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JOSEPH MARGOLIS THE LOGIC AND STRUCTURES OF FICTIONAL NARRATIVE The fascination of fiction and narrative is plainly immense, sind current analyses are notably fresh and ingenious. But ifone were to venture a compendious account of die most strategic conceptual claims bearing on those notions, they might well be captured by the following three theses: (i) that fiction and narrative are logically quite distinct, without necessarily excluding one anodier; (ii) that fictional worlds are no worlds at all; they are merely imagined to exist; and (iii) that events, whether actual or imagined, cannot be specified independently of the categories by which we identify them as the events they are, categories subject to change over time. What is intriguing about mese three claims is that they strike the ear as utterly commonplace and obvious. But that is dieir strength. For it would be a great convenience if the relevant puzzles generated by analytic philosophy, hermeneutics, the new narratology, semiotics and the like could be resolved, convincingly, by appeal to die implications of these diree homely trudis. In addition, diey affect one another in a rather complicated way, and, taken joindy, easily expose certain influential false starts. The import of (iii), for example, is notably ignored in die otherwise powerful analysis of narrative afforded by Gérard Genette. Its bearing on (i) utterly undermines the explicit dualism favored by Seymour Chatman, who is clearly influenced by Genette himself. The failure to mark die force of (i) and its analogue regarding poetry is most obvious in I. A. Richards's contrast between poetry and science, the work of the Prague circle, Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism, and such recent speech-act theories of poetry and fiction as those proposed by Richard Ohmann, Monroe Beardsley, and Mary Louise Pratt. The corresponding failure widi respect to (ii) is clear in John Searle's theory of reference and in die ontological claims made by Nicholas Wolterstorff. The connection between (i) and (ii) is muddled most famously by G. E. Moore. These charges suggest die quarrelsome promise of the intended economy. But, as we shall see, they also lead in the direction of a more constructive theory of texts and their interpretation and of die constraints of narrative and style diat affect fiction. 162 Joseph Margolis163 Fiction, we say, differs from reality as well as from legend. But in speaking thus, we betray an understandable confidence that these three kinds of"world"— or, these three worlds — are conceptually well-behaved and open to straightforward demarcation. Once more, we slip altogether too easily between talking about certain worlds and about the narrative accounts by which we do so. What distinguishes fictional reference? we ask, and what is a fictional world? The best way to proceed here is to begin with strong intuitions and to trace dieir systematic consequences in order to test how far they are unassailable — or whether and where they must yield to others that are more accommodating. One particularly promising equivocation is the following. We speak of fictional worlds as possible (but not actual) worlds; but even if what is possible in a fictional world corresponds (in some sense) to what is possible in the actual world, it is not, as such, a possibility of or at the actual world. The "possible worlds" idiom is fundamentally and doubly equivocal. For, a "possible world" signifies either what is merely logically or conceptually compossible, or what (under suitably referential, predicative, causal, and similar constraints) is compossible specifically with respect to the actual world (or some part of it). Certainly , Balzac's La Cousine Bette "presents" an imaginary world that is internally coherent and compossible. One might even say, ignoring its fictive nature, diat such a world — or events very much like those of the story — is compossible with a certain portion of the actual world of nineteenth-century France. But Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderfond, though it scrupulously presents a coherent world of compossible events, does not present a world compossible with the actual world. And, on certain views at least, Thomas Mann's The Transposed Heads presents a possible world that is a conceptual impossibility. There is, however, no need to quarrel about particular cases...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 162-181
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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