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Can fiction become fact? The fiction-to-fact transition in recent theories of fiction.

Most recent theories of fiction adopt pragmatic-contextual approaches that incorporate "fiction" as a historically variable category. Accordingly, the semantic composition or stylistic properties of a given text are less essential in determining fictionality than the readers' generic expectations: texts can be given different determinants in time and in regard to different frames of reference. This also means that there are no isolated features in texts such as single "fictional" sentences that could dictate whether some text is fiction. What is important in defining some text as fiction is the information we gather of the text' s genre, the criteria that dictate the way we first classify and then read some text as fiction. These criteria, in other words, enable us to relate new texts to other texts that we have already categorized in a certain way. This is also why Tolstoy's War and Peace (1865-69) or William Carlos Williams's alternative history of the United States, In the American Grain (1925), are regarded as fiction although they document historical and social facts, or why Jules Michelet's Histoire de la France (1833-67) is history despite the invented elements that recur in it. Crucial in determining the text's status vis-a-vis fact and fiction are the conception of the narrator's or the speaker's intention and the audience's generic expectations. (1)

The pragmatic-contextual argument also entails the possibility of historical changes between the categories of fact and fiction. It is common to argue that certain historiographies or skillfully written memoirs, for instance, can attain a fictional status over a period of time. Thus, History (440-430 BCE), by Herodotus, or War (431-411 BCE), by Thucydides, not only can be read as fictions today but perhaps are now first and foremost fictional. Further, it is also perhaps commonplace to state that this process can be reversed, that fictional texts may cease to be fictional. Ruth Ronen, for instance, argues in Possible Worlds in Literary Theory that not only can texts originally written as history or as philosophy be fictionalized (that is, converted into fiction) but that "at a later point in cultural history" the text's "fictionality and actuality can be relativized to a cultural perspective (legends about Greek gods were presumably treated as versions of reality by people in ancient Greece)" (76). In a similar vein, Marie-Laure Ryan, in her Possible Worlds, Artificial Intelligence, and Narrative Theory, emphasizes that the author and the reader may assess differently the relation between the actual world and the fictional world. A text meant as nonfiction therefore may be received as fiction, or vice versa. What looks like a surrealist poem could be an entry in the diary of a schizophrenic patient, or "what looks like the genuine love letters of a Portuguese nun could be the invention of a seventeenth-century French author" (46). Here Ryan must be thinking of Lettres portugaises traduites en franfais (1669) by Gabriel de Lavergne de Guilleragues, also commonly attributed to a nun called Marianna Alcoforado, supposedly translated from Portuguese. (2)

It is interesting that at a later point in her book, Ryan must restate her argument about the possible historical change of generic expectations owing to the lack of examples concerning fiction becoming factual. Obviously, if anything could be read as fiction, or fiction as fact, the very distinction between the two would also lose its meaning. Any individual, writer or reader, may of course choose to actualize fiction, or to assess the relationship between the actual world and the textual world as he or she likes, but Ryan is careful, in general terms, not to claim that fiction could become real (fact). She points out: "It is hard, however, to find convincing examples of the second possibility: I can only come up with the case of Don Quixote and Emma Bovary, who significantly happen to be themselves characters in fictions" (Possible 76). Don Quixote and Emma Bovary of course share the intention of competing with the fictional stories and entities that they are familiar with. The set wo perhaps best-known textualists wished, in a sense, to live out narrative and realize fiction as a fact. Nevertheless, scholars have not seriously questioned the fictional status of the novels from which these characters first emerged.

The point that I wish to pursue here is whether the difficulty many theoreticians have in finding convincing examples is somehow significant in ways that have not been fully examined. Does this difficulty reveal a blind spot in the pragmatic-contextual approach to the poetics of fiction? Or is it just a less-developed area of the theory that would benefit from further investigation? In this essay I will tackle this question by taking a critical look at the different ways in which a fiction can be said to have become real (that is, fact or nonfiction). The purpose of this investigation is to examine some of the reasons that the idea of fiction-to-fact transition is treated so ambiguously in the theory of fiction. My strategy is to arrive at and to work toward, rather than depart from, a conception of fiction.

The idea of defictionalization involves the possibility of the reader's movement between different interpretative communities and contexts. The issue, therefore, involves the problem of how to change the interpretative and generic frames of interpretation or of how such a frame may "extinguish" or "hide itself" in some other sense than that of a deceit or misconception. For the sake of maintaining the analytical force of the concept, my definition of fiction is purposefully limited. I think of fiction here as a genre of representation that is interpreted and socially used in a certain way and that carries with it specific expectations concerning, for instance, the referential dimension of the discourse. I thus rephrase the question in the title of my paper: can a fictional text, in the generic sense, a text known and already identified to be fictional, ever become fact? This is basically the same as asking whether a work of fiction can cease to be fiction and no longer be recognized as such, at the level of the work itself (such as novel, movie, drama) or at the level of its overall effect--rather than at the level of its parts or private uses.

I will structure my discussion around five interrelated reasons that contribute to the fact that such a transition is difficult or even impossible to think of: (1) the commonness of as-if structures in our daily life and identity; (2) the possibility of generic combinations between literature, fiction, factual representation, and narrative; (3) the criteria determining the categories of fiction and fact as based on communal assumptions and values that are relatively stable (concerning, especially, the so-called fact convention: readers' critical capability in perceiving the presumed truth-value of information about the actual world); (4) the popularity, in fiction, of metalepsis and the theme of transworld travel between different ontological spheres (how fiction can always imagine a new context for itself and vis-a-vis its truth-value); (5) and the fictionalization of literature in the historical perspective. The last point not only involves the ongoing debate over the development of the category of literature as fiction but is also related to the perseverance of a certain convention of reading literature, the convention of the double ontological structure of reading fiction.

Fictionlike Realities

It is difficult to come up with good examples of fiction becoming factual because fictionlike realities, such as counterfactuals and lies, are all too common in our everyday experience. It is only human to mistake the make-believe for the factual or to believe a lie. Many may believe fiction to be true (partially, privately, in their group). This is part of the appeal of fictions such as Emma Bovary or Don Quixote and of some contemporary varieties of online "desktop theatre" in which the players can take on entirely new, invented identities.

