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Types of worlds: on relations between the Prague School and the theory of fictional worlds.

Any investigation into the ontological status of a literary work can result in two different ways of interpreting the work: on the one hand, it can be described as an imitation, as a spiritual reproduction of reality, as a fictional representation of the real world, or as a complexly hierarchized meaning structure; on the other hand, it can be viewed it as a concrete material fact. Nevertheless, both ways alert us to the fact that a literary work has primarily been defined and delimited with respect to reality. To sum up: a (literary) work of art as such is--in the words of Kvetoslav Chvatik--"a specific model of the world" (101). Formalists as well as structuralists have perceived a literary work as an entirety or a dynamic structure representing an organized and dialectical cluster of individual components among which there is a permanent tension. This structure, with both a systemic and a temporal dimension, is to be studied irrespective of all its external relations and liaisons, the Formalists tell us--that is, primarily as a phenomenon sui generis (Mukarovsky, "Predmluva" 9). Although we might thus assume that investigation into the issues of the relation between work and reality was a minor issue in structuralist inquiry, this is not (and has never been) the case.

The aim of this paper is nevertheless not to provide the reader with a comprehensive view of the structuralist approach to the relation between work and reality but rather to outline the similarities and differences of the respective solutions to the question proposed by the poetics of the Prague School on the one hand and by Lubomir Dolezel's theory of fictional worlds on the other: With respect to this study, the category of world (svet) seems to be a central one. If I am to specify the aim of my study, I am particularly interested in (a) analysis of the relation between Dolezel's concept of "fictional world" and Felix Vodicka's "fictional-fictive world," (b) analysis of Josef Jungmann's concept of fantastic poetry, and finally (c) comparison between typologies of fictional-fictive and fictional worlds (Jungmann; Dolezel).

1. Vodicka's Theory of "Fictional-Fictive Worlds"

The problem of poetic reference seems to be the central one for the investigation of the relation between the theory of fictional worlds and the structural (semiotic) poetics of the Prague School. Although the Prague School did not work with the idea that a literary work represented a specific reality, a special "model of the world" (see Dolezel, Occidental 208-09), I argue that certain ideas that can be regarded as a predecessor or an early stage of this concept can be found in the field of Czech literary history. Jan Mukarovsky, Vodicka, and Jungmann played an important role in this inquiry.

A volume of university lectures delivered by Mukarovsky at the turn of the 1930s and 1940s was published in 1995, presenting the early stage of his structuralist thinking in a relatively compact form. In lectures called "Philosophy of Poetic Language" ("Filozofie jazyka basnickeho")--dated 1933 through 1934--Mukarovsky for the first time presented his opinion that language manifestations have a double relation to reality. Mukarovsky investigates in detail Roman Ingarden's thoughts about how we understand the meaning of words and of sentences and presents a short outline of sentence semantics, though attempting a semantics of all higher meaning units (paragraph, text). Mukarovsky was familiar with Ingarden's book Das literarische Kunstwerk (1931) and, naturally, aware of the fact that a literary work represents a unique world (see Mukarovsky, Kapitoly; "Genetika" 237-49); nevertheless, the problem of poetic reference is only briefly outlined in his work and has remained underdeveloped in Czech structuralism (see Dolezel, Occidental).

A certain solution to the problem of reference was attempted much later by Vodicka, one of the most distinguished representatives of the second generation of the Prague School, whose approach to a literary work as a specific "fictional world" allows a more detailed comparison with Dolezel's concept of a fictional world.

1.1 The Question of Reference

The general characteristics of the common ground between Vodicka's and Dolezel's approaches can be described as follows: both theoreticians insist on a rational epistemology, whose formation in the Czech lands had been within the framework of literary-theoretical and esthetic research of the Prague School; both of them--as far as their analysis of narration is concerned--employ analysis of represented discourse and speech-levels; and finally, both of them are interested in thematic composition of literary works. Analyzing their concepts in a more specific way reveals far more mutual links and similarities. Just two fundamental issues, appropriately illustrating the overall correspondence of their approaches, are (a) the concept of world, employed in the analysis of the structure of narrative theme and its individual components, and (b) their respective answers to the question of the relation between fiction and reality.

