Critical Inquiry 11 (1):141-162 (1984)

Abstract
If we try to arrive at the simplest and most universally valid definition of the representation of reality in literature, we may dispense with grammatical features such as verisimilitude or with genres such as realism, since these are not universal categories. Their applicability depends on historical circumstances or authorial intent. The most economic and general definition, however, must at least include the following two features. First, any representation presupposes the existence of its object outside of the text and preexistent to it. Readers feel, and critics pronounce, that the text’s significance depends on this objective exteriority, even though this significance may entail destroying the commonplace acceptance of the object; indeed, negating something still presupposes that something. Second, the reader’s response to the mimesis consists in a rationalization tending to verify and complete the mimesis and to expand on it sensory terms . The metalanguage of criticism accordingly prolongs and continues the text’s mimetic discourse, and critics evaluate representation in terms of its precision and suggestive power. Both processes—presupposition and rationalization alike—assume that referentiality is the basic semantic mechanism of the literary mimesis.There are, however, literary representations almost devoid of descriptive content, or so vague and so skimpy that their object cannot be analyzed or rationalized in sensory terms. Criticism is hard put to explain why readers feel compelled to evaluate them. And yet these texts not only lend themselves to interpretation but they are especially apt to trigger and control the reader’s hermeneutic behavior. In short, the represented object eschews referentiality yet refuses to vanish altogether, becoming instead the verbal vehicle of an interpretive activity that ends up by making the object subservient to the subject.1 1. See Roland Barthes et al., Littérature et réalité , esp. my paper, pp. 81-118, on the referential fallacy. Michael Riffaterre, University Professor at Columbia University, is the editor of Romantic Review. He is presently working on a book about Anthony Trollope . His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, “Syllepsis,” appeared in the Summer 1980 issue
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1086/448279
Options
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy


Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 52,973
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Mimesis as a Phenomenon of Semiotic Communication.Timo Maran - 2003 - Sign Systems Studies 31 (1):191-215.
The Intertextual Unconscious.Michael Riffaterre - 1987 - Critical Inquiry 13 (2):371-385.
Intertextual analysis today.Mikhail Gasparov - 2002 - Sign Systems Studies 30 (2):645-651.
Combining Montague Semantics and Discourse Representation.Reinhard Muskens - 1996 - Linguistics and Philosophy 19 (2):143 - 186.

Analytics

Added to PP index
2014-01-17

Total views
68 ( #138,575 of 2,344,137 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #514,058 of 2,344,137 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Downloads

My notes