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Catherine Gallagher: ‘The Rise of Fictionality’
September 1, 2009, 00:54
Filed under: Thoughts

After a stint of Harry Potter and various other pieces of children’s literature that I immersed myself in over the course of the past summer, I came across quite a few kingdoms of the Fan that seemed to defy all reason, from fan art to fan fiction to cosplay…

Which brings me to the article mentioned above by Ms. Gallagher. This quote made me laugh:

That apparent paradox – that readers attach themselves to characters because of, not despite, their fictionality – was acknowledged and discussed by eighteenth-century writers. As I have already mentioned, they noticed that the fictional framework established a protective affective enclosure that encouraged risk-free emotional investment. Fictional characters, moreover, were thought to be easier to sympathize or identify with than most real people…. Some recent critics are reviving this understanding and venturing to propose that we, like our eighteenth-century predecessors, feel things for characters not despite our awareness of their fictionality but because of it.

Consequently, we cannot be dissuaded from identifying with them by reminders of their nonexistence. We already know, moreover, that all of our fictional emotions are by their nature excessive because they are emotions about nobody, and yet the knowledge does not reform us.

‘Reform us’ in the sense that it does not prompt us to change our attitudes towards the characters. ‘Excessive’ in that these reactions are not truly warranted by the actuality of the situation. ‘Risk-free’ because no book character who lives in your head will ever reject you or let you down.

Sounds like a very well thought-out definition of fandom to me. ‘Cannot be dissuaded by reminders of their nonexistence?’ tell me about it! Harry Potter fandom has taught me that some people will defend certain romantic ships to the death, will draw pictures of themselves in romantic liaisons with Professor Snape, and discuss the themes, characters, intricacies of what is absurdly but delightfully nothing, to the death.

I am not quite sure what to make of the point that we ‘love characters because of their fictionality. Fictionality as described in the article is the ‘ironic credulity’ that occurs when we suspend the knowledge that this is a construct while reading a realistic fiction, but that only applies if one takes the work, the novel, to be an entity in itself. As far as fantasy goes, then, there is an inevitable dual symbolism that occurs in the translation between a fantasy world and non-fantasy world, and then non-fantasy to contemporary. Fantasy is more allegory than fiction, though it certainly falls under the umbrella of constructed narrative. But because one never needs to ‘suspend’ knowledge about the realism of the narrative, does that mean that the meaning mined in the reading is for the symbolism? Is that a sufficient distinction from fictionality?

Whatever. Count me in!

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