A person's sense of identity, as well as the social configuration of his or her identity, is also always a fictionlike reality, constituted in and through representations. Identity is part reality when it responds to the requirements of nonfiction, as in the documentation of identity or as in a testimony. It is part fiction when a person relates the story of his or her life and emplots lived experience as a pattern of his or her personality. Identity may rest on claims about the naturalness of storytelling even though there is no natural pattern to the narrative of one's life. Real people's actual perceptions of each other's identities do not differ much from a reader's understanding of fictional characters.

It is equally common that various types of what the German philosopher Hans Vaihinger, in his Die Philosophie Als Ob (1913), called as-if structures are transformed into reality. We make use of contrary-to-fact or could-be notions--like juristic fictions in legal cases, conjectured events in historiography, and counterfactual scenarios in political journalism--to make sense of our world. People also appropriate sayings, mannerisms, and behavior patterns from fiction, factual texts borrow narrative devices and metaphors from fiction, and sometimes real events are best described by figures of speech that refer to fiction. We 'use adjectives such as Kafkaesque, Dickensian, and Orwellian as well as other references to reality through fiction, as in the phrase "Victorian as in The French Lieutenant's Woman." At these moments, it seems as if the actual world is accessible from the textual actual world, the fictional world.

Other examples of fluctuation between fiction and reality--ones sometimes used in the applications of possible-worlds theory to literature--are the as-if and could-be structures within fiction that have become reality. Certain forms of, say, science fiction and utopia can become real in the actual world. For instance, Jules Verne's and Albert Robida's future possibilities, imagined in the late nineteenth century, are our present and past. The passing of time and the invention of submarines make Verne's Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (1870) fully compatible for the modern reader (see Ryan, Possible 41). In his illustrated work Le vingtieme siecle (1883), Robida imagined a prototype television that he named the "telephonoscope." Similarly, modern sociology of literature or historiography may use the realistic novels of Balzac and Zola, despite their fictional status, as exemplary descriptions of actual nineteenth-century life. Thus, as the world changes, fiction obtains new, real reference.

Such historical changes, however anticipated by fiction, do not affect the generic category of the text. Verne's and Robida's future or Balzac's "present day" realistic versions of Paris remain fictional worlds even if many fictional aspects of them have been or are now true. The same goes for present-day TV productions funded by the American PAWS (Public Awareness of Science and Engineering) drama fund and its European arm EuroPAWS that encourage television drama, both fiction and fact, to draw on science and new, future or "future real" technologies. Similarly, the actualization of as-if structures (of the past), the staging of a play, the fact that the movie audience can experience real emotions, or that someone can spend more time as an avatar on line than in his or her life off line, is merely a further example of the many points of contact between fiction and reality. The various interpenetrations of fact, counterfactuals, constructed identities, lies, and fiction do not undo the generic distinctions between texts but are an indication of their distinction. If fiction could simply become real (nonfiction) and if the performance of identity could replace, say, a person's socially and historically verifiable place of origin, this would question the already vulnerable concept of identity even further. Culturally and socially unhindered migration between fact and fiction would also obliterate the need for as-if structures, counterfactuals, and alternative possible worlds.

An obvious objection to asking whether fiction can become fact is that the very question, despite the emphasis put on the transformation between the two domains, merely reproduces the old opposition between fiction and nonfiction (presuming also to know what some universal criteria of "reality" are). To inquire whether fiction can become fact seems to suggest that the relation between the categories of fiction and nonfiction is definable only as one of contrast or of (possible) radical transformation. Instead of seeing these categories as opposites with regard to the verifiability of the statement, one can simply argue that the relation between fiction and factual representation is one of degree, a matter of a continuum of hybrid forms and thereby affected by the possibility of constant fluctuation between the two. On the one hand, it is expected of fiction that it include lessons to be extracted in regard to the real world. It has been shown in various psychological experiments how fictional information is incorporated into long-term memory structures, with no essential difference from the mental processing of facts, or how fictional information becomes part of the body of information wielding influence on a person's everyday judgments (Gerrig 208-14). On the other hand, a radical textualist or a proponent of deconstruction would claim that all discourses about the material world, be they factual or fictional, are circumscribed by the texts we construe in relation to the world. In the construction of a world, a concept, or a discourse, the generic difference between texts may not be important. In this sense, neither fiction nor any nonfictional representation of reality could truly transform into the other in the full sense of the term, since the two are already implicated in each other. Instead of a transformation, it might thus be better to examine the shift of emphasis, the borrowing of materials or the gradual changes in relation to the dominant mode of discourse of the text. The notions of mutual implication or a continuum of hybrid forms also seem better suited to back up the idea that fiction can always be actualized with regard to some individual person or group of persons if they decide to do so for one reason or another.

Still I am looking at a problem that exists at a different level of conceptualization. Fiction may have enormous relevance for a person's life. As Paul Ricoeur argues in "Can Fictional Narratives Be True?" fiction can redirect us to what is important in the actual world of action. It is also likely to be impossible to distinguish fictional constructs from other types of constructions of our world and its others. This, however, does not explain why there is so much cultural and social resistance to a fictional work's becoming fact fully and unconditionally. Even if all discourses about the material world are circumscribed by the texts we construe in relation to that world, the constitution and constitutive power of the text's genre or its transformation also matters. Changes in the text's genre can affect the construction of any world.

Fiction, Fact, and Narrative

The categories of fiction and nonfiction also interrelate and cooperate through the domains of narrative and literature (literary understood in terms of a communally approved and shared literary value). The multiple possible combinations between a text's assumed fictionality, factuality, narrativity, and literary value may create a sense of easy transformation between fiction and nonfiction even if nothing like that were taking place. The equation of narrativization with fictionalization has been the questionable premise of the postmodern challenge to historiography.

Ryan's typology of different possibilities in combining literary narrative and fictional elements or genres points out the versatility in the available options. A plus sign (+) indicates presence and a minus sign (-) absence of the given category:
 Literary Narrative Fiction (+ + +)
 "High" genres like drama, epic poetry, novels and short stories,
 popular fiction like thrillers, and "low" literary genres like
 jokes, etc.

