Possible Intersections - Poeticity, Theatricality, Narrativity

Inform: Through Form

Recently, following presentations at the conference in honour of Lubomír Doležel's 80th birthday, I found myself wondering about the pictures of stories that are generated by a given set of analytical tools. In particular, I was wondering about the representation of mental states in fiction. In possible worlds, what are the consequences of considering mental states as sites with action leading to and from them as if a mental state were a travel zone? What are the consequences of considering mental states as circulating entities that visit one spot or another? Of course relations of proximity (approaching & distancing) need not preclude relations of circulation, contagion, immunity or the like.

I am reminded that for Turing machines a state is both a description and an instruction. For a technological imagination, a picturing and a telling are tools. I'm intrigued by the possibilities of translation between picturing and telling because for me this represents a test of the analytical tools at hand. I want to be attentive to how possible worlds show and describe and to how such descriptions & dipictions discursively support a telelogical register. I want to learn more about the relation between pragmatics and poetics, between the indicative and the imperative functions of literary analysis.

Entities like stories, zones, objects, states are approached through the recursive relation between poetics and pragmatics. Through indicative description "it is the case that" to imperative instruction "let it be that it is the case that" it becomes possible to evidence formations including the formation "let it be the case that." Nuances of telescoping.

Through Form: Perform

If uttered felicitously, the literary performative changes a possible entity into a fictional fact. In other words, fictional fact is a possible entity authenticated by a felictious literary speech act. (Doležel 146)

Doležel places discussion of these felicity conditions and performatives under the heading "World Construction as Performative Force". World construction is inflected towards questions of authority and authentification.

It is the characterization of a process, world construction, in terms of force that attracts my attention. I am intrigued by this aspect of the model. And I recall earlier in the monograph, a certain tension between the chronological and the logical is played out in the presentation of force as entity and its appearance in the catalogue of entities in the construction of a world. In a "starter terms" section, Doležel introduces first a world of states "where nothing changes, nothing happens". Then appears the nature force as a new entity and the result is that "[w]e have now constructed a dynamic world, where changes orginate in one, inanimate source." Finally, "[i]n the third stage, the world is augmented by a new category, the person". (Dolezel 32)

I am not redescribing this progressive presentation in order to challenge it. Doležel provides a model applicable in the domain of narratology and specifically the analysis of story (plot). I am operating from a zone of close reading. I am constructing an object: a translating text. This construction passes by way of elucidating detail.

There is a verb clustering here in Doležel's presentation of states-force-person that interests me. In the theorizing discourse "introduce, consider, augment" are presented in that order. With a bit of slight misreading one can twist the statements to provide the following implicit schema:

  1. States are introduced.
  2. Forces are considered.
  3. Persons are augmented.

One is tempted to shuffle the verbs and the subjects and invest in some interesting morphing. However, let us be quite clear. Doležel does not propose an isomorphism between persons, states and forces. It is the world that is augmented. Persons augment the world. Multiplication of persons augments the world. And so does expanding the sphere of activity of persons i.e. introducing more states related to persons. Person-centredness is built into the model.

However the model is not person-generative. As suggestive as it may seem, states and forces do not produce persons. Generation is not intrinsic to the typology. There is of course a slip here. The model is not reducible to the typology. Literary performatives belong to the model.

Yet quite apart from recombinations of implicit or mis-read meanings of the verbs associated with the entities, there is value in reviewing what these verbs can do. I suggest that by analogy with literary performatives there are theory-making performatives. One way to achieve some purchase on those performatives is to carefully read implications off the verbs inscribed in the discourse.

The verbs with which the discourse handles the entities (states, forces and persons) also hold them in a certain world and hold them apart from each other for the purposes of analysis. Holding and holding apart characterize the articulation of models. Details of articulation particularize a model.

Introducing States

It is a fine detail perhaps but it is important to note that Doležel doesn't begin with a one-state world. A plurality of states is given. Passage from one state to another would give the world eventfulness -- would introduce time into the world of states.

