well have the intention of producing a factual narration, that is, to describe real events, and ←31 | 32→at the same time intend this presentation to be exemplificatory of some general truths.

Additionally, in Davies’s thought experiment, the attribution of the predicate fictional to a text depends solely on the fact that the author declares that correspondence with reality does not play any role in the composition of the story he presents. But if an author consciously represents real events, his assertion that the composition of the narration in no way depends on what happened in reality can be considered unwarranted or at least questionable. This becomes clear when we look at Davies’s thought experiment from the perspective of the reader. Would a reader confronted with a text that is presented as fictional by the author but depicts real events take this text as fictional without the slightest hesitation, as Davies seems to suggest? I would rather say that a reader who finds out that the story of a text which is labelled as fictional, in its entirety corresponds to a sequence of real events will inevitably start to wonder whether this text may be intended or should be perceived as factual. Thus, such a reader would be prone to question the author’s intention of the text’s being understood as fictional, precisely because the fiction-specific convention regarding narrative content has not been observed.

Davies’s theory has another problem in relation to the traditional conventions of fictional narration. One of these conventions (and a widely accepted one) says that authors of fictional texts cannot be held accountable for the adequacy of their narration simply because there are no real events that the representation could correspond to. But if a text that is called fictional presents only real events, this convention is no longer observed: the descriptions of the characters, of their relationship and actions inevitably turn out to be portraits of real-life human beings. If the text deals with contemporary events and the depicted individuals find that their personality or their acts are not represented adequately, they may come to the conclusion that the text impinges upon their personal rights and file a lawsuit against the author. The fact that this kind of legal procedure is possible shows that there is a fundamental problem with calling a depiction of real events fictional on the grounds of purely aesthetic considerations. The following questions arise – with respect to the law but also, and more crucially, with respect to the conventions of communication: is it possible to ‘get away with’ declaring reality to be fiction? Or: is it possible to simply declare that a representation of purely real events is fictional?15

←32 | 33→

Ultimately, the problem with Davies’s thought experiment is that he sets aside (or tries to argue against) the fact that the representation of invented states of affairs is a (tacit) convention in the context of fictional narration. In order to get around that convention Davies tries to explain the author’s intention that is specific for fictional narration in a way that makes any reference to the presentation of unreal events superfluous. But the analysis of Davies’s thought experiment shows that the problem of the representation of invented states of affairs resurfaces in many different ways in his theory. Therefore, this analysis also shows that there are good reasons to incorporate presentation of an invented story in the set of conventions that are at the core of the institution of fictionality.

I would like to conclude this section with some general remarks about methodology. Currie and Davies approach the problem of fictionality by looking for necessary conditions for a text to be considered as fictional. Both authors want to show that the depiction of unreal events is not a necessary condition for the occurrence of fictionality. I would like to argue that in order to develop a full-fledged explanation of literary fictionality this approach is not helpful.16 An explanation of fictionality is not a question of sufficient and necessary conditions but of how we can give a differentiated description of the conventions of the institution of fiction, which are mutually observed by readers and writers. Moreover, thought experiments may be arguments in looking for necessary conditions, but they are less helpful in the context of an institutional approach. The examples given for these thought experiments do not correspond to anything that occurs in real life, which is why they are irrelevant for an accurate account of the phenomenon of literary fiction and for an explanation of the institution of fictionality. An institutional explanation does not cover these kinds of examples simply because it tries to explain the core aspects of fictional narration and because the thought experiment examples are rather liminal (non-existing) cases.

3. Substitution of Invention by Reader Response

When in his seminal Mimesis as Make-Believe K. Walton tries to explain the nature of fictionality, he gives the attitude of the reader top priority. In Walton’s view the question of whether a text is to be considered as fictional can be answered neither by looking at the intentions of the author nor by looking at the ontological character of representational content. For Walton the fictive stance, ←33 | 34→i.e. the specific way in which readers deal with a fictional text, constitutes the core of any explanation of fictionality.

Unfortunately, Walton does not make much effort to give us sensible reasons for his forceful assertion that considerations about representational content are irrelevant for a theory of fiction. Rather vague statements like “there is no reason why a work of fiction could not be exclusively about people and things (particulars) that actually exist” (what is the precise meaning “to be about” in this context?) are combined with examples or thought experiments that are supposed to support the theoretical arguments but are mostly drawn from rather liminal and doubtful realms of fictionality. Walton’s arguments culminate in incisive catchphrases like “Reality can be the subject of fantasy”, or “Fact can be fiction and fiction can be fact” (74). The only way to assign any meaning to this kind of sentence consists in taking the terms and concepts fact and fiction in their broadest and least differentiated sense. Similar views about the irrelevance of unreality for a theory of fiction can be found in the work of scholars that rely on Walton’s theory (e.g. in Bareis).

