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Thomas G. Pavel INCOMPLETE WORLDS, RITUAL EMOTIONS' IN recent years, the notion of "fictional world" has enjoyed a considerable rise in fortune. The expression, however, is not entirely new. To refer to the world of a literary work, of a novel or of a play, has always been a favorite way of speaking for literary critics and aestheticians. In most cases, these were informal worlds. A discussion of the world of Balzac, Dostoyevsky, HenryJames, or Proust often amounts to a description of each author's preferences in die selection and rearrangement of his material. Such discussion primarily fits authors who purposefully attempt to build comprehensive representational artifacts. One speaks quite naturally about l'univers balzacien, or about the universe of Musil. But is one entitled to refer with equal ease to the world ofBenjamin Constant , meagerly perceptible in his Adolphe, a short novel built in the spirit of economy, displaying just a few characters and a minimum of worldly information ? Perhaps density and comprehensiveness are not indispensable characteristics of literary worlds. Aestheticians and narratologists using the "fictional worlds" terminology seem to believe mat any kind of artistic text projects a world, be it rich or poor. Such worlds are imagined in the fashion of modern philosophy of logic as states of affairs, more or less comprehensive. Some writers believe that the states of affairs comprised in fictional worlds must be fairly sizable, since diey should include "not only what the author indicates, but also whatever is required (entailed) by that which he indicates." 1 The laws of nature which are not specifically contradicted by the text would belong to its world. Thus, a few notorious cases aside, there is no reason to doubt that every child born in fiction has been engendered by a human fadier as long as the text does not report an exception. And if it does? Then, assuming that the laws of logic still govern if not fiction itself at least our understanding of it, we may appeal to what "possible world" philosophers have called "small miracles." * Editor's note: This article, as well as the contributions by Gerald Prince, Peter van Inwagen, and Kendall Walton which follow it, grew out ofa symposium on "Styles ofFictionality," organized by Professor Pavel and held at Harvard University in 1981. The Fall, 1983 issue of PHILOSOPHY AND LITERATURE will contain additional papers presented at the symposium. 48 Thomas G. Pavel49 Imagine, for instance, the world in which Notre Dame de Paris would be covered with blue paint. While everything else would preserve the properties it possesses in the actual world, with the laws of nature and the caused chains maintained, a small local change, somewhat miraculous, would modify only the color of the venerable building. Similarly, the world of Balzac may be understood as the world of early and mid-nineteenth-century France, slightly modified by the addition of a few hundred imagined characters. That diese conform surprisingly well to the general laws of French society of the time is so much the goal of Balzac's successful project, that for the sociologically-minded reader die' actual nonexistence of Rastignac, Rubempré, Vautrin, or Birotteau may appear a mere accident. These characters, one may surmise, display every trait that actual counterparts of theirs would possess, except existence. Hence, why would Rastignac's or Vautrin's emergence in a world omerwise identical to nineteenth-century France amount to anydiing more than a "small miracle"? On the other hand, Balzac's world being blessed wim hundreds of such miracles, the very magnitude of the project vindicates the attribute of "visionary," ascribed to Balzac by Béguin, or, if metaphorically undercut, mat of"God the Father" given him by Thibaudet. For, would not such magnitude entail more than just local changes in an otherwise faithful representation of the "actual" nineteenthcentury France? Similarly, would we interpret a fictional world in which a child has been engendered not by a human father, but by a divinity, as identical in all respects to the actual world, except for the limited modification attributed to a small miracle? 2 If we grant for a moment the improbable assumption that nineteenth-century France was a given and that Balzac...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 48-58
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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