Fiction, Fiction-Making, and Styles of Fictionality

Philosophy and Literature 7 (1):78-88 (1983)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Kendall L. Walton FICTION, FICTION-MAKING, AND STYLES OF FICTIONALITY Both objectsandactions are said to have styles. Styles eire attributed to works of art, bathing suits, neckties, and automobiles. But we also think of styles as ways of doing things. There are styles of teaching, styles of chess playing, styles of travel. The primary notion of style is the one which attaches to actions. When we speak of die style of a poem or a portrait or em automobile we do so with reference to an action or actions associated with the object, usually the action or actions which appear to have been performed in die making of it. I will not argue now for this claim about style except to note that style attributions eure peculietrly alien to objects which are not products of human action. What is the style of a tulip, or an alpine meadow, or a pristine lake in the high Sierras? Are the Grand Canyon and Yosemite Valley in the same style or different ones? Sunsets in the tropics are very different from sunsets in the arctic, but is die difference a stylistic one? We might allow that in unusual cases natured objects can have styles. A chorus ofchirping birds might, just conceivably, chirp in the style of Haydn. But die notion of style here is obviously parasitic on diat which is applied to man-made eirtifacts. To think of an object as having a style is to mink of it as a product of human action.1 If actions are the primary possessors of style, to understand styles of fictionality we must look at die action of fiction-meddng emd its relation to works of fiction. I will concentrate on the very basic question ofwhat fiction is, what it is for something to be a work of fiction, and on attempts to answer this question in terms of die action offiction-making. It has been especially fashionable to utilize die notion ofspeech acts introduced by John Austin in tackling this problem. The fictional status of a work is, supposedly, to be accounted for by what illocutionary actions were or were not performed by the artist producing it, or by connections between what the artist did and certain illocutionary actions. My assessment of mis program will be mostly negative. Speech-act theory is remarkably unhelpful in explaining what fiction is. We have here something ofa "Have dieory, will travel" syndrome. There is a tendency for theorists, when 78 Kendall L. Walton79 faced with a new problem, to dust off an old theory which they know emd love, one devised with other questions in mind, shove it into die breach, and pray mat it will fit. In this case it does not fit, and the result is confusion radier dian illumination. Lest I step on toes other man the ones I am aiming at, let me empheisize that my present concern is not with the viability of speech-act theory as a dieory of language. Nor do I mean to deny that speech-act theory can be used fruitfully to illuminate important features of literary fictions. I am now addressing only die basic question of what fiction is, how works of fiction are to be differentiated from odier things. Whatever the other merits of speech-act theory, its applications to this question have been distinctly infelicitous. From our discussion of such applications em even stronger conclusion will emerge, the conclusion that the nature of fiction is not to be explicated in terms of acts of fiction-making at all. The notion of fiction is in diis respect contrary to that of style, and certain consequences about styles of fictionality follow. I Speech-act theory has been brought to bear on the problem of the nature of fiction in a number of rather different ways. I will look at four of them. The first is the idea that works of fiction are simply texts (or other representations ) which are not vehicles of illocutionary acts. It is true mat in writing fiction an author typically does not perform the illocutionary acts that a person who uses the setme words in a nonfictional setting is likely to be performing...



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Kendall Walton
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

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