The Fictive Reflex: A Fresh Look at Reflexiveness and Narrative Representation

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Reflexiveness in literary contexts tends to be assimilated to self-reference; to the various ways in which a work may foreground the artifice and conventionality of its own features as representation, narrative or language. In this sense it is equated with metafiction, and regarded as a sophisticated and highly self-conscious use of narrative; here, however, I offer a contrary view of reflexiveness, one which sees it as elementary, pervasive, and constitutive of fictionality. In this view, there is a continuity between the basic logic of mimesis and the self-conscious “baring of the device” that, for the Russian Formalists, defines the literary. I begin by clarifying the nature of (fictive) representation as an act, and identify its intrinsic reflexiveness, and go on to compare this perspective with both the metafictional notion of reflexiveness and the theoretical discourse on reflexiveness around “mirror neurons” in cognitive literary studies. I then situate reflexiveness within a broader interdisciplinary environment, framed by complex systems science and the conceptualization of emergence in terms of representational recursiveness, which allows the two sides of the discussion so far to be understood as complementary aspects of reflexiveness, one of which aligns with the cultivation of (self-) consciousness, the other with the simple enactment of systemic relations. Finally I address the conceptual challenge presented by an account of narrative, and fiction, based upon reflexiveness, and suggest some ways in which it can be understood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)379-389
Number of pages11
Issue number2
Early online date26 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2016

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2016.


  • Cognition
  • Emergence
  • Fiction
  • Narrative
  • Reflexiveness
  • Representation

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