The issue of structure of narrative theme has played an important role in Czech structuralist thought. This observation can be supported by the fact that theme is the pivotal component of the meaning structure of a literary work and also by the elaboration of the concept in 1938 by Mukarovsky ("Genetika"), who used and detailed an inspiring older approach developed in 1925 by Boris Tomasevskij. The main levels Vodicka distinguishes in every narrative work and sees as playing the role of its structural components are story (dej), characters (postavy) and setting (prostredi) ("Jungmannova"), the last of the terms being replaced with the term "context of the external world" (kontext vn ejsiho sveta) (Pocatky 114n). In spite of the fact that Vodicka grants the context of the external world considerable independence within literary works, it is always defined with respect to its framework of relations, that is, in relation to other thematic levels--of characters and the story. In this context it is important to note that describing this level ("context of the external world"), Vodicka intentionally avoids using the "setting" category as it can refer to temporal and spatial situatedness and the so-called physical environment (e.g., nature or physical objects) only. He replaces it with the category of the "context of the external world." The concept as he uses it comprises both social relations and psychological descriptions on the one hand and the historical, spiritual, and ideological atmosphere in which the characters live and where the story takes place on the other. (1) Blending of individual hierarchized themes, their dynamic unity and structural relatedness--this is what, according to Vodicka, forms the essence of a literary work. Not only does this kind of structure communicate certain messages about the real world, but the work itself represents a (literary) reality of its own, a world of its own--that is, "literary reality" (skute cnost literarni) in Vodicka's terminology (167).

Although in Vodicka's concept, "literary reality" is attributed an autonomous existence that is entirely and completely dependent on and formed by the text (thus exhibiting a considerable degree of correspondence with what Dolezel calls fictional world [fik cni svet]), he terms it fictional-fictive world (fiktivni svet) (184). I believe that despite the evident closeness of the terms fictional and fictional-fictive, a more detailed analysis of the meanings of the two terms will reveal differences that are not apparent at the first glance. Let us now focus on the referents of both worlds. Are they identical, or do they differ?

Discussing Josef Linda's pre-Romantic historical short story "Zare nad pohanstvem" ("Glare on Pagans," 1818) in his Pocatky krasne prozy novoceske (The Beginnings of Czech Prose Fiction, 1948), Vodicka writes:
 The poet evoked for the reader a completely unique autonomous
 world, a reality which was in a superior position with respect to
 the reader's daily reality.... A fictional-fictive world of people
 living in the olden days, people with primitive ways of life, but
 rich internal, social, and emotional lives, a fictional-fictive
 world of a pastoral community living in contact with nature--a
 fictional-fictive world of Native Americans in American exotic
 nature--this is the kind of literary reality in which
 pre-Romanticism takes pleasure. The Czech reader must have been
 filled with a unique kind of satisfaction when he could locate
 these fictional-fictive worlds, artificial and only weakly supported
 with scientifically established knowledge, in Czech or Slavic

 (253-54, my emphasis)

At this point, Vodicka operates with two meanings of the word reality. On the one hand, he considers a unique literary reality--an autonomous world of the narrative work itself; on the other hand, he compares this "world" with everyday reality, a specific empirical reality. He places the fictitious and idealized literary reality "in a superior position with respect to the reader's daily reality." To be more precise, Vodicka develops a double concept of narrative text as (a) text presenting an autonomous, unique world (of literary reality), which is simultaneously (b) text that continues to be viewed on the background of our reality. Based on this fact, the world of Linda's "Zare nad pohanstvem" is referred to as "fictional-fictive," that is, imaginary. The best way to understand Vodicka's term fictional-fictive world is to see it as applying to historic fiction or other specific fictional genres.

1.2 Fictional Worlds

In opposition to Vodicka's conception, Dolezel (see especially his Heterocosmica) builds his theory on the idea that fictional texts refer to fictional worlds, that is, that they refer to what is established by the texts themselves. Dolezel accepts Vodicka's notion of autonomy of literary reality, but he elaborates it in the direction of the semantics of narrative texts proper, and he answers the question of reference in an entirely new way. (2) Let us now compare Vodicka's conception of hierarchized theme with Dolezel's approach, as it was developed in and adapted for the Czech version of Narrative Modes in Czech Literature (Narativni zp usoby v ceske literature, 1993). Dolezel presents his specific conception of narrative texts, which becomes the cornerstone of his approach: "The author composes a narrative text with the purpose of forming a fictional world; the reader discovers this world by means of the narrative text. In narrative communication ... the narrative text serves as the means of construction and reconstruction of the fictional world. Narrative fictional world is a multilevel meaning structure, the main components of which are story, characters, and setting (natural and cultural)" (10). Dolezel uses the term fictional world to refer to a world that is a possible world established by the text. He highlights that the structure of the fictional world is fully conditioned by the structure of the narrative text; it is the narrative text that predetermines the completeness or lack of determinacy of the fictional world. The quotation above shows the extent to which Dolezel adopts Vodicka's notion of the issue as well as the extent to which he develops it and adapts it for his own purposes (see Dolezel, "Strukturalni," "Felix Vodicka").

