1. The Normative Relations between Fiction, Imagination and Appreciation
Patrik Engisch, Tom Kindt, Tobias Klauk, Niels Klenner, Tilmann Köppe
It is a commonplace that fictional texts invite and move us to imagine certain things concerning the characters and events described by the text. Reading ‘The Sound and the Fury’ prompts us to imagine various incidents in the history of the Compson family. It is equally undeniable that considerations about what fictional texts ask us to imagine are central to our aesthetic appreciation of them. We value Faulkner’s novel in part because it allows us to imagine these incidents from the very complex, diverse and subjective points of view of the three Compson brothers.
What these two truisms about the relationship between fiction, imagination and appreciation have in common is that they describe normative relations. Imagining is the appropriate basic response to fictional texts. If we fail to imagine in accordance with the text’s prescriptions to imagine, we fail to properly engage with it. Similarly, appreciation is the appropriate response to the power of fictional texts to captivate our imagination in rich and rewarding ways. Much of the aesthetic worth of fictional texts resides in the fact that they make specific fictional worlds accessible to our imagination. Hence, the aesthetic evaluation of fictional texts requires us to take into account what they ask us to imagine, and how they do this.
The aim of the research project is to investigate the nature of these two normative relations between fiction, imagination and appreciation, which may be characterized in the following way:
– (NR1) Fictional texts direct us to imagine certain things.
– (NR2) That fictional texts direct us to imagine certain things bears on whether we should aesthetically (dis)value them.
With respect to each fictional text, there are specific instances of (NR1) and (NR2) which tell us what to imagine when reading the text, and also how to aesthetically assess it in light of what it asks us to imagine. Although important aspects of (NR1) and (NR2) have already been discussed in the literature, many others have not. Thus there has so far been no systematic investigation of the normative role of imagining and its normative connections to fiction and appreciation – something that this research projects aims to remedy.
The neglected issues that we intend to address can be divided into factual, normative and foundational questions. The first subproject inquires into how specific instances of (NR1) and (NR2) are actually established in the practice of interpretation in literary studies, while the second subproject elucidates particular instances of (NR1) and (NR2) that should (or should not) guide our interpretation. The third subproject aims to identify the source of the normativity of the justified instances of (NR1) and (NR2). Together the three subprojects aim at providing a comprehensive account of the general normative relations between fiction, imagination and appreciation.
2. Learning from Literary Narratives
The idea that we can gain knowledge from literary fiction and the idea that we appreciate literary fiction aesthetically have often been understood as conflicting ideas. Some philosophers, however, have argued that the cognitive value of fiction contributes to its aesthetic value. This project aims to investigate and defend the opposite explanatory direction: appreciation of literary fiction contributes significantly to propositional and other forms of knowledge we can gain through it.
Three steps will to be taken in order to establish this view. First, it will be argued that aesthetic appreciation of literary texts can play an enabling role in rich kinds of imagination such as *what it is like* to be in a certain situation. Second, the idea that we can gain knowledge from literary fiction will be defended, with a special focus on counterfactual knowledge. Third, the project will investigate the role certain rich kinds of imagination play in gaining knowledge, especially in gaining counterfactual knowledge through literary narratives.
3. Imagination in the Light of the Mode/Content Distinction
I’m working on a taxonomy of imaginative modes in using the mode/content distinction.
Consider the following statements: “Sam is afraid that an elephant is in the room”, “Sam believes that an elephant is in the room “, “Sam desires that an elephant would be in the room “, “Sam imagines that an elephant is in the room “. According to an appealing approach, these three cases feature one and the same content, but different psychological modes or attitudes. Philosophers have often explored the contents of mental states and the types of contents they may have. Parallel explorations of psychological modes are very rare, however. As a result, we lack a clear idea of what a variety of different modes may have in common. For instance, what do believing and imagining have in common that makes both psychological modes? If the answer is “an attitude toward the content”, then what does that mean exactly? In addition, a proper account of modes is required for understanding their relation to contents.
My goal is (i) to determine what are imaginative modes and how could we unify them and (ii) to give an enlightenment about the nature of modes – what like believing, desiring, being afraid, being anger or imagining have in common.
4. Theory and Practice of Fictionality
In my dissertation I will develop a method for analyzing the fictional status of literary works. The aim is to cross the gap between philosophical theories of fiction – developped since the 1990’s – and the practice of analyzing fictional works of literature in literary studies. I will study borderline cases by Max Frisch and Lukas Bärfuss and test the capacities of currently favoured theories of fiction to accurately explain and/or classify these works. Eventually, I will make suggestions as to (a) how fictionality should be understood in general, (b) how the fictional status of literary utterances (sentences, narrations, texts, works) should be analyzed and (c) how the fictional status of the borderline cases mentioned should be explained and/or classified.