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L. B. Cebik THE WORLD IS NOT A NOVEL For at least the last two decades, many literary theorists have sought to find the ultimate ground of fictional literature in the fictional nature of reality itself. If fictional literature is (somehow) an extension of our fictional reality, then that literature gains an order of epistemic prestige. Moreover, it acquires the special ability to tap into reality, a talent that science and similar pursuits lack by virtue of their delusions regarding truth. By deriving from the relationship offictional literature to fictional reality the particular and unique epistemic capacities of literature, we restore the centrality of literature to academic study, to education, to life and living themselves. The near historical impetus for the effort to relate fiction and reality in this manner perhaps owes more to Nietzsche than anyone else. The starding beginning to Beyond Good and Evil asks, "Granted we want truth: why not rather untruth? And uncertainty? Even ignorance?"1 Therefore, "the falseness of a judgment is to us not necessarily an objection to a judgment. . . . The question is to what extent it is lifeadvancing , life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps even speciesbreeding "; moreover, "our fundamental tendency is to assert that the falsest judgments (to which synthetic judgments a priori belong) are the most indispensable to us," in other words, to "recognize untruth as a condition for life. . . ."2 Untruths in the name of truth—i.e., fictions— correspond in function to Nietzsche's Apollonian dream imagery and Dionysian ecstasy, which he had postulated as potentially life-giving and destructive in the early work, The Birth ofTragedy. In that work, Nietzsche had viewed fundamental human urges as "artistic."3 Literature, as we understand that term today, is both artistic and fictional. It meets the two most basic Nietzschean criteria for coming Philosophy and Literature, © 1992, 16: 68-87 L. B. Cebik69 close to, if not into, the core of what it is to be human. It replicates— or phenomenologically speaking, duplicates—the most fundamental ontological human act of positing a livable world. Such a view of fictional literature is surely tempting. Wolfgang Iser has succumbed to the temptation in his several analyses ofreading fictional literature. Examining his formulations may be more productive than probing Nietzsche's aphorisms. First, Iser typifies many literary theorists who wish to associate fiction with the fictions of life itself, although he uniquely argues his case with thoroughness. Second, unlike Nietzsche, Iser writes with a degree of clarity that offers some hope ofmore precisely specifying the questions raised by the association of literature and ontology. With that precision comes some hope of reasonable answers. Finally, Iser refers to some root sources—most notably Bentham and Vaihinger—which may assist in the effort to understand the relationship between fictions and fiction. Should we find Iser's account defective, no immediate consequences hold for other attempts to relate ontological and literary fiction, unless such attempts directly parallel Iser's. However, the lines of questions posed here may form abasis for the variant techniques needed to inquire into other arguments. That alone, and not any detailed critique of a small part of Iser's theories, justifies the size of the effort. In The Act of Reading, Iser does not so much develop his point of departure for the idea of fiction as he uses it to portray crucial elements about fictional literature and its interpretation. Beginning by rejecting the notion that "fiction is an antonym of reality," he adopts the view that fiction and reality are linked in terms of communication: "fiction is a means of telling us something about reality."4 Iser finds the communicative linkage in an extension of Austin-Searle speech acts. He takes exception to the dismissal offictionalliterarylanguage—in contrast to functional pragmatic language—as lacking "conventions, procedures, and guarantees of sincerity" (AR, p. 60). The Austin-Searle analysis treats fictional literary language as merely "an imitation of and not a deviation from ordinary speech," despite the fact that such language does not produce "similar consequences to those of normal use" (AR, p. 63). That very fact should have alerted speech-act analysts to the inadequacies of treating parasitic language solely in terms of imitation, which...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 68-87
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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