Text, reader, world : representation in the novels of Peter Ackroyd
Laurie, Henri De Guise
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In the face of the supposed anti-referentiality of postmodernist fiction, the novels of Peter Ackroyd show a return to referentiality. This dissertation contends that this return to referentiality is in fact an attempt to establish "virtual realities" in which readers can be engaged at close quarters, as it were, in order to expose them to unfamiliar "modes of being". Such exposure occurs both on the narrative level and on the level of the reader's experience of the novel, so that readers are no longer passive observers, but become active participants in what may be termed the role-playing game set up by the novels. As such, readers need to acquire mechanisms that allow them to cope with the novels. The worlds and concomitant modes of being show resemblance to the descriptions of the world offered by poststructuralist theories. In some sense, then, the novels can be seen as leading the reader to adjust more effectively to the postmodern (?) "textually constructed world". The dissertation is guided by a double analysis/exploration which focuses on three of Ackroyd's novels: Hawksmoor. Chatterton. and Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem. The first analysis, Text: Representation, explores representation of these three novels in terms of Thomas Pavel's Fictional Worlds and Aleid Fokkema's Postmodern Characters. The representational facet of Ackroyd's fiction is a device which makes the novels particularly accessible, even while the subject matter and structure of the novels leave gaps which the reader needs to fill. Building on the first, the second analysis — Representation: Reader - is a reading of the novels guided by the hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur. In this section the reading experience is explored, both with reference to the reader's investigation of the modes of being of characters. In the novels and to the reader's experience of an alternate mode of being occasioned by the world of the novel. Crucial to the reader's involvement is the topos of detective fiction, found throughout Ackroyd's oeuvre in one form or another. The reader becomes a detective who has to partake in role-playing games set in the virtual realities set up by the novels. Text, Reader, World: Outside the Novel? briefly indicates how the same theoretical tools - the influence of the detective fiction topos, role-playing games, and virtual realities - may be applied to other novels by Peter Ackroyd, and relates the skills taught by the novels to the actual world, especially as it is described by poststructuralist and postmodern cultural theory.
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