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Make Believe

The Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology | Lund University

Remigius Bunia

About Truth in Fiction

Walton’s and Currie’s theories allow us to describe fictional works that do not primarily consist of words. In particular, Walton’s theory teaches us to regard a fictional work as characterized as a set of instructions for a game rather than a set of fixed properties. Although his theory of truth derives from analytic tradition, he posits: “imagining is not exclusively propositional” (1991: 43). Is he saying that we can imagine something whose “imaginary content” cannot be described by using propositions?
Currie, who constructs his theory on the basis of a strict notion of truth, distinguishes “truth in fiction” and (simple) “truth,” the latter of which I call propositional truth. Proust’s Recherche may convey truths in fiction such as “important truths about love, time, and memory” (1991: 53), but many phrases in the novel do not provide us with propositional truths. But how is it possible to convey truths in fiction through propositional falsities? How can a story about an unreal Marcel inform us about real jealousy?
In my talk I would like to claim that a theory of fictionality must fully abandon the notion of proposition to explain fictionality. Recent linguistic findings, which I would like to present, persuade us to identify less specific processes of meaning and reference at work. Although both fictional and nonfictional works put certain constraints on their usage (which no one would deny), obscurities become apparent with recent accurate descriptions of the distinct­ive semantic powers of language and things. Even the tree stump that re­pre­sents a bear in Walton’s famous example delimits the possible actions of the imagined bear (he cannot chase you, for instance). Words — in a game of make-believe — also confer certain liberties and restrictions on the reader. My aim is to describe the liberties that until now lack due attention from theory.

About Remigius Bunia:

Remigius Bunia is junior professor of Comparative Literature at Freie Universität Berlin and teaches at Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School. He is the author of Faltungen (2007) and of various articles on fictionality, aesthetics, semantic history, and the book as a medium. His research within the field of literary history focuses on the time span between 1800 and the present. In 2009, he founded the Research Network Fictionality.