 Literary Narrative Nonfiction (+ + -)
 Works of autobiography and history acknowledged as literature

 Literary Nonnarrative Fiction (+ - +)
 Postmodernist antinarrative texts

 Literary Nonnarrative Nonfiction (+ - -)
 Collections of aphorisms, some classics of science or philosophy
 honored as literature

 Nonliterary Narrative Fiction (- + +)
 Unusual: some types of journalism that use fiction and fictional
 devices?

 Nonliterary Narrative Nonfiction (- + -)
 News reports, works of history, narratives of personal experience

 Nonliterary Nonnarrative Fiction (- +)
 Unusual: mathematical problems, some types of journalism that are
 not canonized as literature?

 Nonliterary Nonnarrative Nonfiction (- - -)
 Advertisements, recipes, interviews, text books, literary criticism
 and theory, sermons; conducting business, saying hello and goodbye,
 exchanging opinions, etc.

 (Possible 1-2)


The taxonomy is quite limiting or too vague in some senses, such as in the relative openness of the meaning of the concepts "literary" and "nonnarrative," but it points out how both fiction and nonfiction have narrative and nonnarrative forms. Narrative is not tied to literature or fiction. Two of these categories, however, remain extremely rare and questionable in a way that is also significant to my question of defictionalization. Both of these cases--nonliterary narrative fiction and nonliterary nonnarrative fiction--involve the unlikely combination of fiction and a nonliterary text, a text that is never or not yet granted a literary status.

In the first category, besides some cases of journalism or mathematical problems that may perfectly resemble fiction, such as a fictional column, one may include a few cases neglected by Ryan. For example, daydreams or unpublished fairy tales are fictional narratives but are not necessarily literature (if it is possible to leave out certain types of oral literature from the category of literature). In general, however, the category of nonliterary narrative fiction seems to be an anomaly. It may prove to be even more difficult to find examples of nonliterary nonnarrative fiction. One may perhaps think of some philosophical thought experiment or a form of meditation that functions, for instance, as pure description or as an imperative for action rather than as a narrative. Thought puzzles like "think X," "think the missing blue hew in this black and white photo," or "think of water that does not consist of the [H.sub.2]O combination" are nonliterary nonnarrative fiction, that is, fictional thought without a narrative impulse. The same could be argued of certain forms of proverbs, sayings, and aphorisms that are not canonized as literature. However, there may be no point in interpreting these genres as fiction. The same difficulty goes for aphoristic remarks within fiction. Anna Karenina starts famously with the statement "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." This statement is undoubtedly an assertive one. Even for the novel's evolving fictional world, it would be reductive to evaluate the statement only in terms of fictional make-believe.

Do we not resort to a rather wide definition of fiction in the cases of nonliterary fiction? Does fiction exist, as a genre, beyond the category of the narrative and of the fictional world that it constructs? What would be the point in referring to formulated thoughts or thought puzzles, statements, poems, or aphorisms as fiction? (3) On the other hand, narrative is not a universal principle for fiction-making.

The combination of nonliterary and fiction creates categorical difficulties since there are only a few (uncertain) examples to back the category up. The question of fiction becoming fact is also reiterated in Ryan's diagram. For a text earlier known as fiction to become nonfiction, it would seem in most cases to have to lose its literary value as well. A text known as fiction rarely can be read as a nonliterary text. For any individual, of course, fiction can be connected to and seen to explain anything in the actual world. In these cases, however, fiction serves as nonfiction for individual purposes, while the overall social criteria for determining what text is fiction remain intact. However, the rare types of nonliterary fiction test the audience's generic expectations concerning the demarcations of fiction, fact, and narrative. They are also accepted and tolerated because their status is often temporary by nature.

That fact and fiction can be combined with various kinds of literary and narrative models does not change the generic status of a text as fiction or as fact. Nor does the lack of narrative impulse affect that status. The examples of the actualization of fiction, found from and within fictional literature, such as Emma Bovary or Don Quixote, are equally unconvincing: a theory of fiction that takes fiction for a fact sounds truly paradoxical.

Fiction and Fact as Rigid Designators

Let me now turn to one of the most extended theoretical discussions on the shifts that occur in and out of fiction. The theory of fiction put forward by Thomas Pavel in his Fictional Worlds (1986) may further illustrate the difficulty in finding examples of works of fiction turned factual. Pavel's theory is unique in that it describes changes not only between fiction and nonfiction but also among fictional, factual, and mythical generic categories. For Pavel, the three predominant frames of reference and signification are actuality, fiction, and myth (or religion): the frontiers of fiction are separated on one side by myth and on the other from actuality. Under certain historical conditions the differences between these domains can be challenged. (4)

This theory is also significant in that Pavel criticizes the notion of a historical block that some theories of reference use to indicate the origin of the referential history of a certain name. As some theories of reference contend, a historical block is an event that mistakenly introduces some names as rigid designators of existing entities. Thus, a historical block is an event that precludes any referent being identified (Pavel 39-40; cf. Donnellan 23-24). For example, the referential history of Santa Claus, a child's imaginary companion, or of an author called Homer ends in a historical block. The fundamental transformation in the status of a mythical text vis-a-vis reality may also be related to the discovery of a certain historical block that in ancient times compelled people to assume certain gods to be real. Such discovery ambiguates the status of a myth and finally moves it into another domain, that of fiction: "with the weakening of the mythological system, one or more or all individuals belonging to that mythology [are] moved into another domain" (Pavel 41).

Pavel, however, criticizes the notion of a historical block for overemphasizing causal and historical chains as the grounds of reference. Humans, he argues, "largely use names and mean them as rigid designators even or perhaps especially when such chains have misty origins" (41). (5) One may talk about Santa Claus even if one does not believe in him, or refer to Homer, even if his existence is doubtful. Another problem with the notion of the historical block is that the theory tries to explain something that, in effect, is quite beyond our knowledge, that is, the origin of a myth. A block seems to be set precisely when the mythological system gradually ceases to be a religious truth, not when the myth is born, having thus little or nothing to do with the historical links relating each name of a god to that god's baptism.

