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  • Fictionality As Rhetoric:A Response to Paul Dawson
  • Henrik Skov

We thank Paul Dawson for his well-informed, thoughtful, and collegial response to our “Ten Theses about Fictionality.” We would like to respond in kind, especially because doing so gives us an opportunity to expand on and clarify key points of our essay. We shall proceed by making a few global points about the relationship between his Ten Theses and our Ten Theses and then turning to specific comments on his Ten.

As Dawson states, our approach to fictionality is informed by three moves: distinguishing between the genre of fiction and the quality of fictionality; approaching fictionality as rhetoric, that is, as a communicative strategy; and asserting the pervasiveness of fictionality deriving from a fundamental human ability. In this response our main goal is to further develop the consequences of our second move, and in so doing, show how our rhetorical approach to fictionality informs and is informed by other points we make.

Dawson’s general strategy is to locate our “Ten Theses” within his larger argument about the problems with fictionality studies. Indeed, his introduction frames our essay within his take on the rise of fictionality studies, and his commentary following [End Page 101] his theses typically moves either from points we make in the essay to the work of other scholars of fictionality or vice versa. As a result, Dawson does an admirable job of situating our work in relation to larger conversations, and we are grateful to him for providing this larger context. But we note that his strategy has three important consequences for understanding the relation between his Ten Theses Against and our Ten Theses About. (1) While Dawson quite rightly points out that some of our views coincide with or have been anticipated by other scholars, his account of the provenance of fictionality studies embraces a number of quite distinct perspectives on it and how it is to be defined. In consequence there are a number of points in his essay, both where he is endorsing such earlier work and where he is dissenting from it, which actually provide additional support for our views, or ways to extend them, rather than arguments against them. See, for example, his commentary at the end of thesis two, at the end of thesis three, and through much of thesis five. (2) Dawson’s observations about overlaps help us clarify our broad claims: we regard our main contribution to the conversations about fictionality to consist less in the originality of any one of our theses and more in the overarching rhetorical conception of fictionality that underlies each of them. (3) In some of the places where Dawson takes issue with other fictionality scholarship, his arguments do not apply to our rhetorical position on fictionality. We shall note specifics below.

Dawson’s Thesis 1. “Semantics versus pragmatics is borrowed and boring.”

As Dawson indicates, our position has roots in Walsh’s The Rhetoric of Fictionality, which engages with the well-established debate between semantics and pragmatics (epitomized by fictional worlds approaches and speech act theory, respectively). Walsh engages with this debate in order to demonstrate the inadequacy of both sides of it, and he invokes the cognitive re-conceptualization of speech acts provided by relevance theory to extricate fictionality from the terms of the debate and place it squarely in the domain of rhetoric. (See also our comment on thesis five below.) Concerned ultimately with communicators (speakers, writers, graphic artists, directors, and so on), their audiences, and their purposes, we view language (phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics) and other media of communication as means to ends rather than ends in themselves. To put the point another way, language and other media are resources that communicators draw upon in different ways on different occasions in order to accomplish different purposes. Hence, like Dawson, we recognize that semantics and pragmatics are “not mutually exclusive” (78), and a rhetorical perspective transcends the opposition. Our main point is that fictionality is not finally a matter of formal features, reference, or conversational rule-following but rather of a communicator’s intent to deploy invention in the service of some ends in relation to particular audiences...


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pp. 101-111
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