The project started its life in my mind, at least as a fairly slim handbook, but became over the course of several years a very hefty manuscript. I am most grateful for the generous and insightful recommendations of Kit Hume and Linda Hutcheon who helped me find the substantially thinner book that was inside that fat book signaling wildly to be let out.
This is essentially a one-idea book—an admission that probably ought to embarrass me more than it in fact does. That idea is simply stated: postmodernist fiction differs from modernist fiction just as a poetics dominated by ontological issues differs from one dominated by epistemological issues. This idea is sufficiently straightforward that it would be astonishing if no one else had ever considered it before; and of course quite a number of critics and theorists have anticipated some more or less large part of my argument.
I have tried to give them the credit that is their due, especially in my first two chapters, but elsewhere as well. I want in particular to mention the avantgarde poet Dick Higgins, whose essays and manifestoes in A Dialectic of Centuries, , and Horizons: The Poetics and Theory of the Intermedia, I came across only after my own book was already substantially finished. It will also be clear that I owe a particular debt to David Lodge, whose typology of postmodernist strategies in The Modes of Modern Writing is a source of my own typology in Chapters 3 through I have carried this book around with me in one form or another now for longer than I care to calculate, and have trotted parts of it out from time to time to test on various friends and colleagues.
Nor may I neglect to thank my gracious and long-suffering editors at Methuen, Janice Price and Merrilyn Julian, or Terence Hawkes, who first brought this project to their attention, or, last but by no means least, Ruth Buncher, who typed the final, slimmed-down draft. All these people are free to claim or disavow responsibility to whatever degree they please, with my blessing. Unfortunately, this freedom does not extend to Esther Gottlieb: this book is her responsibility, whether she wants it or not, and by now she has every reason not to want it.
She may, if she prefers, share it with our daughters, Alma and Lily, who have literally grown up alongside this book—with everything that that entails in the way of sibling rivalry. The very least I could hope for this book is that it not hinder their work in any way. That is the most I could hope for it. And what am I in it? What is to be done in it? Which of my selves is to do it? When the lights changed, we all crossed the streets. Nothing about this term is unproblematic, nothing about it is entirely satisfactory. It is not even clear who deserves the credit—or the blame—for coining it in the first place: Arnold Toynbee?
Charles Olson? Randall Jarrell? There are plenty of candidates. Nobody likes the term. I am grateful to the editors and publisher for permission to reprint this material here. And it becomes more and more difficult to avoid using it. The term does not even make sense. And since they are discursive constructs rather than real-world objects, it is possible to construct them in a variety of ways, making it necessary for us to discriminate among, say, the various constructions of romanticism, as A. Lovejoy once did. Just because there are many possible constructions of postmodernism, however, this does not mean that all constructs are equally interesting or valuable, or that we are unable to choose among them.
Various criteria for preferring one construction of postmodernism over the others might be proposed—the criterion of self - consistency and internal coherence, for instance. Or the criterion of scope: postmodernism should not be defined so liberally that it covers all modes of contemporary writing, for then it would be of no use in drawing distinctions, but neither should it be defined too narrowly. Above all, a superior construction of postmodernism would be one that satisfied the criterion of interest. Naturally I believe that the fiction of postmodernism which I have constructed in this book is a superior construction.
I have tried to make it internally consistent; I believe its scope is appropriate, neither indiscriminately broad nor unhelpfully narrow; and I hope it will prove to be both productive and interesting. Since we seem to be saddled with the term, whether we like it or not, and since postmodernism is a discursive construct anyway, why not see if we can make the term itself work for us, rather than against us, in constructing its referent?
It announces that the referent here is not merely a chronological division but an organized system—a poetics, in fact—while at the same time properly identifying what exactly it is that postmodernism is post. Postmodernism is not post modern, whatever that might mean, but post modernism; it does not come after the present a solecism , but after the modernist movement. Postmodernism follows from modernism, in some sense, more than it follows after modernism. After all, the presence of the prefix post in literary nomenclature—or of pre, for that matter— merely signals the inevitable historicity of all literary phenomena.
Every literary-historical moment is post some other moment, just as it is pre some other moment, though of course we are not in the position to say exactly what it is pre—what it precedes and prepares the way for—except retrospectively, while we are always able to say, in principle, what it is post— what it is the posterity of. Postmodernism is the posterity of modernism— this is tautological, just as saying that pre-romanticism is the predecessor of romanticism would be tautological.
But there is more than mere tautology to the relation between modernism and postmodernism if we can construct an argument about how the posterior phenomenon emerges from its predecessor—about, in other words, historical consequentiality. That tool can be found in the Russian formalist concept of the dominant, to which I now turn. I quote from the English translation: The dominant may be defined as the focusing component of a work of art: it rules, determines, and transforms the remaining components.
It is the dominant which guarantees the integrity of the structure…a poetic work [is] a structured system, a regularly ordered hierarchical set of artistic devices. Poetic evolution is a shift in this hierarchy… The image of Or rather, let me observe that Jakobson has in effect already deconstructed it somewhat himself. In this brief but typically multifaceted lecture, Jakobson applies his concept of the dominant not only to the structure of the individual literary text and the synchronic and diachronic organization of the literary system, but also to the analysis of the verse medium in general where rhyme, meter, and intonation are dominant at different historical periods , of verbal art in general where the aesthetic function is a transhistorical dominant , and of cultural history painting is the dominant art-form of the Renaissance, music the dominant of the romantic period, and so on.
