JUSTDOLIT: a single tool to analyse all texts

If you want to know more: Wolfgang Iser, Paul Ricoeur (& Lubomir Doležel)

There are two philosophers who have advanced the thesis that fiction creates a world of its own: Paul Ricoeur and Wolfgang Iser. Their idea is that the literary text is neither opposed to reality nor autotelic, but “pretends”, “makes believe”. This act of makebelief is defined by two moments:

  1. It divests the references to extratextual reality from its real component by turning them into signs, and on the other hand it confers reality on the imaginary elements. This way,

    “the elements of reality, which enter the text, are not any longer tied to the semantic or systematic structuration of the system [...] from which they were taken” (Iser 1993: 24, my translation).

  2. At the same time, the act of pretending does not consign the text to meaninglessness in the real world; instead, it builds alternative worlds which allow us to talk of those things which are impossible to discuss in the real world. Ricoeur, who acknowledges his debt to Iser, can thus say that

    Poetic texts, too, speak of the world, even though they may not do so in a descriptive fashion. Metaphorical reference [Iser’s “pretending”] consists in the fact that the effacement of descriptive reference – and effacement that, as a first approximation, makes language refer to itself – is revealed to be, in a second approximation, the negative condition for freeing a more radical power of reference to those aspects of our being-in-the-world that cannot be talked about directly. (1984: 80)

Ricoeur and Iser’s understanding of fiction as pretending, as metaphorical reference, as an exploitation of the cognitive function of language, provides an immense development over previous models which tried to make sense of the difference between fiction and reality, in which the former always proved the loser when compared to the latter.

Ricoeur's and Iser's ideas have been taken up by mainstream literary theory. Thus, in a solid, modern and standard introduction to narrative theory like Fludernik 2005, one of the cornerstones on which narative theory rests is the very idea that fictional works create fictional worlds which are in many ways similar to our real world is. There is at present an approach to fiction (standard [and disputed] in philosophy and logic) called "possible worlds". One of its most important exponents, Lubomir Doležel, has devised a possible world which in some ways resembles the one proposed in JustdoLit. Shortly, this website will include an entry indicating differences and similarities between Doležel’s possible world and that of JustdoLit.

works cited

Fludernik, Monika. Einführung in die Erzähltheorie. DWG: Darmstadt, 2005.

Iser, Wolfgang. Das Fiktive und das Imaginäre. Perspektiven literarischer Hermeneutik. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1993.

Ricoeur, Paul. Time and Narrative. Vol. 1. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984.

daniel.candel@uah.es ©2008 Daniel Candel Bormann