Re-reading world construction as world-population, reading the propagation of entities as progress through emergent stages, one becomes sensitive to Doležel's bracketing of time. The introduced world of states is "a closed, atemporal, Parmenidean realm of stillness and silence, where nothing changes, nothing happens. It is the world of eternal ideas and the universe of discourse of classical logic." To begin a trajectory here makes sense if the purpose of the model is to move from the possible entities of fictional worlds to the intentional actions of narrative worlds. Indeed as Doležel's argument unfolds, the discourse shifts from fictional to narrative world. The endpoint "[a] narrative semantics based on action theory [that] radically psychologizes the story, and, at the same time, features fictional characters as persons for and in acting" (Doležel 55) is consonant with the person-centredness of the model.

To begin here also makes sense if one is oriented towards narration and a language-centred model. Stillness stirs the imagination. The limit case of narrative is the recounting of a change that is no change: the preservation of the identity of an entity k at t1 and k at t2. Such a limit case -- time passing without change to entities -- is not unimaginable in the Doležel account of possible worlds of fiction. Doležel's introduction of states in the plural allows for the construction of a succession of states in time. Changelessness does not mean timelessness.

Involution like evolution, devolution & revolution can be drawn. Imagine, for an instant, the rendering of involutions. "Tweening" is a technical term from the domain of motion picture animation refering to the filling of frames in between key frames. My appeal here to the cinematic art is designed to stress the potential eventfulness of duration. Tweening is necessary not just to display a change but also to represent objects persisting in time. I am circling the question of degrees of narrativity which for me is tied to a return to the question of determining the contexts in which involution counts as an event. Again changeless does not mean timeless. I would speculate that involutions gain power by comparison via narration with narrative evolutions, devolutions and revolutions.

However, let us remember that in the model presented by Doležel the introduction of states is not sufficient to generate events. We are invited to consider a force.

Considering Force

Doležel invites us to consider force as an event generator in a world of states. He does not trade in foci, vectors or markings. The force he asks world constructors to consider is a nature force. Such a nature force has no intent. As yet the world under construction has not been augmented by the presence of entitites of the person kind.

Force brings events. Persons bring intentions. Thanks to the presence of intentionaless forces, a person is not reducible to a carrier of intent. A person can be a force, or at least the agent of a force.

Physical actions and mental acts are intentionally done by the person; physiological and mental events, caused by intentionaless forces, happen to him or her (Doležel 73)

Doležel asserts the unity of the acting person:

All mental faculties, from sensory preception to emotionality to thinking to remembering and imagination, operate between the poles of intentional acting and spontaneous generation (Doležel 73)

A person may act as a force. Indeed, a person may act as the agent of an intentionless force. A person may be acted upon. The events associated with such acting and being acted upon may be involutive.

Augmenting Persons

A person endowed with intention is an actant able to recognise a pattern (state) and focalize (align as to force). A person is as well an actant able to intervene in a pattern or a focalization of a pattern and either change (preserve) the pattern, itself, or both pattern and self.

A consideration of a force in a space where a state has been introduced is equivalent to attending to a point of view, a perspective, a voice, that is, is equivalent to focussing attention on the "factors regulating narrative information" (See PERSPECTIVE and cross-referenced entries in Prince) hence to focus.

I am close to lyrically proposing narrative consideration of spontaneous event generator as personification of a locus as genius of the place, the stage.