Clearly, then, there are many dominants, and different dominants may be distinguished depending upon the level, scope, and focus of the analysis. In short, different dominants emerge depending upon which questions we ask of the text, and the position from which we interrogate it. While such catalogues do often help us to begin ordering the protean variety of postmodernist phenomena, they also beg important questions, such as the question of why these particular features should cluster in this particular way—in other words, the question of what system might underlie the catalogue—and the question of how in the course of literary history one system has given way to another.
These questions cannot be answered without the intervention of something like a concept of the dominant. Catalogues of postmodernist features are typically organized in terms of oppositions with features of modernist poetics. Thus, for instance, David Lodge lists five strategies contradiction, discontinuity, randomness, excess, short circuit by which postmodernist writing seeks to avoid having to choose either of the poles of metaphoric modernist or metonymic antimodernist writing.
Ihab Hassan gives us seven modernist rubrics urbanism, technologism, dehumanization, primitivism, eroticism, antinomianism, experimentalism , indicating how postmodernist aesthetics modifies or extends each of them. And Douwe Fokkema outlines a number of compositional and semantic conventions of the period code of postmodernism such as inclusiveness, deliberate indiscriminateness, non- selection or quasi-nonselection, logical impossibility , contrasting these generally with the conventions of the modernist code.
Nor can we see how the literary system has managed to travel from the state reflected in the catalogue of modernist features to the state reflected in the postmodernist catalogue: these are static oppositions, telling us little or nothing about the mechanisms of historical change. Enter the dominant. With the help of this conceptual tool, we can both elicit the systems underlying these heterogeneous catalogues, and begin to account for historical change. For to describe change of dominant is in effect to describe the process of literary-historical change.
Here is Jakobson again: In the evolution of poetic form it is not so much a question of the disappearance of certain elements and the emergence of others as it is the question of shifts in the mutual relationship among the diverse components of the system, in other words, a question of the shifting dominant.
On the other hand, the elements which were originally the dominant ones become subsidiary and optional. According to Fokkema, the compositional and syntactical conventions of the modernist code include textual indefiniteness or incompleteness, epistemological doubt, metalingual skepticism, and respect for the idiosyncrasies of the reader. Its semantic aspects are organized around issues of epistemological doubt and metalingual self-reflection. At the later stages in this chain of unreliable transmission, if not at its earlier stages, epistemological doubt and metalingual skepticism are insistently thematized.
It just does not explain. They are there, yet something is missing; they are like a chemical formula exhumed along with the letters from the forgotten chest, carefully, the paper old and faded and falling to pieces, the writing faded, almost indecipherable, yet meaningful, familiar in shape and sense, the name and presence of volatile and sentient forces; you bring them together in the proportions called for, but nothing happens; you re-read, tedious and intent, poring, making sure that you have forgotten nothing, made no miscalculation; you bring them together again and again nothing happens: just the words, the symbols, the shapes themselves, shadowy inscrutable and serene, against the turgid background of a horrible and bloody mischancing of human affairs.
This seems self-evident, so much so that it is surprising that Fokkema has not identified it explicitly himself. I will formulate it as a general thesis about modernist fiction: the dominant of modernist fiction is epistemological. And so on. Its logic is that of a detective story, the epistemological genre par excellence.
So Faulkner in Absalom, Absalom! Except perhaps in one chapter, where modernist poetics threatens to break down, or more than threatens, actually does break down. In Ch. The signs of the narrative act fall away, and with them all questions of authority and reliability. Quentin and Shreve project a world, apparently unanxiously. Abandoning the intractable problems of attaining to reliable knowledge of our world, they improvise a possible world; they fictionalize. This brings me to a second general thesis, this time about postmodernist fiction: the dominant of postmodernist fiction is ontological.
Equipped with this thesis about the ontological dominant of postmodernist fiction, we could now return to the various catalogues of features proposed by Lodge, Hassan, Wollen, and Fokkema, and if we did, we would find, I think, that most if not quite all of these features could easily be seen as strategies for foregrounding ontological issues. In other words, it is the ontological dominant which explains the selection and clustering of these particular features; the ontological dominant is the principle of systematicity underlying these otherwise heterogeneous catalogues. There is a kind of inner logic or inner dynamics—or so the case of Absalom, Absalom!
By the same token, push ontological questions far enough and they tip over into epistemological questions—the sequence is not linear and unidirectional, but bidirectional and reversible. A philosopher might object that we cannot raise epistemological questions without immediately raising ontological questions, and vice versa, and of course he or she would be right. Literary discourse, in effect, only specifies which set of questions ought to be asked first of a particular text, and delays the asking of the second set of questions, slowing down the process by which epistemological questions entail ontological questions and vice versa.
This in a nutshell is the function of the dominant: it specifies the order in which different aspects are to be attended to, so that, although it would be perfectly possible to interrogate a postmodernist text about its epistemological implications, it is more urgent to interrogate it about its ontological implications. In postmodernist texts, in other words, epistemology is backgrounded, as the price for foregrounding ontology.
