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Impossible Fiction and the Reader

Cawthra, Jamie (2019) Impossible Fiction and the Reader. PhD thesis, University of York.

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Abstract

I ask how audiences engage with impossible fiction, defined here as any fiction of any media which represents an absolute impossibility (excepting cases of empty reference). In particular, I am interested in how impossible fiction is absorbed, understood and enjoyed by its readers. I focus on the practices of readers, and in particular their beliefs and imaginings concerning the content of impossible fiction. I consider three significant issues in this area. First, the concept of normalisation, which I adapt from literary theory. Normalisation explains observations from Daniel Nolan and Derek Matravers about the tendency for readers to view impossible fictions as examples of unreliable narration. Second, the puzzlement readers experience when a work of impossible fiction proves to be beyond conventional understanding. Considering work by Umberto Eco, as well as philosophical treatments of the sublime, I suggest that this puzzlement may have unique effects on the reader’s aesthetic judgements of a fiction. Third, I consider when and why impossibilities are and are not part of what the reader imagines while engaged with an impossible fiction. This follows work by Tamar Gendler and Kathleen Stock on how readers imagine impossibilities in fiction. Each of these analyses is accompanied by examples from the wide range of impossible fictions, from postmodernist experiments like Alain Robbe-Grillet’s La Maison de Rendez-vous to contemporary horror such as Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. The range of examples from fiction is almost as diverse and disparate as existing academic work on reader engagement with impossible fiction, but I draw out common features in both bodies of literature. I combine work in imagination, fiction and narratology in order to provide a robust, principled description of how and why readers engage with impossible fiction.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of York > Philosophy (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.794259
Depositing User: Mr Jamie Cawthra
Date Deposited: 08 Jan 2020 10:31
Last Modified: 21 Feb 2020 10:53
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/25558

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