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Fictionality and Mimesis: Between Narrativity and Fictional Worlds

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Publication details

DatePublished - 2003
Issue number1
Number of pages12
Pages (from-to)110-121
Original languageEnglish


The concept of fictionality has been undermined by developments in two distinct areas of research in recent years: on the one hand, the interdisciplinary ambitions of narrative theory have tended to conflate fictionality with a general notion of narrativity that encompasses nonfictional narrative; on the other hand, fictional worlds theory, in response to philosophical and linguistic concerns, has sought to disarm fictionality by literalizing fictional reference. Dorrit Cohn, in The Distinction of Fiction, has made a case against the former tendency in the interest of her own reassertion of a generic focus upon fiction as "nonreferential narrative," although this involves no confrontation with fictional worlds theory, which does not contest the generic integrity of fiction (12). My concern here is somewhat different, in two respects: I want to allow a little more force to those narratological perspectives that tend to merge the concept of fictionality with that of narrativity; and I want to distinguish more sharply between my own understanding of fictionality and the way it is framed by the philosophical and linguistic perspectives of fictional worlds theories. These differences arise because in my view the concept at stake is not fiction as a generic category, but fictionality as a rhetorical resource. By identifying what is excluded by the perspectives of a generalized narrativity and fictional worlds theory, I hope to make some progress toward a fuller characterization of the rhetorical nature of fictionality. This undertaking will lead me to a reconsideration of the concept of mimesis in relation to narrative fictions, from which vantage point I want to draw an analogy between "fiction" and "exercise" that I think captures something of the distinctiveness of the fictional use of narrative.

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