Make Believe

The Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology | Lund University

Liviu Lutas

Metalepsis and Participation in Games of Make-Believe

 In this paper I will concentrate on how a device as the narrative metalepsis affects the participation in what Kendal Walton calls the games of make-believe. According to Walton, ”viewers of paintings and films, spectators of plays, readers of novels […] participate in the games in which these works are props much as children participate in games” (p. 213). This means that readers and spectators of works of art participate in the worlds of these works in a way that is analogous to how children participate in their games: “Children are almost invariably characters in their games of make-believe”, says Walton (p. 209). Hence the importance of participation in the activities of reception of representational works of art. But Walton is aware that there is another possible reaction to works of art, which he calls “appreciation”. Appreciation is a more distanced, or reflexive, attitude. Appreciation usually involves participation, but this is not always the case. According to Walton, especially the participation of the kind “being caught up in story” (p. 275) is discouraged for instance by works “declaring or displaying their fictionality” (ibid).

Metalepsis would count as a device that breaks the fictional illusion, since it emphasises the boundary between the world of representation and the represented world, according to the definition coined by Gérard Genette. However, it might be argued that metalepsis does not always have an anti-illusionist effect (Wolf, Klimek). In this paper, I will focus on a couple of examples where metalepsis can even be argued to have an illusionist effect. The examples will be taken from different media, something that illustrates Walton’s intermedial view of fictionality. I will thus start with three cases, in painting, children’s literature and detective fiction, where the metalepses clearly encourage participation. I will then analyze two recent films where the use of metalepsis is more complex, especially when it comes to its relation to participation.

About Liviu Lutas:

I am a postdoctoral research fellow at Lund University, in the field of French literature. I am working on a project financed by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond about metalepsis in contemporary literature and literary theory. One of my main concerns is the didactic aspect of this narrative device, something that is rarely studied by literary scholars. Other aspects that I study in relation with the metalepsis are the genre question and intermediality. Other interests are post-classical narratology and literature from the French West Indies, the last being the subject of my doctoral thesis. I have published two articles on metalepsis (one in Metalepsis in Popular Culture at DeGruyter, one in the journal Moderna Språk). For a list of publications and conferences see