Empty Revelations

Empty Revelations: An Essay on Talk about, and Attitudes toward, Fiction

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Empty Revelations
    Book Description:

    What mysteries lie at the heart of fiction's power to enchant and engage the mind? Empty Revelations considers a number of philosophical problems that fiction raises, including the primary issue of how we can think and talk about things that do not exist. Peter Alward covers thought-provoking terrain, exploring fictional truth, the experience of being "caught up" in a story, and the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction. At the centre of Alward's argument is a figure known as the "narrative informant" who mediates the reader's encounter with fictional events through - sometimes unreliable - reporting. Developing a theory in which the author is a sculptor who constructs works of fiction out of words, Alward demonstrates that much of the confusion about fiction stems from a failure to properly distinguish between writing fiction and telling stories. Combining clarity, philosophical sophistication, ingenuity, and originality, Empty Revelations is a rewarding read for both scholars of philosophy and anyone interested in the complex ways that fiction works.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8721-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    Fiction is ubiquitous. Its scope ranges from books, movies, and television shows to daydreams, games of make-believe, and impromptu improvisational performances parodying co-workers. For many of us, hardly a day goes by when we do not encounter or participate in fiction. Moreover, even when we are not caught up in fictional stories, they often remain the subject matter of our thought and talk. We wonder what will happen next in our favourite television shows and inform friends who failed to watch about what they missed; we feel sympathy for the characters who suffer in the novels we read and hope...

    • 1 Compositional Speech Acts
      (pp. 15-33)

      The focus of this chapter is the nature of compositional speech acts – the speech acts authors perform in the process of composing works of fiction. This is, of course, an interesting issue in its own right, but it is also important because analyses of authorial speech acts are frequently deployed in accounts of fictional truth¹ and talk about fiction,² as well as in accounts of the boundary between fiction and non-fiction.³ Roughly, the class of fictional works is identified with the class of texts that are the product of compositional speech acts, and fictional truth is defined in terms...

    • 2 Reader Engagement
      (pp. 34-60)

      The focus of this chapter is on the nature of appreciator – reader and listener – engagement with fiction: the psychological states of reader/listeners who are “caught up in the story.” An appreciator’s encounter with a fictional work can be either engaged or disengaged: as a first gloss, an engaged reader/listener can be thought of as one who is attending to or focused on the fictional story, and characters and events which occur therein, as such; a disengaged appreciator, in contrast, although aware of the fictional story, is one who is focused on other features of the fictional work, such...

    • 3 Word-Sculpture
      (pp. 63-82)

      The discussion to this point has been predominantly negative: prominent views of both authorial composition and reader engagement have been evaluated and found lacking. Henceforward the discussion will be largely positive. In this chapter, what I call the “word-sculpture model” of authorial composition will be developed. In chapter 1, views that analysed authorial activity as a species of illocutionary action were, on the one hand, rejected ultimately as a result of their insensitivity to the distinction between the composition of fictional works and storytelling performances of them: while the latter might be thought to involve some kind of illocutionary action,...

    • 4 Narrative Informants
      (pp. 83-112)

      In this chapter, I develop a positive account of reader and listener engagement with literary fiction. At the core of this account lies a figure I call the “narrative informant.” Readers and listeners imagine of fictional texts both that they are reports made by narrative informants and what narrative informants reveal by means of their reports. As should be obvious, this picture requires of reader/listeners that they engage in de dicto and de re imagining. But it does not require any de se imaginative activity. In the course of developing this view, accounts of both the nature of the narrative...

    • 5 Empty Revelations
      (pp. 115-139)

      In this chapter, I develop a theory of the contents of fictional names – names of fictional people in particular, and of fictional entities more generally. The fundamental datum that must be addressed by such a theory is that fictional names are, in an important sense, empty: the entities to which they putatively refer do not actually exist.¹ Nevertheless, they make substantial contributions to the truth conditions of sentences in which they occur. Not only do such sentences have truth conditions but sentences that differ only in the fictional names they contain differ in their truth conditions. The central problem...

    • 6 Fictional Discourse
      (pp. 140-169)

      This essay’s final task is to provide an account of fictional discourse that draws on what has gone before. Such an account requires not only a characterization of the nature of the speech acts performed by someone engaging in speech of this kind but also an account of the truth conditions of her utterances, if they have any, as well as of the contents of the expressions she uses. This task is complicated, however, by the existence of a number of distinct varieties of fictional discourse. As above, we can distinguish between fictive discourse – the sentences which constitute fiction...

    • Conclusion
      (pp. 170-172)

      There are four central themes running through this essay. The first theme is that a sharp distinction needs to be drawn between compositional acts and acts of storytelling. As we have seen, failure to attend to this distinction has led to fruitless attempts both to analyse fictional truth and to draw the fiction/non-fiction boundary in terms of substantial speech acts – sui generis fictive illocutionary acts or illocutionary pretense, for example – in which authors of fiction do not characteristically engage. Composition is best understood as the production of a text or word-sculpture – a sequence of utterances or inscriptions...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 173-194)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 195-202)
  10. Index
    (pp. 203-205)