The logic of literary history brought writers in various cities—cities in Europe and Latin America as well as in North America—to a crosswalk; when the stoplights changed, they had one of two options, either to remain on this side and continue to practice a modernist poetics of the epistemological dominant as many of them have done, of course , or to cross to a postmodernist poetics of the ontological dominant. The streets were different, but the crossing was the same. Faulkner made that crossing in Ch. This is an isolated event in his oeuvre, however; he did not stay on the postmodernist side of the street, but quickly returned to the practice of modernism.
So Faulkner is not very representative of the change that has occurred throughout western literature in the years since the Second World War. The change of dominant appears in its most dramatic form in writers who in the course of their careers travel the entire trajectory from modernist to postmodernist poetics, marking in successive novels different stages of the crossing. By way of substantiating my claims about the change of dominant, I have chosen to examine some of the more familiar contemporary writers of whom this is true: Samuel Beckett, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Carlos Fuentes, Vladimir Nabokov, Robert Coover, and Thomas Pynchon.
But if Beckett in Molloy continues to practice a stylized modernist poetics, it is not a straightforward or unruffled modernism. In particular, it appears that Moran both is and is not identical with Molloy—a blurring of identities that tends to destabilize the projected world, and consequently to foreground its ontological structure. In other words, there is here some hesitation between an epistemological dominant and an ontological dominant. Both epistemological and ontological questions seem to be raised by this text, but which focus of attention dominates depends upon how we look at the text.
Analogously, looked at one way, Malone Dies seems to be focused on epistemological issues, while looked at another way it seems to be focused on ontological issues. But who? God is that than which no greater can be thought, said Anselm. Now if that than which no greater can be thought existed only in the mind, then a greater could still be thought after all, namely a being who existed in extramental reality.
Therefore, so runs the syllogism, God must exist not only mentally but also in reality. The ultimate creator, the God whom the Unnamable can never reach, is of course Samuel Beckett himself, and the retreating ceiling is the unbreachable barrier between the fictional world of the Unnamable and the real world which Samuel Beckett shares with us, his readers.
In short, The Unnamable foregrounds the fundamental ontological discontinuity between the fictional and the real, and does so in such a way as to model the discontinuity between our own mode of being and that of whatever divinity we may wish there were. Exactly how closely, I can demonstrate most conveniently from the case of Alain Robbe-Grillet, in some sense the exemplary nouveau romancier.
This gap is readily filled, however: from the textual evidence, the reader reconstructs the missing figure of the jealous husband who obsessively spies on his wife and her presumed lover. Thus, though at first sight strange and intractable, La Jalousie actually puts up little resistance to a recuperation in epistemological terms. Mise-en-abyme, wherever it occurs, disturbs the orderly hierarchy of ontological levels worlds within worlds , in effect short-circuiting the ontological structure, and thus foregrounding it.
In other words, mise-en- abyme in La Jalousie constitutes, like the internal contradictions in Molloy, a hemorrhage of modernist poetics—but, again as in Molloy, not a fatal one. This text is recuperable if we are willing to attribute the instability and inconsistency of its world to the consciousness of the dying soldier who is its protagonist.
A number of critics have been willing to do so, most recently Christine Brooke-Rose A Klein bottle is a three-dimensional figure whose inside surface is indistinguishable from its outside; similarly, inside and outside are indistinguishable in Dans le labyrinthe, its secondary or embedded representations viz. The ontological focus of this structure competes with the epistemological focus of the dying-soldier motif; but which dominates?
I am suggesting, in other words, that Dans le labyrinthe is, like Malone Dies, a text of Limit-modernism. Klein-bottle paradoxes proliferate in La Maison de rendez-vous , to the point where the projected world is completely destabilized.
Théophile Gautier (1811–1872)
La Jalousie, of course, is notorious for the obsessive precision with which it specifies the spatial disposition of objects in and around the African bungalow e. Artemio Cruz and the novel which follows it, Zona sagrada , represent variants of the modernist interior monologue novel, which focuses on the characteristic grid which each mind imposes on the outside world, or through which it assimilates the outside world. Each of these novels employs a different situational topos associated with the interior monologue convention, a different type of distortion of the mental grid.
This type of interior monologue situation dates at least from Edgar Allan Poe e. Miracles do happen in Cambio de piel—sympathetic magic, the resurrection of the dead—but Fuentes is careful to leave a loophole by framing the fantastic story within the discourse of a mad monologuist. On its closing pages we learn that the text has been produced by one Freddy Lambert, inmate of an insane asylum. Here Fuentes again exploits the conventions of the fantastic, as well as those of science fiction and the historical novel. Science fiction, we might say, is to postmodernism what detective fiction was to modernism: it is the ontological genre par excellence as the detective story is the epistemological genre par excellence , and so serves as a source of materials and models for postmodernist writers including William Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, Italo Calvino, Pynchon, even Beckett and Nabokov.
The pertinence of the historical novel to postmodernism, by contrast, is not so immediately obvious, and needs some explaining. All historical novels, even the most traditional, typically involve some violation of ontological boundaries. Napoleon or Richard Nixon. Terra nostra, by contrast, foregrounds its ontological seams by systematically transgressing these rules of its genre. Here familiar facts are tactlessly contradicted— Columbus discovers America a full century too late, Philip II of Spain marries Elizabeth of England, and so on—and the projected world is governed by fantastic norms.
In Terra nostra, however, the party is real, Paris having been transformed into an immense transhistorical carnival by the appearance in its streets of time-travelers from past historical periods. The motivation here is ontological, a confrontation between our world and a world whose norms permit time-travel.