Obviously, we can always try to explain the origin of myths by providing myths with some real, historical context and reference. This, however, may paradoxically be interpreted as an attempt to fictionalize mythical beliefs. The famous eighteenth-century explanation of Greek myths, set forth by Abbe Banier in his La Mythologie et les fables expliquees par l'histoire (1738), as hidden, real histories and as descriptions of natural phenomena, is based on such a premise. For Abbe Banier, the myths are simply "embellished," "ornamented," or "ingeniously enveloped" real stories. According to this view, metamorphoses in Ovid, for instance, including people transforming into other organisms or inanimate objects, portray real effects and phenomena found in nature. Thus Banier consistently explains the generic category of a myth by relating myths to reality: myths are neither mere allegories nor moralities but have been or--in his analysis at least--become social and natural histories. (6) What may be so amusing about Abbe Banier's writings from today's perspective is his unquestioned belief in the referential origin of a mythical tale, that is, in a clear-cut historical block that we have yet to discover. Pavel's theory helps us to see how individual beings may move gradually from one domain of reference to the other by sliding slowly without any clear individual gate or specific forgotten block in their referential history. Fictional entities can also easily reside within referential discourse without our necessarily questioning the status of that discourse.

At the same time, however, Pavel's critique of the notion of a historical block--the discovery of which would necessitate a radical change in the generic expectations of a text--contributes to the same ambiguity in regard to the possibility of defictionalization that is common to many recent theories of fiction. His model indirectly privileges fiction over the other frames of reference in the sense that it is fiction that may function as the final stage in the historical change of all other types of discourse. In addition, Pavel provides no examples of fiction being transformed into actuality--anything can turn into fiction but fiction cannot turn into anything. Myth and fact can turn into fiction. However, can fiction become extinct?

The theoreticians of fiction naturally emphasize the social significance of fiction and may even privilege it over other domains of representation. Yet does not our culture at large prioritize the criteria that maintain the category of fact? It is crucial, for instance, to believe some truth-value in a doctor's diagnosis or the daily market information. To suspect that an established fact may be a false construct is often beneficial and rewarded--or strongly rejected--by the community (think for instance of the benefits and dangers in rewriting history). Similarly, as Flaubert and Cervantes show us, to believe fiction to be fact often has fatal consequences. (7)

In questioning the notion of the historical block, Pavel's theory indicates another reason for the apparent one-sidedness of the interdomain transformations outlined in recent theories: in terms of the social expectations and evaluation of certain kinds of texts, there usually is no uncertainty concerning the coming into being of fiction as fiction. Thus the generic category of fiction and that of nonfiction that is defined in opposition to it are rather rigid designators. Certainly, the potential verisimilitude of some fiction is part of its appeal: how much autobiography is there, for instance, in Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu? How much reality is there behind the ideal Renaissance women of Dante, Betrarca, and Boccaccio: Beatrice, Laura, and Fiammetta? These questions are interesting from the historical point of view but do not necessarily affect the generic status of the text. The belated archaeological "actualization" of Homer's depiction of war over Troy has not transformed Homer's work into historiography. (8)

In some exceptional cases, the categories of various types of nonfiction can be so well simulated in fiction that the reader may, mistakenly, think them not to be fiction. A much discussed example of this is Wolfgang Hildesheimer's novel Marbot (1981), which acts like a well-documented biography. The work confused some of its first reviewers, as Dorrit Cohn says, by applying historical discourse to bring a fictional figure to life "in lieu of applying fictional discourse to bring a historical figure to life" (29; see also Schaeffer 136-37). The text sets an imaginary character, a British romantic art critic, in what seems to be a well-documented historical setting. The intention was not to mislead the reader since the dust jacket pronounced that the text fiction. The generic status of the text, however, remained hidden for some readers due to the author's reputation as a Mozart biographer, the subtitle "biography," and other paratexts, such as Marbot's "image" on the cover, the text's formal mimesis, and its historical referentiality.

When a real attempt at deception is made known, the case has usually graver consequences. Soon after the Hildesheimer debate, in the spring of 1983, Konrad Kujau's forgery of Adolf Hitler's diary led to prosecution, and those responsible were sentenced. The press who had bought the story, as well as the historians who had believed it, were subjected to scathing criticism. Likewise, the hardbound copies of the holocaust "memoir" by Binjamin Wilkomirski, Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood, were quickly withdrawn from the stores after the book was exposed as a hoax. These cases go to show not just that in some cases fact and fiction are rigid designators but that in regard to factual representation, a lack of evidence concerning the author's identity and intention has an even more meaningful role to play. The mysteriousness of the real authors of Lettres portugaises or The Diary of Jack the Ripper challenges theses texts' assumed fictionality less than it questions their assumed factuality.

Perhaps, then, one needs to ignore completely some historical, communal "block"--the initial or accepted classification of the text and the subsequent expectations that dictate its reading--before fiction can become fact. The possibility of a perfect simulation of a biography or a diary suggests that even if fiction became fact, we must be blind to the event. As much criticism of autobiography aims to show, instances of the partial actuality of fiction are always possible: what people have regarded as fictional in literature may have hidden truth-value both for the author (fiction has belated actuality), as well as for the reader. What Philippe Lejeune has called the "phantasmatic pact," affects the reading and writing of fiction. Fiction can always be read as an instance of the writer's phantasms that could be truer, in the sense of the personal, intimate truth about the author, than his or her autobiography. Autobiography, as a normative criterion of a life story, cannot always reveal intimacies (Lejeune 27). A communal and successful defictionalization, however, would change not only the way we see the text's features but the very nature of the work. It is difficult to understand that one can be so blind: blind to the nature of a whole fictional world and a context of meaning, not just some single character, name, statement or event. (9) Such a catastrophe could not be fully recognized as a catastrophe--and how could it thus be known? (10)

Transworld Travel in Fiction

From this perspective, however--when the distinction between the factual and the nonfactual is not seen or it no longer matters--fiction does provide the best and most versatile examples. This, in fact, suggests another difficulty in finding convincing examples of fiction becoming extinct: fiction often describes the possibility of its own undoing. Besides works by Cervantes and Flaubert, numerous texts portray migrations between different domains of signification and worlds of experience that require the reader to recenter him- or herself into a new fictional world. In narratology such migrations are often called metalepsis or metaleptic infractions. (11) Metalepsis, as for instance Gerard Genette defines the term, means the deliberate and playful transgression with the limits of embedded levels of narration.

