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Make Believe

The Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology | Lund University

James Hamilton

Narrative per se and Suspense Eliminativism

This paper is an endorsement of Christy MagUider's recent essay in defense of what he calls "suspense eliminativism." However, it goes further in one dimension: I do not adopt (pace MagUider and many others) a "fiction-first" strategy, in which we learn the lessons about narrative per se from studying fictional narratives first, and only then apply those lessons to non-fictional narratives.

                      I first show that even minimalist narratives (in any formulation of minimalism that can encompass the views of Lamarque, Carroll, Livingston, Currie and Jureidini, and Velleman) there are sufficient resources both for generating a literature and for sustaining serious philosophical inquiry.

                      Accordingly, I adopt a different methodological strategy in which I assume, for argument, that no narratives were ever offered as fictional, and that instead all the narratives that ever were are believed to be attempts to accurately record or order the facts and are assessed both as to their narrative structure and effects and as to their truth or falsity. On that assumption, our task is to determine what mental mechanisms, if any, would be involved in grasping and projecting narratives.

                      In the essay I begin fleshing out the assumption by examining how it would support the case for Suspense Eliminativism. The mental states that even minimal narratives can induce have two aspects that make them of interest: first, they belong to a broad class of anticipatory states – including apprehension, anxiety and suspense – that include both cognitive and emotive elements; and second, they are often induced subdoxastically. Recognizing this pair of facts clears up key questions concerning whether uncertainty is necessary for suspense, whether knowledge of a narrative's outcome makes uncertainty impossible, and whether we feel suspense on repeated exposures to the same narrative.

About James Hamilton:

Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin. Hamilton teaches philosophy at Kansas State University. His research is in aesthetics, especially the aesthetics of theater. He has published articles on theater and other performing arts in British Journal of Aesthetics, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, and The Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, and Philosophy Compass.  He has entries on Brecht, on Theater, and on Drama in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Aesthetics and the Routledge Companion to Aesthetics, and the Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics, 2nd Edition. He is author of The Art of Theater (Blackwell, 2007).