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Fiction for Five Fingers
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Notes and Fragments* FICTION FOR FIVE FINGERS by Nelson Goodman This article sets forth the following theses: (1) All fiction is literal, literary falsehood. (2) Yet some fiction is true. (3) Truth of fiction has nothing to do with realism. (4) There are no fictive worlds. (5) Not all literal, literary falsehood is fiction. 1. Allfiction is literal, literaryfahehood Literal falsity distinguishes fiction from true report; but falsity alone does not make fiction. "Plain lies, damn lies, and statistics" are not fiction; neidier are mistakes, whether computer or human, whedier misprints, miscalculations, or misconceptions. Only literary falsehood is fiction. That no more implies that all fiction has literary merit dian to say that the pictures in an exhibition are works of art implies that all are good. What constitutes art, literary or otherwise, is not a question to be settled here. I have suggested elsewhere l certain features that are symptomatic of art; and perhaps die most prominent of these for literature are the use of exemplification and expression, and of multiple and complex reference. With the scientific text or book of instructions, what matters most is what is said; for the literary work, forms and feelings and other features exem- *Editors' note: "So powerful is the instinct for unity in mankind that the author himself will often bring something to a kind of completion which simply can't be made a whole . . . often quite imaginatively and yet completely unnaturally" (Friedrich Schlegel, Crii. Frag. 103). Schlegel is, if anything, enthusiastic and extreme. Put more modestly, many a significant idea may be interesting and valuable in its limited scope (as a fragment) but thin, tedious, even obscured or lost when stretched out to support a standard-length journal article. Hence this new section ofPHILOSOPHY AND Literature, which, in addition to providing space for traditional discussion between authors and readers, seeks to encourage some new forms oí philosophical reflection — short developments of an idea, commentary on a single episode or scene, sets of theses, even programs and manifestoes, all of which, from the perspective of the article or essay, are but philosophical notes and fragments. Philosophy and Literature Vol. 6 Nos. 1 and 2 Pp. 162-164 0190-0031/82/0061-0162 © 1982 by Nelson Goodman Nelson Goodman163 plified or expressed or signified through varied short or long referential chains usually count for more. 2.Yet somefiction is true Although all fiction is literally false, some is metaphorically true. And while metaphorical truth is compatible with literal falsity, metaphorical truth contrasts with metaphorical falsity quite as cleanly as does literal truth with literal falsity.2 In other words, a term with a literal range of application — that is, a literal extension — often has another, metaphorical extension. The two extensions may, but need not, be quite separate. Most terms, indeed, are ambiguous both literally and metaphorically, having several different literal and several different metaphorical extensions; but that does not obscure the distinction between literal and metaphorical truth. The sound of thunder is not literally, but is metaphorically, a lion's roar. 3.Truth offiction has nothing to do with realism What constitutes truth of a work, fiction or not, is a notoriously difficult question . But we need not answer it to see that truth of description, literal or metaphorical, like correctness of depiction, is independent of realism. For while truth or correctness depends upon what is told or depicted, be it factual or fictive , realism in both cases depends upon the telling rather than the told.3 A realistic novel or painting may be full of mistakes while a fantastic painting or novel may be, metaphorically, true or right. Gulliver's Travels is unrealistic no matter how true in the way fiction can be true; and a painting by an academic novice will be realistic no matter how wrong. Realism is a matter of the familiarity of symbols used in the telling; truth is a matter of what is told, literally or metaphorically, by means of symbols familiar or fantastic. "Realism" may of course be used in other ways; but under none of the wellgrounded interpretations does realism either imply or follow from Tightness. 4.There are nofictive worlds Although some fiction consists...