On closer inspection of Walton’s explanation of the fictive stance, however, his obliteration of narrational content from his theory of fiction turns out to be less obvious. According to Walton, the specificity of fictional texts is that they can be used as props in games of make-believe. Yet, it is easy to show that the concept of make-believe tacitly involves a reference to non-existent objects. A brief abstract of Walton’s theory could read as follows: The concept of make-believe is specific to the fictive stance. Make-believe means that the reader playfully engages with what is presented by the text. To a certain extent, this playful engagement encompasses a practice that consists in processing the presented events as if they were real or in taking the presented fictional world as pre-existent. Taken together these three assertions lead to the question why a reader should adopt the fictive stance towards a text that depicts real-life events, or as Gibson puts it, “the question at hand is whether it makes good sense, or any sense, to say that we make-believe material […] that we know to be empirically adequate or true-of-the world” (166). Put more bluntly: how can a reader engage in a game of make-believe with a representation that he or she believes to be of real events? Walton’s thesis that a theory of fiction is necessarily inadequate when it relies on the non-existence of (some of) its representational content thus finds itself in a strange contradiction to what is entailed by the concept of make-believe.

The detection of the mentioned contradiction is based on a specific interpretation of the concept of make-believe, and one could ask whether the contradiction might vanish if we adopt a different understanding of make-believe, an understanding that is less linked to the concepts of truth or reality and thereby ←34 | 35→possibly closer to Walton’s intentions. Such an understanding would lead us to the concept of imagination and the relationship of this concept to the notions of fictionality and make-believe. This relationship will be dealt with at length in the following section.

Before we move on to the concept of imagination, I want to make a general remark about theories of fiction that try to explain fictionality exclusively in terms of reader response. Such theories claim that any literary text that can be treated as a prop in a game of make-believe can be considered to be fictional, and that it does so independently of what the text is about. Arguments in favour of this claim are often based on interpretations of texts like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (Bareis 63). It is assumed that texts which depict real events in novelistic form ought to be considered as fictional and that a theory of fiction should be able to integrate a text like Capote’s into the realm of fictional works and to explain why it is part of this category.17 In my opinion, however, such texts should best be treated as exceptional cases. The exceptionality of In Cold Blood manifests itself for instance in the paradoxical genre label that has been attributed to the text, that of the non-fiction novel, which in a traditional understanding of novel is tantamount to the oxymoron of nonfiction fiction. The elaboration of a comprehensive theory of fiction, however, should not be guided by considerations about exceptional cases, nor is it helpful to use exceptional cases as counterexamples when one wants to show that a theory is not satisfactory. I completely agree with Lamarque’s and Olsen’s view that the theory of fiction should take its starting point from unequivocal paradigmatic instances of fictional narration (29–30). Moreover, a comprehensive institutional theory of paradigmatic fiction (including conventions about representational content) will provide us with the means of a differentiated analysis of the specificity of Capote’s text, namely his attempt to represent a real story by means of the techniques that are linked to fictional narration.

4. Substitution of Invention by Imagination

In this section I will discuss theories of fiction that try to eliminate unreality by explicitly or implicitly replacing it by the concept of imagination. One particularly interesting example of such an attempt is the perceptive contribution to a theory of fiction by Jan Gertken and Tilmann Köppe. In their critical discussion of different explanations of fictionality they reject the following definition:

←35 | 36→

T is fictional if and only if T refers to fictional objects (among others) and describes fictional events. (234)18

The authors consider this kind of definition unsatisfactory, erroneous and flawed for several reasons. First, if we accept this definition then fictionality becomes a subdomain of the discussion about non-existing objects and our reference to such objects; this discussion, however, is prone to lead into a semantic, ontological or metaphysical morass. This argument is sound: from a philosophical point of view any theorizing about fictional objects can be considered as ontologically and/or epistemologically questionable. Still, this does not preclude the question whether fictionality can be conceptualized adequately without reference to non-existing objects.19 Moreover, in my opinion it is possible to talk about fictional objects with regard to literary texts without any strong commitment to specific ontological or metaphysical concepts, for instance from the point of view of literary theory there is no need to be committed to a specific (onto)logical interpretation of concepts like object, existence or reference.20

Second, Gertken and Köppe claim that defining fictionality by means of (reference to) fictional objects leads into a circular argument. Prima facie, the above definition may actually seem to be circular, but only if the qualification fictional cannot or could not be elucidated further. However, if we explain fictional by ‘non-real’ or ‘invented’, the circularity charge becomes less obvious. Even though the claim that there is a circular argument in the definition can thus be easily refuted, it should be noted that this claim points to an essential problem of definitions in the humanities in general. This problem consists in the fact that frequently it cannot be established what counts as an explication of a certain phenomenon or concept and on what grounds. A discussion of this problem is beyond the scope of this paper.