One methodological prerequisite upon which Dolezel's theory of fictional worlds is based is the fundamental difference between fictional worlds and the real world. Dolezel refrains from mimetic reading of literature or rather from accentuating its mimetic nature and function ("Mimesis," Heterocosmica). This does not mean, however, neglecting the relation between fiction and reality. He uses the term fictional world to denote the ontological nature of a world constructed by a work of fiction. (3) Dolezel specifically offers a definition of fictional worlds in his crucial book on this subject, Heterocosmica: "Fictional worlds of literature ... are a special kind of possible world; they are aesthetic artifacts constructed, preserved, and circulating in the medium of fictional texts." And he adds, "Fictional worlds and their constituents, fictional particulars, are granted a definite ontological status, the status of nonactualized possibles" (16).

Comparing the approaches of the two theorists makes it clear that Vodicka's term external world cannot be equated with the term fictional world at all. To sum up, Vodicka's fictional-fictive world (fiktivni svet) is a world that represents a specific literary reality, referring to a nonempiric, fabricated reality. In contrast to that, Dolezel's fictional world (fik cni svet) is a world generated by a narrative text, a world which is completely ontologically homogenous.

The differences between Vodicka's and Dolezel's conceptions can be seen even at the level of thematic analysis. First, Vodicka argues that the "context of the external world" is firmly linked to thematic structures of the story and its character. Only then, on the grounds of the interrelation of these thematic elements, the world of a literary work itself is generated as a specific kind of literary reality. Dolezel calls this global dynamic linkage of thematic structures (levels) "fictional world" (it is, in fact, a narrative macrostructure). From this point of view, Vodicka's "context of the external world" is but one part of the fictional world. Second, Dolezel does not subscribe to Vodicka's idea of a "context of an external world," preferring the traditional term used to refer to this thematic component--that is, "setting" (prostredi) (Dolezel, Narrative Modes 10; see also "Kompozice" 40).

Dolezel considers the delimitation of the mutual relationship between structural thematology and narrative semantics as one of the basic tasks for the theory of narrative ("Strukturalni"). In his view, it is possible to solve this task only within the framework of the general text's semantics. Dolezel uses his approach to show that the best way to cope with this agenda is to merge Gottlob Frege's semantics with the semantics of possible worlds. Dolezel's link to the tradition of Czech structuralism is evident from the very strategies and procedures he uses in his extensional semantics of fictional worlds, aimed at analysis of individual thematic structures: characters, story, interaction, and so on. His methodological procedures as well as analyses of these individual structures correspond to the thematological investigation implemented by Vodicka. The correspondence between both sets of procedural steps, adopted within the respective frameworks of structuralism and extensional semantics of fictional worlds, cannot be inferred through their detailed analysis and comparison alone; it is evidenced by a description presented by Dolezel himself: "Structural thematology is extensional semantics of the narrative, studying structures of fictional world and its categories--story, acting characters, relations between characters, action, interaction, psychological motivation, etc." (5; see also Dolezel, "Semantics" 91-93). A deeper discussion of these issues and related questions can be found in Dolezel's Heterocosmica.

In principle, we can say that Vodicka's conception of the theme has a rather significant influence over Dolezel's theory of fictional worlds. This conception motivates him to a rethinking and reevaluation of the individual forms of thematic structures, a process that finally--in his view--results in the term fictional world.

2. Jungmann's Notion of "Fictive Worlds"

We have now come to a point in our discussion from which it is possible to survey the mutual relation between Dolezel's theory of fictional worlds and Prague School structural poetics. It turns out that while Dolezel's link to Mukarovsky is situated primarily on the level of methodology, Vodicka's influence on Dolezel is far more significant and specific. The question nevertheless remains: Where (if at all) are we to look for the origin of all these fruitful implications, offered for example by Vodicka's concept of fictional-fictive world? Shall we consider this approach as a fully original one, or is there any other (older) source of inspiration? I believe that despite its being asked for the first time, this question is an entirely legitimate one.

