Academic journal article Style

Some Problems concerning a Theory of Fiction(ality)

Academic journal article Style

Some Problems concerning a Theory of Fiction(ality)

Article excerpt

1. The Linguistic Problem

Problems of theory often tend to be problems of language and this is especially--though not exclusively--the case in the so-called humanities. The debate on the nature of fiction is a case in point. The problems concerning the concept of fiction start with the fact that the term "fiction" has been applied to a considerable variety of phenomena at different times and in different places. This would not, in and of itself, create too much of a problem if only scholars were sufficiently aware of this fact.

In the English-speaking world, the term "fiction," when used to denote a type of text, often relates only to narrative fictional texts. This can be illustrated by reference to the German translation of Wayne Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction as Die Rhetorik der Erzahlkunst, i.e., "The Rhetoric of Narrative Art." But the book deals exclusively with narrative fiction and not with fictional texts in general, as the use of the German term Fiktion would have implied. Hence, it is primarily for terminological reasons that the debate on fictionality, which is grounded in logic and the philosophy of language, centers largely on narrative texts--after all, this approach to the issue is dominated by English-speaking scholars. Some scholars explicitly mention this "limitation" (e.g., Richard Routley (1)) without being aware, however, of the problems it entails. Jonathan Culler is one of the few scholars who actually address these problems. He, too, applies the term "fiction" in the common sense as it is used by "publishers, booksellers, and most readers, except some theoretically inclined specialists." According to Culler "fiction" is an umbrella term denoting "imaginative prose narratives [...] as opposed to poetry, on the one hand, which will not be found in the fiction section, nor on the fiction bestseller list, and to non-fiction on the other" (2). Even though Culler himself proceeds to discuss the issue of fiction only with respect to narrative texts, he does draw attention to the asymmetrical character of his terminology, which, on the one hand, contrasts fiction with poetry and, on the other, with nonfictional narratives such as reports, historiography, etc.

While in the English-speaking world the use of the term "fiction" in its everyday sense has led to poetry being banned from the realm of fiction and, thus, in most cases, from recent theories of fictionality, (2) English-speaking scholars do sometimes include drama in the scope of what they call "fictional discourse." John Searle, for instance, discusses the specific conditions which constitute fictionality in dramatic texts (327-29).

The vast majority of German-speaking scholars consider it natural that a theory of fictionality must in equal measure refer to narrative, dramatic, and poetic texts; this is exemplified, for instance, by the texts on which Rainer Warning bases his discussion of the pragmatic relation to fictionality. Only a few individual scholars, such as Kate Hamburger or Harald Fricke, exclude "poetry" or, more precisely, certain varieties of "poetry" from fictionality. This is the consequence of their theories of fictionality and the specific textual markers that these theories establish as signals of fictionality. (3)

If a theory of fictionality can be defined by criteria deriving from the explicitly stated or implied extension (4) of this very term, it is obviously just as possible for the extension of the term to be delimited by a theory of fictionality. As I will try to show, it seems necessary to define criteria of fictionality in relation to specific groups of texts, yet it must be noted that this cannot be the exclusive approach and that one has to be aware of the differing status of various individual criteria or sets of criteria.

It is obviously impossible to cover all the different concepts of fictionality within a single theory. Nevertheless, ii we wish to engage in a discussion of the nature of fictionality--and the subject seems to have gained in importance recently--it seems necessary first to take a critical look at what aspects the existing theories of fictionality actually refer to. …

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