Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

The Distinction of Fiction

Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

The Distinction of Fiction

Article excerpt

The Distinction of Fiction. By Dorrit Cohn. Baltimore, MD, and London: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1999. ix + 197 pp. 35 [pounds sterling].

Dorrit Cohn demolishes, with remorseless and elegant clarity, the view, fashionable among some literary theorists, that there is ultimately no distinction between historical and fictional narrative. She emphasizes the distinction of fiction from history with respect to their referential claims, authorial access to other consciousnesses, and the distinguishability of the real author from the narrative voice. After noting that borderline or ambiguous cases, far from destroying this distinction, actually throw it into relief, she examines the generic ambiguity in, principally, Freud's case histories, Proust's autobiographical fiction, Wolfgang Hildesheimer's Marbot, and Mann's Death in Venice.

Some readers will feel that the emperor had no clothes, and that the distinction of history and fiction is inevitably contextual as well as textual. Such readers may regret that her analytic argument for differentiating fiction does not allow her to pursue another sense of its distinction, over and above its `uniqueness' and `differentiation', namely its qualitative power in its own terms. None the less, having dismissed the claim that Freud's case histories are indistinguishable from fictions, she raises some critically significant questions about, for example, Proust, J. …

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