Transferentiality : mapping the margins of postmodern fiction
Laurie, Henri De Guise
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This thesis starts from the observation that, while it is common for commentators to divide postmodern fiction into two general fields – one experimental and anti-mimetic, the other cautiously mimetic, there remains a fairly significant field of postmodern texts that use largely mimetic approaches but represent worlds that are categorically distinct from actuality. This third group is even more pronounced if popular culture and “commercial” fiction, in particular sf and fantasy, are taken into account. Additionally, the third category has the interesting characteristic that the texts within this group very often generate unusual loyalty among its fans. Based on a renewed investigation of the main genre critics in postmodern fiction, the first chapter suggests a tripartite division of postmodern fiction, into formalist, metamimetic, and transreferetial texts. These are provisionally circumscribed by their reference worlds: formalist fiction attempts to derail its own capacity for presenting a world; metamimetic fiction presents mediated versions of worlds closely reminiscent of actuality; and transreferential fiction sets its narrative in worlds that are experienced as such, but are clearly distinct from actuality. If transreferential fiction deals with alternate worlds, it also very often relies on the reader’s immersion in the fictional world to provide unique, often subversive, fictional experiences. This process can be identified as the exploration of the fictional world, and it is very often guided so as to be experienced as a virtual reality of sorts. If transreferential texts are experienced as interactive in this sense, it is likely that they convey experiences and insights in ways different from either of the other two strands of postmodern fiction. In order to investigate the interactive experience provided by these texts, an extended conceptual and analytical set is proposed, rooted primarily in Ricoeurian hermeutics and possible-worlds theory. These two main theoretical approaches approximately correspond to the temporal and the spatial dimensions of texts, respectively. Much of the power of these texts rooted in the care they take to guide the reader through their fictional worlds and the experiences offered by the narrative, often at the hand of fictioninternal ‘guides’. These theoretical approaches are supplement by sf theoretical research and by Aleid Fokkema’s study of postmodern character. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 apply the theoretical toolset to three paradigmatic transreferential texts: sf New Wave author M John Harrison’s Viriconium sequence; Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy; and Jeff Noon’s Vurt and Pollen, texts that have much in common with cyberpunk but which make much more extensive use of formalist techniques. Each chapter has a slightly different main focus, matching the text in question, respectively: aesthetic parameters and worldcreation strategies of transreferential fiction; close “guidance” of the reader and extrapolation; and virtual reality and identity games. The final chapter presents the findings from the research conducted in the initial study. The findings stem from the central insight that transreferential texts deploy a powerful suit of mimetic strategies to maximise immersion, but simultaneously introduce a variety of interactive strategies. Transreferential fiction balances immersion against interactivity, often by selectively maximising the mimesis of some elements while allowing others to be presented through formalist strategies, which requires a reading mode that is simultaneously immersive and open to challenging propositions. A significant implication of this for critical studies – both literary and sf – is that the Barthesian formalist reading model is insufficient to deal with transreferential texts. Rather, texts like these demand a layered reading approach which facilitates immersion on a first reading and supplements it critically on a second. The final chapter further considers how widely and in what forms the themes and strategies found in the preceding chapters recur in other texts from the proposed transreferential supergenre, including sf, magic realist and limitpostmodernist texts.
- Humanities