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WORKS OF FICTION AND ILLOCUTIONARY ACTS by Gregory Currie ii O peech act theory is remarkably unhelpful in explaining what ficOtion is." So says Kendall Walton.1 My purpose here is to showjust how wrong diis judgment is. Not that I want to endorse all die attempts there have been to connect fiction with the notion of a speech act. Elsewhere I have argued diat the most prominent attempt at such a theory, the one due to John Searle, fails.2 But my complaint is not mat Searle employs the idea of a speech act; rather it is that he employs it in too half-hearted a fashion. The idea of Searle and odiers is diat to write fiction is not to perform a speech act, but rather to pretend to do so. I, on the odier hand, take the view that the writer of fiction engages in an act of speech diat is distinctively fictional, and distinctively different from speech acts such as asserting, requesting, questioning, and so forth. What follows is a much simplified account of this idea.3 Following die program of Strawson and Grice, I believe diat the different kinds of speech acts are to be individuated in terms of the utterer's intentions.4 The intention of the one who asserts is to get a certain kind of response; perhaps to get the audience to believe the proposition asserted.5 The one who commands wants the audience to obey, die requester wants the audience to answer, etc. And in all these cases the utterer intends to get the response partly as a result of the audience's recognition of diat very intention. (This is the familiar Gricean mechanism.) The utterer of fiction, on the odier hand, wants to get the audience to make-believe die proposition uttered.6 Thus we have an act structurally similar to 304 Gregory Currie305 paradigmatic speech acts like asserting, commanding, and requesting (die structural similarity being given by the use in all cases of the Gricean intention ), but differing from diese odiers with respect to die content of the utterer's intention. Let us call such an act a.fictive illocutionary act. Pursuing this line in more detail leads to an intuitively satisfactory taxonomy of speech acts which places the uttering (usually writing) of fiction fully widiin die purview of the theory, rather dian shutting it off to one side as a pseudo-performance, as widi Searle. Is such a theory susceptible to the objections diat Walton brings? Walton is quite right to say (and here I suppose he has Searle in mind) that fiction is not simply the absence ofillocutionary force: "it is something positive, something special" (p. 79). As already indicated, my theory gives a positive account of fiction as a special kind of speech act. But Walton presses the issue further by suggesting that the essence of fiction has nodiing to do with die absence of assertive force. It is possible, he says, "to make an assertion by writing fiction." His point is not merely that fictional stories are sometimes told in order to get across some serious but not explicit point — everyone can agree to that. It is rather diat fictional works contain explicit assertions — e.g. , some of Tolstoy's sentences about Napoleon in War and Peace — and that a fiction might contain nothing but assertions. He imagines a genre of historical fiction in which "authors are allowed no liberties with the facts, and in which they are understood to be asserting as fact whatever they write" (p. 80). Let us grant that this is a possibility. What, dien, would distinguish a piece of fiction belonging to this genre from, say, a work of historical scholarship? The answer comes when we see that the same utterance can be used to perform more than one illocutionary act. Thus if I say to someone "I have no money" it may be that I want him both to believe that I have no money and to give me the goods on credit. And in both cases I intend to get die desired responses via his recognition of my intentions. The same utterance can count both as an assertion...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 304-308
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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