What conceivable space could such a poker-table occupy? Only the sort of space where fragments of a number of possible orders have been gathered together—the space which Michel Foucault has called a heterotopia. In Pale Fire, this familiar convention of narratorial unreliability has been pushed to the limit. Here we can be sure that the narrator is radically unreliable, but without being able to determine as we still can in the case of Humbert Humbert in what ways he is unreliable, or to what degree. By whom, then? Well, by Vladimir Nabokov at one level, it goes without saying; but ought we perhaps to reconstruct some intermediary figure who stands between the biographical Nabokov and the substance of Pale Fire, or is there insufficient warrant for this?
Inevitably, epistemological doubt as total as this has ontological consequences as well; in particular, the Kingdom of Zembla flickers in and out of existence, depending upon which hypothesis we choose to entertain it exists according to hypotheses 1 and 2, but not according to 3 and 4. Nevertheless, the dominant has unmistakably been shifted away from these preoccupations in this text, and it is above all the strange, familiar-yet-alien make-up of the projected world that engrosses our attention, memory and perspectivism having been firmly displaced to the background.
On the one hand, the Antiterra of Ada, with its displaced and superimposed spaces, its skew place-names, and its oddly juggled chronology, incorporates the parallel-world topos of such science- fiction novels as Philip K. Either way we look at it, Ada represents a case of sheer ontological improvisation more radical than anything Quentin and Shreve attempt in Absalom, Absalom! His first novel, The Origin of the Brunists , deploys the repertoire of modernist devices—multiple focalization and juxtaposed perspectives, interior monologue, and so on—in a perfectly orthodox, if perhaps somewhat mechanical, way.
As in classic modernist texts, these devices function to express epistemological themes, here stated with particular explicitness. Just as Nabokov in Pale Fire pushes the unreliable narrator convention of Lolita to its limit, so Coover pushes the epistemological themes of Origin of the Brunists to their limit—and beyond—in his next novel, The Universal Baseball Association Inc. Henry Waugh, Prop. Henry Waugh shifts to the fringes of that area, focusing on one of the strategies of temporary or, in this case, permanent withdrawal from paramount reality, a topic pursued by Stanley Cohen and Laurie Taylor, sociologists following very much in the footsteps of Berger and Luckmann, in their book Escape Attempts: The Theory and Practice of Resistance to Everyday Life In this astonishing final chapter, J.
With this gesture of pure ontological improvisation, it crosses over from a modernist poetics of the epistemological dominant to a postmodernist poetics of the ontological dominant. In subsequent writings, Coover has extended and consolidated his practice of postmodernist poetics.
His collection Pricksongs and Descants , for instance, amounts to a mini-anthology of ontological motifs and devices. Granted, several of the texts it contains were written before J. Henry Waugh; nevertheless, it seems significant that these texts were not actually gathered together into a book until after the breakthrough to postmodernism had been dramatized in J. Henry Waugh. Snow White, and Angela Carter e.
The Bloody Chamber, Like Fuentes, Coover here systematically contradicts well-known historical facts e. The climactic scene of the carnivalesque public execution in Times Square constitutes an ontological knot like the poker-game of Terra nostra, although on a larger scale.
Here characters of different and incompatible ontological statuses—real-world historical figures, corporate trade-marks e. Betty Crocker and national symbols e. The distinction between parody and stylization upon which Brooke-Rose draws comes from Baxtin.
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Within that frame Pynchon has embedded a series of stylized imitations of characteristic modernist strategies. In one chapter, for instance Ch. Stencil as third-person center of consciousness is unmistakably a kind of personification or literalization of a typical modernist strategy of interior discourse—used extensively by James, Woolf, and Joyce, among others—namely style indirect libre or free indirect discourse. Here, too, however, as in Molloy or La Jalousie, modernist poetics develops a hemorrhage, not yet fatal but dangerous.
Until the end, that is, when we readers—but not Stencil himself—are confronted with apparently reliable, authoritative information tending to confirm the existence of this alternative reality. It is at this point, in the epilogue of V. Threatens to, but does not quite do so. Pynchon names his heroine Oedipa, suggesting that this novel, too, belongs to the genre of detective story—which it does, in a sense.
Oedipa, like the classic private-eye, needs to know; she must struggle to bridge the gap between appearances and reality; she must question the reliability of every piece of information, every source.
Set in California, Lot 49 adheres rather faithfully to the conventions of the LA private-eye sub-genre practiced by Erle Stanley Gardner—whose lawyer-detective Perry Mason Pynchon several times invokes—or, better, by Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. May or may not be: therein lies the dilemma. Classically modernist in its form, The Crying of Lot 49 represents the mediating consciousness of Oedipa, and through her the happenings in its fictional world.
How reliable a witness is she? There are disconcerting indications from the outset that Oedipa fears her own dangerous capacity for solipsism, her tendency to believe that the external world has been fabricated by her own mind. If I were to dissolve in here…be washed down the drain into the Pacific, what you saw tonight would vanish too. You, that part of you so concerned, God knows how, with that little world, would also vanish. Is the postal conspiracy only a solipsistic delusion with no reality in the world outside her mind?