In the last chapter of E. T. A. Hoffmann's story "Der goldne Tof" ("The Golden Flower Pot"), the mad scientist figure, Archivarius Lindhorst, suddenly writes to the narrator requesting to assist in the completion of the work; in Maurice Renard's short story "La felure," the novelist Salvien Farges is chased through Paris by a character of his story to his home, where he quickly crosses out the end of the narrative from which the character has "escaped" so that the story would not end in murder. In John Fowles's novel The French Lieutenant's Woman, the narrator-author famously steps into the scene at the end of the narrative wondering what he should do with his main character, Charles. In Robert Coover's short story "The Phantom of the Movie Place," an empty movie house and its films come alive around a projectionist. The projectionist in Coover's story has played with multiple projectors to create montage effects on the screen, but fiction takes over his life and fictionalizes it. The narrative itself follows the same formal experimentation by starting with a series of noncontextualized "takes" from films that suggest the effect of moving between different fictional worlds. (12)

The transgression of ontological boundaries and the migration between the fictional, the possible, and the factual are also central themes of postmodern fiction and the poetics of cyberpunk. (13) Such migrations are foregrounded, for instance, in Andy and Larry Wachowski's film Matrix and its sequels. In this fictional world, virtual reality has taken the place of reality: people think that they live their ordinary lives, while in actuality they are herded by machines in an apocalyptic world of a computer-generated virtuality. This delusion is more lifelike and comfortable than the gloomy reality of the slavery to the machine. The key experience in the film, however, may not be the juxtaposition of different worlds nor the successful battle against the Matrix but the ceaseless travel between the various domains of existence. Transworld travel is made possible through telephones, electric networks, code-breaking, and, it seems, mind-altering drugs: the boundaries of different worlds are crossed between the Matrix and its outside, between the computer network and the physical bodies, between symbolic heaven and hell (the last opposition is suggested by the film's many mythological and Christian allusions: Sion, Nebuchadnezzar, trinity, Neo/the chosen one). One could even claim that, due to the ceaseless transworld travel, Matrix and its sequels revolve around a kind of referential or cultural "block" that exists between different domains of signification and existence. The film eventually deals with the question of how and why the real world of the machine can become reality in the minds of the people who are accustomed to the simulacrum. The cause of the fear is that if the baudrillardian simulation world of the Matrix takes over--the references to Jean Baudrillard are as evident and superficial as the many mythological allegories of the film--it will cease to be experienced as a construction, a machine-programmed reality that it truly is. As one of the rebels in the first episode gives up reality for fiction, he not only betrays his companions but also breaks the pact with the criteria that governs the reality of his community.

The appeal of such metaleptic experiences outside the normal flow of existence could indicate a certain collective expression of moments when cultural order is both transgressed and rejuvenated. The possibility of transfer between various domains of signification both serves various intellectual, psychological, and emotional needs and causes fear. When the criteria determining reality are made visible in metalepsis through the playful simulation of belief in the integrity of a certain narrated world, this may, like any defamiliarization of the familiar, lead to new vividness of meaning. However, discovering that the world one has believed in is an illusion or based on false premises may of course be a disturbing discovery.

Theories of fiction often shy away from discussing recent trends in TV production, but the current fascination with pseudodocumentary, docufiction, and reality TV shows can be related to a similar appeal of a dramatized sense of confusion between what may be fact and what is not. (14) How to relate "fact" to "fiction" is an ordinary part of TV viewing today. In his Pourquoi la fiction? Jean-Marie Schaeffer suggests that fiction functions as the playful (ludique) detachment from the actual conflicts between people; fiction, so to say, eases the psychological tensions brought about by direct relations in reality (323-24). Fiction, however, and also virtual reality, and TV programs that are hybrid forms of fiction and nonfiction may be the only places where such interdomain transfer is actually possible. Other conceivable cases might include dreams, traumatic memories, and types of mental illness that invite distortion of reality and disrupt genres of representation and communication. (15) Communal fear (of violent attack, war, or oppression) and panic may likewise undermine the ability to judge what is real. (16)

There is no limit to the number of worlds and realities in which the author and the reader can imagine the fictional characters they are engaged with. It is expected of fiction that it recenters and challenges the order of one's reality. This expectation may be another reason that the transformation between fiction and reality is so often, in fiction from Flaubert to Matrix and from Hoffmann to Coover, related to strong emotions and anomalous situations. When fiction becomes fact (in fiction) it is most typically accompanied either by strong comic relief or by all-embracing and potentially destructive emotions like extreme forms of melancholia, intense suffering caused by the betrayal of one's own, hallucination, fear, panic, and madness.

The Fictionalization of Literature

But let us now come to the final reason that it is difficult to come up with good examples of works of fiction that have become factual representations. This has to do with the historical category of fiction and the fact that literature and its reading, in a sense, have been fictionalized only as of late. My initial question could in fact be further specified: how long have we been able to recognize a text as fiction in a generic sense, as having a certain generic frame around it, and to read it accordingly? How long have we been capable of attributing a certain ontological status to a fictional text, one that is removed from texts representing the actual world? And what would it mean to this institution and practice of fiction if the texts that it has revolved around could be moved to the domain of nonfiction?

It seems, in fact, that the question of the history of fiction not only has caused extensive debate among the various theoreticians of fiction but also is the very cause of the irresolvable discrepancies within the pragmatic-contextual theories of fiction. The problem of the ontological status of the fictional text characterizes equally well Nelson Goodman's radical cultural relativism outlined in his Ways of Worldmaking, the application of possible worlds semantics to fiction (Dolezel, Eco, Pavel, Ronen, Ryan), and certain proponents of narratology who, like Cohn and Gerard Genette in his Fiction et diction, have recently theorized fiction.

The extreme opposites in the theory of fiction are sometimes characterized as forms of segregationism and integrationism. Radical forms of segregationism think that fiction is pure imagination without truth, that fiction has no ontological status, while radical integrationism assumes that there is no genuine ontological difference between fiction and true representation (Pavel 11-31; Ronen 45; Ryan, Possible 15-16). (17) The segregationist ontology argues that fiction can put forward true statements--but does not need to do so--only about imaginary beings (the truth value of a proposition may only be assigned separately for each possible world). Fiction does not therefore equal lying but involves nonexisting or nonactualizable entities. Segregationism, however, faces severe difficulties when it encounters, as Ryan points out, the challenge of ontologically hybrid textual worlds: "If objects are inherently fictional or real, how can one explain the presence of historical individuals and real locations in a work of fiction?" (Possible 15). References to nonexisting entities (for instance, in literary criticism) also do not necessarily make any text fiction.

