Fictional worlds and focalisation in works by Hermann Hesse and E.L. Doctorow
Van der Merwe, Philippus Wolrad
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The main focus of this study concerns the contribution of focalisation to the creation of fictional worlds through the combination of the “building blocks” of a fictional world, namely the central focalising and focalised character(s), focalised social contexts, events and spaces, in Hermann Hesse’s Demian (1919), Narziß und Goldmund (1930), E.L. Doctorow’s Welcome to Hard Times (1960) and Homer & Langley (2009). The relationship between the focalisers and their social contexts influence their human, subjective perspectives and represented perceptions of their textual actual worlds. Focalisation is constructive in the synergistic relationship between the “building blocks” that leads to the creation of fictional worlds. Chapter 2 discusses the theoretical basis of the thesis which is formed by the concepts of M. Ryan, L. Doležel, R. Ronen and T.G. Pavel with regard to possible worlds and fictional worlds. G. Genette’s and M. Bal’s theories provide the foundation of this study with regard to this concept as regards focalisation. Chapter 3 contextualises focalisation and fictional worlds as possible worlds in Hesse’s and Doctorow’s fiction and as such constitutes part of a twofold basis for the following analyses and comparisons. Four textual analyses of the individual novels by Hesse and Doctorow then follow. In the textual analysis of Demian the notions of M. Bal, M. Ryan and A. Nünning provide a theoretical basis that is specifically relevant for the argument that through his consciousness the individual, Emil Sinclair, creates the fictional world, i.e. by “transforming” textual actual world components into individualised fictional world ones. The views of Viktor Frankl, feminist activists against prostitution such as M. Farley, M.A. Baldwin and C.A. MacKinnon as well as the views of Talcott Parsons (in conjunction with those of G.M. Platt and N.J. Smelser) offer a theoretical underpinning for the analysis of the social context as the product of the mindset in the community in Doctorow’s Welcome to Hard Times and the mindset of the focaliser, Blue, that concurs with the mindset of the community. Focalised events are considered as psychologically credible and as contributing to the fictional world in Hesse’s Narziß und Goldmund. In this textual analysis the theoretical points of departure were based on theories proposed by D. Cohn, M. Ryan and S. Chatman. Concepts advanced by J. Lothe, J. Lotman, H. Lefebvre, L. Doležel, N. Wolterstorff and D. Coste comprise the theoretical basis of the analysis of social spaces in Doctorow’s Homer & Langley. Chapter 8 consists of comparative analyses of the said focalised “building blocks” of Hesse’s and Doctorow’s novels. The analyses and comparisons argue that focalising characters “filter” their actual worlds and “transform” them through their individualistic and subjective representations, as actual people do. Even if characters are “non-actual individuals” their mindsets or physical, social and mental properties (Margolin, 1989:4) are like those of actual people, i.e. “psychologically credible”. Ryan (1991:45) identifies “psychological credibility” or “a plausible portrayal of human psychology” as an “accessibility relation”, i.e. one that allows the mental properties of a fictional character to be accessible from and possible for the actual world. The interaction between a focalising character and his social context that affects his consciousness and focalisation is comparable to the interaction between a hypothetical actual person and his social world, that would also influence his mindset and how he communicates about the actual world. Perspectives of characters such as Sinclair, Blue, Goldmund and Homer Collyer are recognisable to hypothetical actual world readers as psychologically credible. In the light of Bal’s (1990:9) argument that the whole text content is related to the (focalising) character(s), one could say that the elements of a textual actual world become, as it were, focalised “building blocks” of the fictional world. The central finding is that focalisation contributes to the creation of fictional worlds. The relationship between a fictional world and the actual one becomes apparent in literary texts through focalisation that transforms the textual actual world and its elements, i.e. the central (self-focalising) character, the social context, events and space(s), through a focaliser’s consciousness. The focaliser’s consciousness in Hesse’s and Doctorow’s fiction is marked by psychological credibility. A fictional world is comparable to the actual world with regard to other accessibility relations that Ryan (cf. 1991:31-47) identifies, but focalisation specifically allows a fictional world to become possible in actual world terms by creating credibility of this kind. A fictional world is plausible not in mimetic terms, as a factual text presents itself to be, but in possible terms, i.e. through the comparability of human psychology in fictional worlds and the actual world. Focalisation significantly contributes to the creation of a fictional world through the interaction between psychologically credible subjectivity and the imaginary level of the text on which the textual actual world obtains human value through focalisation. A fictional world is, in this sense, a possible world and, in fact, comes about through being a possible world.
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