Nothing that we know about either Oedipa or the Tristero rules out this possibility. Oedipa herself clearly recognizes this possibility, and others that are equally unpalatable, if not more so. She tells herself: Either you have stumbled indeed…onto a network by which X number of Americans are truly communicating whilst reserving their lies, recitations of routine, arid betrayals of spiritual poverty, for the official government delivery system; maybe even onto a real alternative to the exitlessness, to the absence of surprise to life, that harrows the head of everybody American you know, and you too, sweetie.
Or you are hallucinating it. Or a plot has been mounted against you, so expensive and elaborate…so labyrinthine that it must have meaning beyond just a practical joke. Or you are fantasying some such plot, in which case you are a nut, Oedipa, out of your skull. Those symmetrical four.
Possibly she is allowing herself to be deceived by the shiftiness of appearances, failing to penetrate the veil of hoax that Inverariry has presumably thrown over the truth. Or, possibly, Oedipa is hallucinating either this elaborate hoax or the Tristero conspiracy itself. On the one hand, there are the epistemological solutions: Oedipa is either deceived or self-deceived, the victim either of a hoax or of her own paranoia.
On the other hand, there is the ontological solution, to which Bishop Berkeley also resorted: God exists, and guarantees the existence of the perceived world; or, in this case, the Tristero exists: Ones and zeroes. So did the couples arrange themselves…. Another mode of meaning behind the obvious, or none. Either Oedipa in the orbiting ecstasy of a true paranoia, or a real Tristero. Whereas Oedipa is only too aware of her alternatives. Once a student of literature herself, she understands the ambiguity of her situation as clearly as her readers do.
In this respect, as in others, she is an exemplary late- modernist heroine. Oedipa is left, at the end of The Crying of Lot 49, in an auction-room waiting for the buyer deputed by the Tristero to declare himself—or not, as the case may be. If he does, it will be a true epiphany, a descent of the Holy Spirit - proof that an alternative reality exists. But Oedipa does not break through the closed circle of her solipsism in the pages of this novel; nor does Pynchon break through here to a mode of fiction beyond modernism and its epistemological premises.
The Tristero remains only a possibility. Still, I admire her phrase enough to want to expropriate it for my own purposes. Postmodernist fiction, as I have argued, and will try to substantiate further in what follows, gives us a pretext for doing unlicensed ontology in a teacup. Like Dillard, I want mostly to talk about the teacups themselves— postmodernist novels and stories. For there are other possible forms that these concerns might take. Clearly, a wide range of ontological themes or attitudes is available to postmodernist writers, and it is important to specify which writers display which attitudes.
But it is equally important to recognize that these attitudes, whatever they may be, come to our attention only through the foregrounding of ontological concerns which is common to all postmodernist writers, and that to accomplish this foregrounding all postmodernists draw on the same repertoire of strategies. A philosophical thematics, specifying the ontology of postmodernist texts, will only tell us that there is foregrounding; it will not tell us how this foregrounding has been accomplished, what strategies have been deployed.
For this we must turn from philosophical thematics to poetics proper, specifically to theories of literary ontology. If postmodernist poetics foregrounds ontological issues of text and world, it can only do so by exploiting general ontological characteristics shared by all literary texts and fictional worlds, and it is only against the background of general theories of literary ontology that specific postmodernist practices can be identified and understood. Heterocosm Among the oldest of the classic ontological themes in poetics is that of the otherness of the fictional world, its separation from the real world of experience.
This was already a commonplace of Renaissance poetics when Sir Philip Sidney recapitulated it in his Defense or Apologie, published in One important consequence of approaching the fictional world as heterocosm is the sharp ontological boundary that this approach draws around the fictional world at the expense of whatever internal ontological differences may appear within this world.
Thomas Pavel makes this point explicitly. The ontological cut in fiction cannot be seen except from outside. This does not mean, however, that no relationship exists between the fictional heterocosm and the real world. For the real world to be reflected in the mirror of literary mimesis, the imitation must be distinguishable from the imitated: the mirror of art must stand apart from and opposite to the nature to be mirrored.
A mimetic relation is one of similarity, not identity, and similarity implies difference—the difference between the original object and its reflection, between the real world and the fictional heterocosm. Unfortunately, imitation or mirroring is not the only possible relation between the fictional world and reality. Rather, it is the appearance in fictional worlds of individuals who have existed in the real world: people such as Napoleon or Richard Nixon, places such as Paris or Dublin, ideas such as dialectical materialism or quantum mechanics.
These are not reflected in fiction so much as incorporated; they constitute enclaves of ontological difference within the otherwise ontologically homogeneous fictional heterocosm. To handle such phenomena, a modified heterocosm theory is required, one that admits of a certain kind of overlap or interpenetration between the heterocosm and the real.
In addition, they inevitably refer outside their internal field to an external field of reference: the objective world, the body of historical fact or scientific theory, an ideology or philosophy, other texts, and so on. Which in nothing he showeth so much as in poetry, when with the force of a divine breath he bringeth things forth far surpassing her doings. Actually, from a twentieth-century point of view it makes better sense to turn the question around: why the absence of irony in Sidney? Somehow Sidney seems able to assert the freedom of the poet without that assertion tending to undermine the ontological stability of his fictional world.