Let us now look at how Gertken and Köppe conceive their own theory of fiction. In order to circumvent all the problems that they believe are related to ←36 | 37→explanations of fiction relying on fictional objects, they propose the following definition:

T is a fictional text if and only if: The author of T has written T with the intention I (among others) that the reader R should use T as a prop in a game of make-believe and in such a way that 1) R in virtue of I imagines that a speaker/narrator performs a specific illocutionary act by means of the sentences of T (although R knows that normal conventions for illocutionary acts are suspended) and that 2) on the basis of these imagined speech acts R can get hold of a sufficiently comprehensive imagination world. (238)21

In this definition Gertken and Köppe try to elucidate the game of make-believe by means of the concept of imagination – in a manner similar but yet different from Walton. The crux of the definition obviously lies in the meaning of imagination and in the question whether this concept is precise and clear enough to delimitate fictional texts from non-fictional ones. We therefore have to ask: What exactly does it mean that a reader is supposed to imagine illocutionary acts? And: what exactly are the characteristic features of an imagination world? As we will see, the answers to these questions are far from being obvious.

The basic problem of all the theories of fiction that involve the concept of imagination is that this concept generates more questions than it answers.22 In his circumspect analysis Stevenson distinguishes twelve different concepts of ‘imagination’.23 But if we try to seek guidance for our problem in Stevenson’s distinctions we discover that some of the concepts are of no relevance at all in the present context (for instance, the ability to create or appreciate works of art in general), that others seem to come close to what imagination could stand for in the above definition (e.g., the ability to think of whatever one acknowledges as possible in the spatio-temporal world), but that not one of the twelve gives us a satisfactory answer to the question whether and how the concepts to imagine or imagination can illuminate our understanding of fiction.

←37 | 38→

Some theories of fiction surprisingly use the notion of imagination in the rather general meaning of everyday language, that is, to signify either “the power or capacity to form internal images or ideas of objects or situations not actually present to the senses” or to denote the result of such a capacity, i.e. “an inner image or idea of an object not actually present to the senses” (OED).24 In the theory of Alexander Bareis we find statements that seem to suggest that these kinds of imagination are fundamental to fictionality and sufficient for its definition: the fact that a text elicits imaginings is considered to be a sufficient reason for calling it fictional irrespective of whether it is Little Red Riding Hood or Caesar that we are asked to imagine (cf. Bareis 56). Now we are confronted with the following situation: Fictionality is explained in terms of make-believe and the specific trait of the make-believe game is that a text mandates imaginings; if in this context to imagine means nothing else than to form a mental image of an object not actually present to the senses, then the difference between fictional and factual texts seems to vanish because any kind of narrative representation gives rise to mental images.25

The only way out of this impasse would be to say that fictional texts represent objects, events or situations that are merely imagined,26 or as Genette puts it in his seminal Fiction et diction:

Le trait spécifique de l’énoncé de fiction, c’est que, contrairement aux énoncés de réalité, qui décrivent en outre (!) un état de fait objectif, lui ne décrit rien d’autre qu’un état mental. (53)

The specific feature of fictional utterances is that, contrary to utterances of reality, which describe in addition (!) an objective state of affairs, the fictional utterance describes nothing but a mental state. (Fiction and Diction, 42–43)

Thus, in my view the only way to keep up the distinction between factual and fictional texts while using the concept of imagination to explain fictionality is to take imagination in the narrow sense of ‘a mental image of something that is not real or does not exist’ and not in the wide sense of ‘a mental image of something that is not actually present to the senses’. To a certain extent this view is congruent with the concept of imagination that has been proposed by scholars like Carroll, Scrutton or Lamarque in order to explain the fictive stance. This ←38 | 39→concept has been called “suppositional imagination” (Carroll, “Fiction” 184) and is constituted of mental activities that are expressed in sentences like: “to entertain the proposition that p unasserted” (Scrutton 88) or “to entertain a thought non-assertively” (Carroll, Philosophy 88).27