Diffusing Focus

Consider, through narration, the relations between narrativity and the temporality of aesthetic activity and semiotic objects --- and theatre, poetry and narrative swirl. Pictures and tellings interlock. Let us recall that Doležel ends an enumeration of various kinds of possible worlds stipulated by various cognitive aims thus:

Possible worlds of fiction are artifacts produced by aesthetic activities -- poetry and music composition, mythology and storytelling, painting and sculpting, theater and dance, cinema and television, and so on. Since they are constructed by semiotic systems -- language, colors, shapes, tones, acting and so on -- we are justified in calling them semiotic objects. (Doležel 14-15)

From the observation of narrative world manipulation and its felicitous speech acts, I think it is possible to abstract procedures that could be mapped onto artifacts produced by aesthetic activities and those aesthetic activities. The route, I believe, is through some careful attention to the slippery term "story". Where Doležel refers to certain worlds as "fecund sources of stories" (129) the note attached to this locus references "plots". (260, n. 17) In a technical sense a "story" is only a part of a "narrative". Analogies to the relation between the narration and the narrated offer a way to move from the observation of narrative world manipulation and its felicitous speech acts to procedures that could be mapped to other aesthetic activities and their products.

How so? By "marking off distinct moments in time and setting up relations among them, by discovering meaningful designs in temporal series [...] narrative deciphers time and indicates how to deciper it." (Prince 60) I've taken this passage from an entry on narrative.

By definition, narrative always recounts one or more events; but as etymology suggest (the term narrative is related to the Latin GNARUS), it also represents a particular mode of knowldege. It does not simply mirror what happens; it explores and devises what can happen. It does not merely recount changes of state; it constitutes and interprets them as signifying parts of signifying wholes [...] narrative deciphers time and indicates how to deciper it. In sum, narrative illuminates temporality and humans as temporal beings.

I want to for an instant to suspend the question of the human element and the degree of narratitivity present in a given narrative. Suffice for now that I intend to relate it to the question of involution.

Narrative recounts events. That recounting operates through marking and through setting up relations. That the marking itself is an event is familiar to those familar with moments of mis en abyme - those vertiginous recursive structures of painted mandelas and tales of the writer writing. Moments where the description holds the describing:

"Descriptions interrupt, or rather disturb narration, not by introducing extraneous or irrelevant information but, precisely, by mirroring, refracting, and thus bringing into focus a series of narrative mechanisms. (Lopes 17)

Poem told as story staged as poem

The semiosis of a work of art requires a procedure. That procedure can be expressed: an event-become-entity becomes retold as event. As a theorem this expression is nicely recursive. It provides a certain beauty.

event-become-entity speaks to poeticity
retold speaks to narrativity
event speaks to theatricality

Gerald Prince offers the following entry for "narrativity":

The set of properties characterizing NARRATIVE and distinguishing it from nonnarrative; the formal and contextual features making a narrative more or less narrative, as it were. || The degree of narrativity of a given narrative depends partly on the extent to which that narrative fulfills a receiver's desire by representing oriented temporal wholes [...] involving a CONFLICT, consisting of discrete, specific, and positive situations and events, and meaningful in terms of a human(ized) project and world.

Narrative in nonverbal semiosis? Listen to a piece of music. View a painting. Experience an architetural artefact. conflict? human? narrative?

"If we want to suggest, as advised by Austin, an "explicit performative verb" [...] for fictional performatives, then my candidate is "Let it be."" (Doležel 262 note 3) And my candidate for a possible gloss on becoming -- "Let it involve, then revolve, evolve, devolve or involve more." Narrative does not need conflict. Narration does. Narration moves by competition for attention that great resevoir of forces.

Coda: stage retold poem

There is a delightful typographic accident in the edition of Heterocosmica which I consulted. On page 107, one finds a play on "change" and "chance". And of course I've begun to shift the action-based narratological question of change construction. I am beginning to insist on the question of what it may mean to construct chances. Out of which insistence emerges a mode of story telling that yields (gain an again), cedes way to risk of the opening.


Doležel, Lubomír. Heterocosmica: Fiction and Possible Worlds. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.
Lopes, Jose Manuel. Foregrounded Description in Prose Fiction: Five Cross-Literary Studies. University of Toronto Press, 1995.
Prince, Gerald. Dictionary of Narratology. University of Nebraska Press, 1987.

François Lachance