How is the mind to defend itself against such oppressive infinitude? And if the world of the work of art is analogous to the real world, then, to follow out the analogy, the artist must take an ironic stance in relation to the poetic heterocosm. No longer content with invisibly exercising his freedom to create worlds, the artist now makes his freedom visible by thrusting himself into the foreground of his work. He represents himself in the act of making his fictional world— or unmaking it, which is also his prerogative. There is a catch, of course: the artist represented in the act of creation or destruction is himself inevitably a fiction.
There is a possibility here of infinite regress, puppet-master behind puppet-master ad infinitum. The romantic godlike poet is, to revert to theological discourse, both immanent and transcendent, both inside his heterocosm and above it, simultaneously present and absent. But if the fictional world now acquires a visible maker, its own status must inevitably change, too: it has become less the mirror of nature, more an artifact, visibly a made thing. The devices of art are laid bare, to use the Russian formalist term.
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They added little, however, to our understanding of the internal ontological constitution and articulation of the fictional text and its world. The shift of attention to internal ontological structure does not come about until the twentieth century, in particular with the work of the Polish phenomenologist Roman Ingarden. The complexity of the literary artwork, he tells us, lies first of all in its being heteronomous, existing both autonomously, in its own right, and at the same time depending upon the constitutive acts of consciousness of a reader.
Secondly, the literary artwork is not ontologically uniform or monolithic, but polyphonic, stratified. Each of its layers has a somewhat different ontological status, and functions somewhat differently in the ontological make-up of the whole. Ingarden distinguishes four such strata: 1 The stratum of word-sounds. And the word-sounds are in their turn based on graphic signs, that is, the autonomously-subsisting physical book and its typography. The physical book, together with the persistence of intersubjective, communally-accepted word-meanings, jointly guarantee the continuing existence of the fictional text.
This is a view which Ingarden shares with, among others, I. This is where Ingarden makes his most original and valuable contribution, capturing our intuitions as readers that fictional texts do more than carry information in articulated chains of signifiers and signifieds—they also project objects and worlds. Purely intentional objects, Ingarden says, are projected by the word-meanings of nouns, or presented or implied by states of affairs at the sentence-level or higher.
This world is partly indeterminate: It is always as if a beam of light were illuminating a part of a region, the remainder of which disappears in an indeterminate cloud but is still there in its indeterminacy. Compared to real-world objects, presented objects are strange and paradoxical. Real-world objects have no indeterminate points, ontologically speaking although there may, of course, be epistemological blindspots, points that we happen not to know about , while presented objects in fiction have ontological gaps, some of them permanent, some filled in by readers in the act of concretizing the text.
There is the living room and the den, but we have not been able to find any other rooms. There is no kitchen, no porch, no bedrooms, no bath. Ambiguous sentences may project ambiguous objects, objects which are not temporarily but permanently and irresolvably ambiguous. Not only are presented objects and worlds partly indeterminate and potentially ambiguous, they are also inevitably schematic, lacking the plenitude and density of real objects in the real world.
Linguistic categories abstract properties from the flux of experience, and the world they project is not a completely filled-in picture but more like a connect-the-dots puzzle, a grid through whose interstices the concreteness of the real world inevitably escapes.
The literary artwork cannot hope to project objects that have the plenitude of real objects, but it certainly can duplicate this piecemeal and aspectual nature of our experience of objects, for instance by choosing one sensory channel through which to present an object, or by restricting the point of view. The literary artwork also has resources peculiar to itself. Such special resources compensate somewhat for the inevitable schematism of the presented world. Metaphysical qualities do not, however, constitute a separate stratum, ontologically speaking, but are a function of the presented objects and world.
Thus, Thomas Pavel has argued that readers do not evaluate the logical possibility of the propositions they find in literary texts in the light of the actual world—as logicians would require them to do16—but rather abandon the actual world and adopt temporarily the ontological perspective of the literary work. Propositions about the real world fall under the modality of necessity. Can we speak of impossible worlds? Umberto Eco thinks not. He excludes logical impossibility from the propositions that constitute worlds: every proposition must be either true or false of a possible world, it cannot be both true and false.
This is to say that possible worlds, according to Eco, obey the law of the excluded middle. Worlds which violate the law of the excluded middle, about which, in other words, certain propositions are both true and false, Eco refuses to regard as full-fledged, self-sustaining worlds. Rather, these self-contradictory constructs are more like subversive critiques of worlds and world-building, anti-worlds rather than worlds proper: the proper effect of such narrative constructions be they sci-fi novels or avant-garde texts in which the very notion of self-identity is challenged is just that of producing a sense of logical uneasiness and of narrative discomfort.
So they arouse a sense of suspicion in respect to our common beliefs and affect our disposition to trust the most credited laws of the world of our encyclopedia. They undermine the world of our encyclopedia rather than build up another self-sustaining world. We do this every day, when we speculate or plan or daydream—but also, of course, when we read or view or write fictions.
Characters inside fictional worlds are also capable of sustaining prepositional attitudes and projecting possible worlds. Eco calls these possible-worlds- within-possible-worlds subworlds; Pavel prefers the term narrative domains. Classical mimetic theories, as we have seen, had a vested interest in maintaining this conceptual boundary, since without a sharp initial distinction between fiction and reality there could be no relation of similarity or mirroring between the two, no re-presentation of reality in fiction. Logicians and philosophers of language, such as Bertrand Russell, Saul Kripke, and John Searle, have tended to reinforce and even more sharply define that boundary, throwing a sort of logical and ontological cordon sanitaire around fiction.