But let us come back to the definition of Gertken and Köppe and ask: what does it entail to imagine that a speaker/narrator performs a specific illocutionary act by means of the sentences of the fictional narration? From a speech act perspective narrative texts are fundamentally constituted by assertions.28 Using Searle’s distinction between utterance, propositional content und illocutionary force (cf. Searle, Speech Acts) we can ask: which aspect of the speech act is the reader invited to imagine? The imaginative act does not regard the utterance, because the text itself can already qualify as utterance. Thus, the imagination can concern either the propositional content (i.e., reference or predication) or the illocutionary force of a sentence. To imagine that there is a propositional act entails that to imagine that the presuppositions of reference and predication are fulfilled; to imagine that the illocutionary act of assertion is performed entails to imagine that the conditions of success of assertions are fulfilled. This ultimately means that we are invited to imagine that what has been said is true; or at least we will consider that what is said is to be taken as a representation of reality. Put differently, we will have to assume the existence of a fictional world in which the assertions of the text serve as representations of facts in this fictional world. This leads to an argument, which is similar to the one used for the concept of make-believe. When an author of a fictional text invites the reader to imagine specific assertions, this means that the author invites the reader to (playfully) consider the asserted states of affairs as real. Now the textual invitation to consider specific narrated states of affairs as real only makes sense when these states of affairs are not real. Or to put it differently: in a definition of fiction, the only meaning of imagination that allows for an illuminating explanation of fictionality “involves some contrast with reality”: “To say that someone imagines something […] is to state that the imaginer believes that what he imagines to be so is not in fact so” (New 72–73). Thus, on closer inspection, it emerges that using the concept of imagination is not a suitable solution when wanting to eliminate the unreality of representational content from a definition of fiction.

←39 | 40→

5. Concluding Remarks

The starting point of this paper was the thesis that the presentation of fictional objects, events or situations is to be considered as one of the core conventions of fictionality in an institutional theory of fiction. In order to corroborate this thesis, I have argued that theories which claim that unreality of representational content is irrelevant for the conceptualization of literary fiction try to compensate for the blind spot which is left by the obliteration of non-reality by utilizing explanations that focus on other aspects of fictionality, and specifically I discussed three such strategies of avoidance to deal with the inventedness of fiction. Moreover, I argued that, despite allegations to the contrary, the presentation of non-real states of affairs is implicitly contained in these theories and that on closer inspection, this aspect resurfaces in the explanations that try to obliterate it. For these reasons, I maintain that the presentation of some kind of non-real content is part of the institution of fiction.

At the end of this paper I would like to draw attention to the fact that the conceptual design of such an institutional theory of fiction is a prototypical one. This means that the definition of fictionality proposed in such an institutional theory tries to grasp what is considered to be the prototypical or paradigmatic cases of fictional narration.29 The basic assumption is that texts that are written as, that want to be read as, and that are being read as fictional abide by the conventions that are specific to fictional narration. These conventions concern different aspects of fictional narratives. The convention that concerns representational content is that the represented story is to a relevant degree made up of non-real, invented objects (mostly characters), situations or events.

Such an explication of fictionality is not meant to function as a classificatory concept with clear-cut borders. A prototypical concept corresponds to the core phenomenon it tries to explain and is able to grasp a wide range of differing kinds of fictional texts. Moreover, it has the advantage that there is no need to look for, or construct, complicated unrealistic borderline cases in order to test the theory. This does not mean that real borderline cases are neglected or cannot be grasped by a prototypical concept. On the contrary, they can be described and discussed in a differentiated manner by an investigation focusing on how they differ from the conventions that govern the paradigmatic cases.

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Biographical notes

Monika Fludernik (Volume editor) Henrik Nielsen (Volume editor)

Monika Fludernik is Professor of English Literature at the University of Freiburg in Germany. She has worked in the areas of narratology, postcolonial literary theory, law and literature studies and the eighteenth century. Her two most recent publications are Metaphors of Confinement: The Prison in Fact, Fiction, and Fantasy (Oxford Univ. Press, 2019) and (with Marie-Laure Ryan) the handbook Narrative Factuality (de Gruyter, 2019). Henrik Skov Nielsen is a professor at Aarhus University. His research has attempted to contribute to conversations about mainly three areas of narrative theory: first person narration; unnatural narratology; and fictionality. Sample publications in English include "Ten Theses about Fictionality" with James Phelan and Richard Walsh (in Narrative January 2015) and Narratology and Ideology edited with Divya Dwivedi and Richard Walsh, which was recently published by OSU press. He heads the research group Narrative Research Lab (http://nordisk.au.dk/forskning/forskningscentre/nrl/intro/), and "Centre for Fictionality Studies" (http://fictionality.au.dk/).


Title: Travelling Concepts: New Fictionality Studies