Make Believe

The Joint Faculties of Humanities and Theology | Lund University

Tobias Klauk / Tilmann Köppe

Distance in Fiction

Our paper is concerned with the phenomenon that has been named 'narrative distance.' Genette introduced the term and, intuitively, it is obvious what is meant. Sometimes narratives generate an illusion of a directly graspable reality, an impression of the presence of the narrated. Other passages do not seem to bring readers as close to the events, and hence a certain distance can be felt.

A closer look reveals that little is known about the distance-phenomenon. It is no coincidence that our initial formulation is circular. Genette never gave a precise formulation that distinguishes a description of the phenomenon from textual markers that go along with it. Worse, the proposed markers are hardly plausible and while Genette concentrated on different degrees of distance in narrated speech, he neglected the wider phenomenon. Consequently, the topic fell in a long and deep slumber.

We propose a theory of distance in narrative that fulfills three desiderata:

  1. A theory of distance should be compatible with the theory of fiction as proposed by Walton and Curry. Their insights into the complex relationship between text and reader should provide the basis of understanding for every phenomenon of reception.
  2. Distance is a relational concept. A passage of text does not by itself describe an event more or less ‘distantly’. Only in comparison with another passage of text we can say that an event is described in a more or less distanced way.
  3. Once the phenomenon is described in an appropriate way, the claim that a certain passage of text describes an event with more distance than another passage of text is essentially an empirical claim. Candidates for markers of distance can be tested by experiment.

We believe that our theory fulfills these desiderata.

About Tobias Klauk and Tilmann Köppe

Tilmann Köppe, Professor at the Courant Research Centre “Text Structures”,
University of Goettingen. Research interests: literary theory,
narratology, aesthetics. Recent publications: Literatur und Wissen (2011;
ed.); Unreliable Narration (2011; ed. with Tom Kindt).

Tobias Klauk is a postdoctoral researcher in the Junior Research Group
“Analytic Literary Theory” at the Courant Research Centre
“Textstructures”, Göttingen. His interests include aesthetics, philosophy
of language and epistemology. He currently works on basic concepts of
Narratology like distance, focalization or narrative explanation. He is a
member of the network “Foundational Concepts of Narratology”.