By doing so, they make it possible for us to understand the passage or circulation that occurs across that boundary. Now this is not a very intuitively evident or graspable concept. Eco suggests that one way of thinking about accessibility intuitively would be in terms of psychological conceivability: a second world is accessible if it can be conceived by inhabitants of the first world.
Note, however, that in such cases of transworld identity between real prototypes and their fictional replicas, the relation between the worlds is one of asymmetrical accessibility. The fictional world is accessible to our real world, but the real world is not accessible to the world of the fiction; in other words, we can conceive of the fictional characters and their world, but they cannot conceive of us and ours.
If entities can migrate across the semipermeable membrane that divides a fictional world from the real, they can also migrate between two different fictional worlds. It is not always so. If a prototype and its replica differ in essential properties, and not just the accidental ones, then, according to Eco, this may be a case of mere homonymy rather than transworld identity. But what about Pamela and Lady Booby of Joseph Andrews—is this also a case of mere homonymy, or have enough essential properties been preserved to warrant our considering the two characters identical? Comparable postmodernist examples abound.
I would venture to say that the case of Beaumont might involve transworld identity, but not Lamont, who has been parodically deformed in the course of his transmigration from one text to another. So entities can pass back and forth across the semipermeable membrane between two texts, as well as between the real world and the world of fiction. There is, finally, another dimension of transworld migration, and that is its historical dimension. Entities can change their ontological status in the course of history, in effect migrating from one ontological realm or level to another.
In other cultures, the fusion of the levels may be more or less total, either strongly fused, as in the case of medieval Catholic culture, or weakly fused, as in late-nineteenth-century European Protestant culture. In periods of rapid ontological change, cultures may display symptoms of what Pavel calls ontological stress. Another symptom of ontological stress is anarchism, the refusal either to accept or to reject any of a plurality of available ontological orders.
This, I would maintain, is precisely the postmodernist condition: an anarchic landscape of worlds in the plural. The most familiar, and undoubtedly the most influential, of such approaches is that of Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann. Well below the threshold of conceptualization, however, lies the shared social reality of everyday life. While this shared reality constitutes the common ground of interaction among the members of society, these same members also experience a multiplicity of private or peripheral realities: dreaming, play, fiction, and so on. The paramount reality envelops them on all sides, as it were, and consciousness always returns to the paramount reality as from an excursion.
All around us—on advertisement hoardings, bookshelves, record covers, television screens—these miniature escape fantasies present themselves. This, it seems, is how we are destined to live, as split personalities in which the private life is disturbed by the promise of escape routes to another reality. So postmodernist fiction does hold the mirror up to reality; but that reality, now more than ever before, is plural. And how does postmodernist fiction achieve this modeling of our pluralistic ontological landscape?
Precisely by foregrounding the ontological themes and differences, internal and external, described by ontologists of fiction from Sidney through Schlegel to Ingarden, Hrushovski, and the possible-world theorists. Ingarden believed that the ontological structures of the text could not themselves be of any aesthetic value or interest, although they could, of course, sustain components of indubitable interest and value.
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The strata belonged permanently to the background of the artwork, never to rise above the threshold of perceptibility: the skeleton of the layers and the structural order of sequence in a literary work of art are of neutral artistic value; they form the axiologically neutral foundation of the work of art in which the artistically valent elements…of the work are grounded. Ingarden, in other words, simply failed to foresee postmodernism.
In what follows I have attempted to describe the repertoire of strategies upon which postmodernist fiction draws in order to foreground the ontological structure of text and world or worlds in the plural. I have had to reconceive this third dimension of semiotic objects in a way more congenial to the special postmodernist objects I am trying to describe. The dimension of speakers, voices, and positions is especially foregrounded in modernist poetics, but, while of course still present and functional in postmodernist poetics, relatively backgrounded there. As I move from one reality to another, I experience the transition as a kind of shock.
Peter L. Each alternative Zone speeds away from all the others, in fated acceleration, red-shifting, fleeing the Center…. The single roost lost…. Each bird has his branch now, and each one is the Zone. There is Penthesilea, a city of continuous suburbs, without a definite center; Cecilia, a city which over the years has engulfed all the surrounding territory; and Trude, a city indistinguishable from any other, to the point of identity: The world is covered by a sole Trude which does not begin and does not end.
Only the name of the airport changes. If Trude is coextensive with the whole world, what room does that leave for Penthesilea or Cecilia, or indeed any of the other cities of the Empire? Perhaps Penthesilea, Cecilia and Trude are only different names for one and the same continuous city; but if so, why are their descriptions so dissimilar?
What paradoxical kind of space does this Empire occupy? What kind of world is this? A problematical world, that much is certain. It has been designed, as Thomas Pavel has said of certain Renaissance texts, for the purpose of exploring ontological propositions. Not all of the cities explore ontological propositions, however; some raise classic epistemological issues—appearance vs reality, multiplicity of perspectives, the distortions of desire and memory, and so on.
By my reading, however, this issue is subordinate to ontological issues in the text as a whole, above all the issue of what kind of space is capable of accommodating so many incommensurable and mutually exclusive worlds. What kind of space? A heterotopia. Radically discontinuous and inconsistent, it juxtaposes worlds of incompatible structure.