2.1 Fantastic Poetry (Literature)

To find an answer, we must look far into the past (at least as far back as the first half of the nineteenth century) and focus on one of the most distinguished figures of the Czech National Revival--Josef Jungmann (1773-1847). He is well known especially as a translator and historiographer and as the author of the monumental Slovnik cesko-nemecky (Czech-German Dictionary, 1834-1839). Besides that, he is the author of the very first Czech handbook of poetics--Slovesnost (Poetic Art), first published in 1820 and, in an amended and expanded form, again in 1845 and 1846. In this particular book, namely its theoretical chapters of the second edition, inspired by the German poetics of Reinbach, Politz, and Eberhard, there is a remarkable passage on fantastic poetry. (4)

According to Jungmann, fantastic poetry (literature) (fantasticke basnictvi) presents a picture of people and their various relations in a fantastic world (fantastickem svete), that is, in a fictive, "fictitious world" (smyslenem svete). This fictive world, which is fully "fictitious," as Vodicka would have said, is governed by natural laws completely different from those of our world. As far as physical laws are concerned, there are no limits to human creativity and imagination involved in creation of fictitious worlds, various supernatural forces and beings. The only restriction or criterion specified by Jungmann for creation of such worlds is adherence to certain moral laws (mravne zakony); respecting these moral laws is the primary criterion of the ontological coherence of the world. Jungmann underlines the universal characteristics of these laws by a arguing that all "scenes" (vyjevy) of the real world but also scenes of fictitious worlds are subjected to the laws. And he continues: "[By] observance of these laws the fictitious scenes gain inner truth" (150, my emphasis). (5) Whereas in Vodicka's perspective a potential criterion of truth was certainly bound to the text (or its comparison with reality), Jungmann suggests another "universal" rule. According to his rule, observation of moral values and perspectives in formation of a fictitious world is enough to guarantee its (inner) truth. Let us add: the truth not only of words or sentences but also of certain scenes, whole pictures, and organization of the fictitious world.

Inhabitants of fictitious worlds differ from human beings by their status. They include especially (a) gods or spirits and (b) earthbound beings gifted with supernatural powers, personified elements, and so forth. This classification corresponds in principle to a simple typology of fictitious worlds, which Jungmann divided into (a) higher worlds and (b) lower worlds. The higher worlds (vyssi smysleny svet) include, for example, heaven and hell with their spirits and gods, while lower worlds (nizsi smysleny svet) include the earth and beings gifted with supernatural powers (mythical heroes).

This general description of fantastic poetry provides Jungmann with a basis for arguing that the aesthetic impression evoked by a fantastic poem can be nothing else but "wonder" (podiv). Then he presents a series of brief descriptions outlining the generic diversity of fantastic literature. He distinguishes fantastic descriptive poems, fantastic epics (religious and secular), magical novels, popular myths, magical plays, ballads, and, last but not least, magical operas.

The ideas at the basis of Jungmann's Poetic Art have not lost their inspiring power. What is notable is especially the very precisely formulated notion that fantastic poetry represents a type of literature constructing a special (fantastic) world that is, however, subjected to universal laws. This raises the question of why this theoretical project has not attracted other scholars and how it is possible that it remained unnoticed for so long. It has to be mentioned in this context that Vodicka was an outstanding expert in the history of nineteenth-century Czech literature, including works by Jungmann. (6) I therefore assume that it is reasonable to compare Vodicka's views with Jungmann's concepts and draw conclusions about Jungmann as a possible source of inspiration. The very concept of fictional-fictive (fictitious) worlds provides a most significant piece of evidence.

2. 2 Comparison of Typologies

Let us now direct our attention to the problem that was only hinted at in the poetics of the Prague School, despite the fact that Jungmann had already developed a systemic approach to it--his typology of fictional and fictional-fictive worlds. Unfortunately, I haven't space here to discuss in detail all issues that come to mind in this context or to compare them with all those that have already been developed in the field of theory of fictional worlds (see especially Jacquenod; Traill; Dolezel, Heterocosmica). I will therefore limit myself to a brief outline of the comparison of Jungmann's and Dolezel's proposals.

Jungmann develops his own typology of worlds on the basis of the distinction between (a) higher and (b) lower fictive worlds. He notes that besides these two types of worlds there is yet another, rather specific type of worlds--"mixed" (smichany) worlds (a b]end of the real world and fictitious worlds) inhabited by natural beings but subjected to customary interference of supernatural powers (gods). Jungmann's main motivation for distinguishing between higher and lower worlds was emphasizing their spatial localization using the vertical axis; his reference to the mixed world is a rather practical matter. (From the point of classification of genres, this kind of world would correspond to secular epics, which are classified by Jungmann as "normal poetry"). Nevertheless, being based on the dichotomy between higher and lower, the typology is a risky one: it takes into consideration not only (a) the localization and the space of fictitious worlds (heaven vs. earth) but simultaneously (b) a certain asymmetry of power (god vs. hero) and the ensuing (c) different guarantee of value. Jungmann's higher/lower dichotomy seems to (unintentionally?) postulate a certain hierarchy of values.