Nevertheless, in Goodman's version of the integrationist theory, reality can basically be accessed only through different ways of description. Or rather, reality remains equally inaccessible to all types of signification. For Goodman, there is no necessary hierarchy of various types of description, be it Cervantes's novel or a theory in physics, in terms of their verifiability: "reality in a world, like realism in a picture, is largely a matter of habit" (20). The theory of possible worlds is also unacceptable to Goodman, as Wolfgang Iser points out, at least as long as it makes a physically real world the reference point for all other possible worlds; even the experiential data that physics refers to are not just the product of observation but the result of construction and interpretation (153; cf. Putnam 162-66). Likewise, Pavel's theory comes close to the leveling of differences between different discursive practices and modes when it develops the idea that successful reference is independent of existential conditions (Ronen 42-46). An obvious danger of such integrationist approaches is that they may fail to notice any distinction between different truth-values in statements or between various ontological domains in culture. This can further lead one to posit an unproblematic accessibility between world-systems (Ronen 11).

Both integrationism and segregationism tend to lack a historical perspective on the question of fiction, that is, the significance of the changes within and between the various domains of signification. Even Pavel seems to assume that we can project our modern categories of fiction, myth, and fact far back to the past. In this respect, the various applications of possible-worlds semantics on the one hand and Cohn's narrative theory on the other hand are mediating positions, even though they approach the theoretical middle from opposing directions. For Lubomir Dolezel, fiction is a set of criteria for reading, or an attitude for interpretation, the basic nature of which is its specific relation to the notion of a possible world. The specificity of fiction is evident, for instance, in the practice of reading according to a doubled ontological structure: while we know fiction to be fiction we accept it on its own terms. The model of a multiple-world frame seems to describe, Dolezel argues, the world-constructing enterprises of fiction better than any form of the mimetic principle that ties fiction closely to the actual world (Heterocosmica 12-28). Thus fictional worlds and their particulars are simply neither actual nor possible worlds, no matter how easy it is for the writer to move a fictional person from one world to another (see Heterocosmica 226). Rather, Dolezel's model fiction has the status of nonactualized possibles: fictional worlds are accessed through semiotic channels and by means of information processing only (physical entry and direct observation are unthinkable).

We may never get satisfactory answers by referring to the text in questions such as whether the character called Beloved in Toni Morrison's Beloved is a real (fictional) character, a ghost, or just a figment of the characters' imagination. (18) With regard to historiography, in contrast, it is legitimate to ask questions about the nature and existence of additional details (see, e.g., Pihlainen). For such problems to become the focus of attention in the reading of fiction, the generic expectations would have to change. To pay attention to historical facts and their verifiability in fiction is an example of textual expectations that break the norm of the predominant ontological double structure in reading fiction.

From this perspective, the question of whether fiction can become fact is in a sense a moot point, since in reading fiction, we always move between different ontological assumptions. Moreover, it is this constant migration that often makes fiction worth attention in the first place. It seems that my initial hypothesis of the difficulty in the factualization of fiction must again be redefined and specified. What then are the historical and social conditions that make it possible to recognize

the intended attitude of make-believe? Or what are the conditions that, in the reading of a fictional narrative, cause us to collapse the distinction between reader and narratee? Can one think of the process of imaginative participation in the textual world, or what Ryan calls immersion and recentering into a textual world (Narrative), in terms of a historically evolved institution? The history of the reading of fiction as a genre, or the history of the distinction between fact and fiction, from the point of view of historically varying expectations and conventions of reading, is yet to be written.

In possible-worlds semantics, the boundary between fiction and nonfiction is usually perceived as an open one even if their opposition is also reaffirmed. (19) For Cohn, in contrast, fiction, in the generic sense, cannot ever become factual; we mistake the message when we mistake the genre or the generic "key" of reading. The classification of a text as fiction or fact is a prerequisite for its reading: we simply have to choose whether we read some text as fiction or as fact (Cohn 35). In this sense, Cohn's approach is segregationist and "compartmentalist." In other words, fiction and fact are distinct forms of signification. Yet, for Cohn, the very task of classification may be an essential part of reading and interpreting a given text. Texts may refer, with means of fiction, to the impossibility of the passage--from fiction to fact or from fact to fiction--and "resist" their classification in a way that contributes to the text's appeal. What the generically ambiguous texts such as Proust's A la recherche manifest, argues Cohn, is that we cannot conceive of any given text as more or less fictional, more or less factual, but that we read it in one key or the other--that fiction, in short, is not a matter of degree but of kind (35-36).

For Cohn, the signposts of fiction include these:

1. An adherence to a bi-level story/discourse model that assumes emancipation from the enforcement of a referential data base.

2. The representation of inner lives: (a) the employment of narrative situations that open to inside views of the characters' minds, the here and now of their lives; or (b) the mind-reading experience: fiction can make the reader share in a character' s experience of time.

3. An articulation of narrative voices that can be detached from their authorial origin. (viii)

Cohn develops the taxonomy of textual features that determine the classification of a single text as fiction. She admits, however, that all the narrative features listed above can easily be imitated and used by various kinds of factual texts--such simulation requires more from the viewer only in terms of a successful classification. Cohn, however, is not directly concerned with the problem of the conditions of fictionality: how one can recognize generic signposts. (20) Nor is she interested in how long we have been able to do so in terms of the genre of fiction--or suggest how this could be investigated in the first place. Neither does she ever ask when one is able to assert the fictionality of the text: does it happen before noticing any generic signposts or after them, in relation to a tradition of reading or without knowledge of previous classifications?