It violates the law of the excluded middle: logically, either Trude is everywhere or Cecilia is everywhere; in the Empire of Invisible Cities, both are everywhere, and so are Penthesilea and the other continuous cities as well. Sometimes it is located in Latin America or North Africa, sometimes as in The Ticket That Exploded, on another planet, sometimes as in Cities of the Red Night, in a lost civilization of the distant past. But the collapse of regimes and national boundaries, it turns out, is only the outward and visible sign of the collapse of ontological boundaries.
Here to paraphrase Foucault a large number of fragmentary possible worlds coexist in an impossible space which is associated with occupied Germany, but which in fact is located nowhere but in the written text itself. How to build a zone The space of a fictional world is a construct, just as the characters and objects that occupy it are, or the actions that unfold within it.
Typically, in realist and modernist writing, this spatial construct is organized around a perceiving subject, either a character or the viewing position adopted by a disembodied narrator. Space here is less constructed than deconstructed by the text, or rather constructed and deconstructed at the same time. Spaces which real-world atlases or encyclopedias show as noncontiguous and unrelated, when juxtaposed in written texts constitute a zone. The spaces it traverses, simply by the fact of having traversed them, and in that order, constitute a zone.
This strategy has a long history prior to its adaptation to postmodernist uses.
Although certain identifiable place-names appear in the same context with Uqbar—Khurasan, Armenia, Erzurum—it is not clear how the interpolated space relates to them. A third strategy is superimposition. Here two familiar spaces are placed one on top of the other, as in a photographic double-exposure, creating through their tense and paradoxical coexistence a third space identifiable with neither of the original two—a zone. The great precursor is William Blake, who in his long poem Jerusalem —20 superimposed the counties of the United Kingdom and the Twelve Tribes of Old Testament Israel to generate a visionary space.
Exploiting the homonymy between Toledo, Spain, and Toledo, Ohio, Davenport has superimposed the two cities, their topographies, histories, cultures: A small town safe in its whereabouts, Titus Livy said of Toledo. It sits on a promontory at a convergence of rivers. Swan Creek flows through its downtown into the blue Maumee, which flows into Lake Erie. It was in Toledo that the Visigoths joined the church and made Spain Catholic. And in Samuel L. Golden Rule Jones was elected mayor on the Independent ticket.
Its incredible sunsets began to appear in late Roman eclogues. The alternate world, or Antiterra, of Ada has been constructed by superimposing Russia on the space occupied in our world by Canada and the United States, Britain on our France, Central Asia on European Russia, and so on. A fourth strategy of zone-construction is misattribution. Traditional catalogues of places and their attributes, such as those of Walt Whitman, in effect transcribe the unwritten encyclopedia of conventional wisdom and common knowledge.
It would in a sense be ungrammatical in this context to associate Vermont with ranches, or Texas with fishing or the woods, even though, objectively, there are certainly fishermen and woods in the real-world Texas. They have beach cabanas there you can have a long leisurely meal cooled by the breezes coming in from the Mediterranean as you watch the submarine excavation projects. Despite the jungle and the deserts inland Israel has perfect weather all year round it has to do with air currents generated over the Afar Triangle on the Red Sea….
Here in Israel we have no need of cars…. Automobiles have long been exiled from the cities and towns where transportation depends on various beasts of burden camels burros oxen…. We have an extensive monorail system and colorful barges make their way among the canals. Ohio, Oz, and other zones The zone sometimes appears where we least expect it. In Ohio, for instance. In the literary imagination and the popular imagination alike, Ohio has long maintained, as they say, a low profile.
It is middle-American in every sense: middling in its landscapes and natural phenomena, culturally middling, sociologically middling—not, one would think, likely raw material for ontological improvisation. But why Ohio in particular? And, more generally, why do a few favored geographical areas seem to recur as zones throughout postmodernist fiction? The reasons are various. Behind each of the recurrent zones lies a different historical-cultural explanation for its place in the repertoire of postmodernist topoi.
For example, in order to understand why Ohio, of all places, belongs to the postmodernist repertoire, we need to take into account the semiotics of American space in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
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This frontier zone fascinated American writers, not just those like Fenimore Cooper who located their narratives on the frontier itself, but also those who transposed the liminality and ambiguity of the frontier from geographical space into other spheres—Charles Brockden Brown, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, even Edgar Allan Poe. With the closing of the frontier, and the effective absorption of the wilderness space by civilization, American writers were forced to reconceptualize and imaginatively restructure their country. Such texts have sought to recover the frontier, sometimes nostalgically or elegiacally, sometimes in an ironic mode.
But there is another approach to the reconceptualization of American space, one undertaken earlier than these modernist examples, and on the margins of the literary system rather than at its center. Its locus classions is L. The Land of Oz, as everyone must surely know, is a fantastic self-contained world, encompassing several dissimilar realms. Baum locates it somehow within the state of Kansas—an impossibility, since its land-area must surely exceed that of Kansas. In effect, Oz is the frontier zone, but a displaced frontier; no longer marking the extreme western limit of civilization, the zone now stands at its very center, the geographical middle of the continental United States.
Baum has reacted to the closing of the frontier, and everything it stands for in American ideology, by reopening the frontier in Middle America. Home Recent Additions Welcome Wiki. Mina's Fresh Cardboard Where I discuss my game buying addiction and love affair with freshly-printed cardboard. I dislike randomness and love high strategy.
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