Dolezel presents his own proposals for typologies of fictional worlds, especially in his book Heterocosmica. In contrast to Jungmann, for whom fictive (fictitious) worlds are but one specific genre type, Dolezel classifies fictional worlds primarily on the basis of their structural organization (i.e., mutual relations, links, and transformations of inner structures). This criterion leads him, among other things, to distinguish between mythological worlds (based on the dichotomy between natural and supernatural worlds) and worlds of modern myth (hybrid worlds, visible/invisible worlds). Focusing on the comparable aspects of both typologies, we find that Dolezel's characterization of the structural organization of supernatural worlds is partially similar to fantastic worlds as described by Jungmann: they are worlds inhabited by (a) characters beyond physical possibility (gods); (b) selected beings from the natural world gifted with supernatural attributes (mythical heroes); (c) personified inanimate objects (earth). Unlike Jungmann, Dolezel applies no hierarchy (whether spatial or value-related) to these fictional entities, dealing with them mainly to explain the semantic structure of mythological worlds. He supplements this type of world with another two examples of possible worlds: hybrid and visible/invisible worlds. Discussing these types of worlds, be analyzes the substantial structural change of the mythological world and its transformation into the modern myth of the twentieth century.

3. Conclusions

This brief comparison entitles us to say that in the context of Dolezel's typology of fictional worlds, Jungmann's fictive (fantastic) world can be best regarded as a certain type of supernatural world. What is then its position among fantastic fictional worlds? In which way can the fact that Jungmann subordinates his analysis of fantastic poetry to a classification of genres be reflected in our further investigation? How are we to interpret his emphasis on continuity of moral laws in both real and imaginary worlds? These as well as many other questions deserve a more detailed investigation. My analysis of the relation between Dolezel's concept of fictional worlds and Vodicka's and Jungmann's concepts of fictional-fictive (or fictive) worlds shows this relation as neither direct nor uncomplicated. My aim was rather to say that we should study this relation over and over again, avoiding leaping at simple conclusions. Jungmann's proposal concerning fantastic poetry was in fact a rather forgotten one. It now deserves to be reassessed with respect to recent work in the theory of fictional worlds.


(1) In this step, which can be formally characterized as renaming "setting" (prostredi) to "external world" (vnejsi svet), which is a synonym for a comprehensive universe (world), Vodicka was inspired by J. Hankiss and R. Petsch (see Petsch 223). With reference to Petsch's understanding of the external world (Umwelt der Figuren) as the world of nature, subjects, and beings, Vodicka emphasizes the variability of this component in the thematic structure of literary work (see Hausenblas; Drozda; see also Dolezel, "Conceptual System" and "Felix Vodicka").

(2) In his writings dealing with the history of the Prague School's poetics, Dolezel notes that theory of reference was the only area that was left unexplored in greater detail by Czech structuralism (see esp. Dolezel, Occidental 164-67). In Dolezel's view, it was especially the fact that the Prague School relied on Ferdinand de Saussure's concept of sign systems that caused this lack of attention to literary works' reference. Dolezel's own theory of fictional worlds is an attempt to fill in this gap.

(3) See also Pavel; Ryan; Ronen; Eco; Martin.

(4) Jungmann's Slovesnost had a deep impact on the developments and canonization of Czech literary-scientific and linguistic terminology. This issue as well as Jungmann's (new) terminology was analyzed by Jedlicka in his work Josef Jungmann a obrozenska terminologie literarne vedna a linguisticka (Josef Jungmann and Literary-Scientific and Linguistic Terminology of the Czech National Revival Period, 1948)).

(5) The original Czech version of the sentence is: "[Z]achovavanim techto zakonu nabyvaji vyjevy vymyslene vnitrni pravdivosti" (Jungmann 150).

(6) Vodicka dedicated several studies to Jungmann: "Obrozeni," "Jungmanova," "Kulturni politika," and esp. Dejiny.

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Ondrej Sladek

Institute for Czech Literature, Czech Academy of Sciences
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