Still, the revised narratology of Cohn necessitates the question of the function of generic criteria. The problem concerns exactly how one identifies those points in the discourse at which one is impelled to decide the generic status or the generic modulation of the discourse. For instance, the third signpost (the "disjunctive theory") requires the reader to perform a contextualizing evaluation of the text in regard to the responsibility of the narrative voice: what the narrating voice is responsible for and whether, in case of the so-called covert narrators, there is any narrative voice to be detected (see Ryan, "Fiction" 362-64). Besides the three signposts listed above, Cohn also refers to the principle of nonreferentiality. This is the idea and experience that fiction itself creates the world to which it refers by referring to it; fiction crafts a self-enclosed universe ruled by formal patterns. For Cohn, a fictional text is essentially a literary nonreferential narrative: it can refer to the real world but need not do it; the referentiality of fiction does not have to be accurate nor exclusive (15). The signposts, therefore, are not sufficient in themselves to determine the classification of any text as fiction. The communally affirmed principles of referentiality and verifiability help one to decide what features of the text do or do not have a referent in the actual world, or whether one is to concentrate on them and why. (21)

Dolezel's thinking, likewise, in applying the notion of semantic worlds and the principle of world-construction, moves toward a sharpened sense of fiction. All representation, as Goodman argues, may be responsible for world-construction, but this, Dolezel stresses, is a specific feature of fiction. An important result in Dolezel's theory is a negative one: the notion of a possible world is misleading in regard to fiction at least in so far as fiction does not concern itself with actual possible worlds. (22) Fiction either concerns itself mostly with textual actual worlds or with textual alternative possible worlds or may take a nonactual possible world and describe it as if it were actual. Dolezel's theoretization of the reading of fiction in a double ontological key, in regard to the possible, is an advantage over Cohn's descriptive typology. Cohn assumes a notion of nonreferentiality that the text supposedly imposes on its reader.

I may again rephrase my original question. When reading or viewing fiction, one can and is urged to apply an ontological double standard, to move between various ontological assumptions and expectations. But if this is so, then one must ask whether or not the convention of reading fiction in doubled ontological structure can change so much that due to this transformation, some text of fiction, communally categorized as such, would thereby be read as nonfiction.

Conclusion

It is obviously not possible to do full justice to the recent theories of fiction or their discrepancies and disagreements in this brief space. Pavel's theory of transworld travel; Iser's emphasis on the triadic relation between the real, the fictive, and the imaginary; Walter L. Kendall's notion of make-believe in reading fiction; cognitive studies on the experience of fictive worlds; the various versions of possible-worlds semantics; and the recent narratological revisions of the category of fiction have all greatly benefited the analysis of the preconditions for recognizing what is fictional. In fact, as the analysis of the specificity of fiction sharpens--in relation to other domains of representation--it seems ever harder to find examples of fiction becoming fact. The literary theorist who explicitly asks the question of the possibility of defictionalization may face the risk of becoming a true Don Quixote: if one actually claims to have an example of the (f)actualization of fiction, is one not perhaps as deluded or as fortunate as one of the many literary characters that can move from one ontological domain to another? As readers or viewers of fiction, however, we are supposed to simultaneously inhabit two different worlds with different ontological statuses, not just move from one world to the other. This is Don Quixote's dilemma in a new form: while one may argue that successful reference is independent of existential conditions especially in regard to fiction, the principle may lead one to forget that reference is often judged to be unsuccessful in other types of texts. (23)

At the same time, the question of fiction as a historical qualification of certain texts, as well as a type of the institutional compartmentalization of literature in the modern period, remains little developed and as difficult to answer as ever. Clearly another indication that the historicity of fiction remains an undecided issue is the persistent ambiguity in the question of defictionalization. In the theory of fiction, the possibility of fiction being factualized or becoming extinct is often simultaneously assumed and denied, or restricted. Furthermore, despite all emphasis on the pragmatic and historical aspects of reading and the significance of interpretive contexts and communities, the semantic and stylistic description of fiction is still developing and ongoing.

Our sharpened theoretical sense of the distinction of fiction points back to the final reason that it is so difficult to answer my initial question. For attitude toward fiction to fundamentally change, one should also have to forget the very fictionalization of literature, the increased complexity of the literary system, and the double-framed make-believe conventions of experiencing fiction (present with us, since the eighteenth century at least but perhaps even since the Italian Renaissance). This sounds like a lot of work: how can one neglect all the cultural advice that prompts one to pay attention to differences in verifiability and value in various texts and data? How are we to regard fiction not as a historically and communally limited place or practice where such differences can be tested but rather as a space where such differences are overcome in actuality? Furthermore, how do we ignore the ontological question as well as the cognitive structuration concerning what is real and what is not? The possibility of full factualization of fiction would also mean that historiography and fictional texts could be fundamentally interchangeable. In the Western culture at large, the ontological status of texts and statements remains important for many other essential questions such as what is necessary or good, or what does someone intend by what he or she says. Much fiction plays upon the same questions and makes us rehearse the criteria we use in determining the truth-values in statements.

For that to happen, for this forgetting of fiction as fiction to take place, maybe one would need a different notion and experience of meaning altogether. Perhaps one should simply forget, not recognize, and not acknowledge the world as we know it. Therefore, my final remark is yet another question: Is it only in an impossible world where fiction can become fact, since in ours there are no examples of fictional worlds that are no longer fiction?

I am grateful to Marie-Laure Ryan for her comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Works Cited

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Dolezel, Lubomir. "Fictional and Historical Narrative: Meeting the Postmodernist Challenge." Narratologies: New Perspectives on Narrative Analysis. Ed. David Herman. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1999. 247-273.

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Pihlainen, Kalle. "The Moral of the Historical Story: Textual Differences in Fact and Fiction." New Literary History 33 (2002): 39-60.

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Kai Mikkonen

University of Helsinki

Notes

(1) Among these expectations one may also include "fictional competence," a form of generic and cultural competence which can help one, for instance, to deal with the real emotions aroused by fiction. See Schaeffer 16, 59-60.

(2) Lettres portugaises is of course another proof of the possibility that no stylistic or semantic properties of the text, in themselves, could decide the text's generic status. However, the same case is also an indication of the complexities of generic transformation since the history of the text's reception does not involve any gradual transformation, as to its generic classification. Since the truth about the letters' fictionality is not soundproof, some still hold the view that Alcoforado is their real author. For others, once the letters' fictional status and the authority of Gabriel de Lavergne de Guilleragues were reasonably well established, it would be self-deception to think of them as actual letters. For the historical changes in the letters' reception see, for instance, Klobucka.

(3) The question whether poetry can be read as an illusionistic text is pertinent here. See, for instance, Fludernik, "Genres, Text Types," and Wolf.

(4) Pavel 71, 81. There are basically two ways by which a previously factual text or an old belief can slide into fiction: (1) through a communal change of attitude toward the validity of the text (such as the belated fictionality of ageing myths); (2) by the reader's decision: texts that are nonfictional on semantic or pragmatic grounds can, for instance, be read fictionally for purely textual reasons (71). Both these transformations indicate a loss of the referential link between the text, or belief, and reality. The possible real referents of the poems of Homer or Chanson de Roland, for example, no longer concern us.

(5) Putnam and Kripke have, in a similar vein, argued that proper names may refer independently to the speaker's ability to identify the referent and its features: a name is tied to its referent socially, by the discursive practice in which such a tie is assumed. See Putnam x-xii, 17-18, 70-75; Kripke; and Ronen 42.

(6) At the same time, one may detect a conceptual block in Abbe Banier's thinking that he is unaware of. He never asks why the supposedly real story or event would become a myth in the first place; nor does he ask how one could have access, through myths, to the reality that once was--how to undo the myth-quality (the "mythness") of the myth.

(7) Totalitarian social systems pose another problem in this respect as they can be powerful enough to manipulate and change a text's generic status. The criteria determining a text's genre may be politically enforced so that an attempt to challenge them can have grave consequences. To take only a minor example: to publish a gulag memoir in Finland after the Second World War well into the 1980s was regarded a political act since Finnish gulag memoirs were seen as a disturbance to the official policy of friendship with the Soviet Union. The status of these memoirs as facts was also under suspicion. See Vettenniemi 23.

(8) Fludernik points out, in a similar fashion, that while the distinction between fact and fiction is taken care of by extratextual parameters, it does not mean that the "historicity of some fiction is not frequently made the object of comment and even lengthy reflection, or that historical writing may not easily slide into fictionalising techniques" ("Natural" Narratology 40).

(9) Fictional beings, as Pavel explains, are specific in this regard since they "do not necessarily come into existence through individual gates or blocks in their referential history," but, rather, "their fate is linked with the movements of populous groups that share the same ontological destiny. Fictionality cannot be understood as an individual feature: it encompasses entire realms of beings," or what could be called "fictional worlds" (42).

(10) MacIntyre ponders on a similar paradox in his essay "A Disquieting Suggestion," in which he imagines a postapocalyptical world where all scientific knowledge is lost but where scientific language or fragments of scientific discourse continue to be used in a grave state of disorder (1-5).

(11) Genette, Figures 244, and Metalepse; Fludernik, "Natural" Narratology 273-74; Ryan, "Metaleptic."

(12) There are of course differences in respect to the degree, level, and persistence of ontological entanglements in metalepsis. I am not that convinced, however, that one could easily make a demarcation between mere rhetorical and more profound ontological metalepsis in the way Ryan suggests ("Metaleptic"). This presupposes, on the one hand, a clear-cut distinction between a temporary "quick look" across the diegetic levels of a story and the suggestion of an actual ontological entanglement between the narrative's various levels. On the other hand, it assumes that a distinction can be made between a narrator's speaking about his or her characters and his or her speaking to them.

(13) As defined by McHale, Postmodernist and Constructing. On metalepsis as typical to postmodern fiction see also Heise, Chronoschisms 60, 64.

(14) In examining how recipients evaluate the reality status of media products, Schreier makes a helpful pragmatic distinction between the product's type (fact, fiction of hybrid type), a semantic perspective concerning product content (question of plausibility), and a perspective of mode referring to the (perceived) realism of the product.

(15) For traumatic memory as a generic disruption, see LaCapra 89-91.

(16) The famous radio broadcast of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds in October 1938 indicates not just a case of generic misframing but a rare moment of communal blindness toward the nature of an entire realm of beings and statements. Later, Hadley Cantril argued that the panic arose "essentially from an error in judgment"--from not being able to evaluate the stimulus in a way that would have enabled people to understand its inherent characteristics (111). The results from Schreier's recent study of the reception of the pseudodocumentary The Blair Witch Project (1999) point to the increasing use of media in evaluating the world around us--"even in cases where other and more unambiguous criteria are readily available" (330).

(17) Ryan has made a slightly different attempt at the distinction between various theories of fiction in her review article on Cohn's Distinction of Fiction ("Fiction"). Here Ryan sees the three basic theoretical options to be (l) the doctrine of panfictionality (all history and narratives are fiction); (2) the continuum approach (fiction and history are distinct forms, but they are linked by a continuum of hybrid forms, and there is no definite boundary between them); (3) distinction a la Cohn (the border between fiction and history is clearly marked even if hybridization is possible).

(18) Most versions of possible-worlds semantics refer to the experience of dual or complex structures: we make ontological commitments to imaginary beings and worlds--at least temporarily--even if we do not take them as real. As we read and see fiction we can, on the one hand, believe in its own reality or agree on the rules of its make-believe as Walton puts it and, on the other hand, not take it for granted.

(19) Such emphasis may be found in Dolezel, "Fictional and Historical Narrative."

(20) Cohn is, at least in her theory of the signposts, interested basically only in narratological indices of fiction. Genette, in contrast, lists among indications of fiction paratextual (generic namemarks, etc.), thematic, and stylistic indices as well as characters' names, traditional beginnings of stories, or typical beginnings of modern novels that presuppose the physical existence of their characters by exhibiting familiarity with them (Fiction 89-90). Cohn, however, does take paratextual indices into consideration in regard to Hildesheimer (92-95).

(21) The issue of nonreferentiality is, of course, a complex one. Ryan calls, justifiably so, Cohn's concept a misnomer ("Fiction" 359). Instead of nonreference, it may be more appropriate to talk about the performative nature of fictional language or about the importance of self-reference in fiction.

(22) A possible world means here a possible world that is alternative to an actual world and accessible from the actual world.

(23) Or that the lack of success in generic framing may be due to a set of criteria that the reader has not been able to use.
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