Postmodernism and the Doctrine of Panfictionality.
One of the main targets of postmodern theory is the classical distinction between fiction and nonfiction. Since the crisis of the dichotomy is due to the expansion of fiction at the expense of nonfiction I call this trend the doctrine of panfictionality. In this essay, I examine some of the factors that have contributed to the destabilization of the borderline: contemporary textual practices, such as metafiction, fictional imitation of nonfiction, the nonfiction novel, and texts with multiple or undecidable reference worlds, as well as theoretical arguments inspired by New Historicism and deconstructionist interpretations of Saussurian linguistics. While postmodern theory campaigns for the merging of fiction and nonfiction into one category I argue that contemporary textual practice has further enriched textual diversity by introducing a variety of hybrid categories. The strict binary opposition of fiction and nonfiction is thus being replaced by a gradual axis, but the development of intermediary forms does no more mean the obsolescence of the polar concepts than the existence of shades of grey on the spectrum from black to white turns black and white into the same color. In conclusion to the essay, I propose to replace the traditional dichotomy of fiction and nonfiction with a four terms system based on truth conditions and reference world. In this augmented model, the polar opposite of postmodern metafiction is myth, rather than nonfiction.
Truth Without Scare Quotes. Post-Sokalian Genre Theory
In the spring of 1996, the academic world was shaken by the hoax of physicist Alan Sokal, who published a panegyric to postmodern conceptions of science in the journal Social Text, and then used the pages of another journal, Lingua Franca, to expose the text as a weave of absurdities. The inspiration for this essay is a report by The New Yorker of a public confrontation between Sokal and his Social Text editors which took place in November 1996. One of the points of contention was the claims to truth of science and myth: while Sokal maintained that we must choose between evolution theory and Native American myths of the emergence of fully formed ancestors from the depth of a cave, his opponents challenged the necessity to make a decision. Despite their diametrically opposite positions, however, Sokal and the representatives of postmodern theory held to a common assumption: that myth and science should be subjected to a unique concept of truth and a common mode of evaluation. Sokal reads myth as if it were bad science, while the postmodernists read all texts as equally valid world-constructing fictions. Here I challenge this assumption, by arguing that rather than subscribing to a uniform theory of truth and validity, the members of a culture apply different standards to different types of texts. The essay investigates various definitions of truth, both standard philosophical (correspondence, coherence, and consensus) and non-traditional (declarative), for the purpose of using this diversity of conceptions as a distinctive feature for a taxonomy of genres. The authoritative truth of myth, which tolerates no competition, and the truth-as-make-believe of fiction, which is protected from competing statements by the autonomy of the fictional world, are contrasted to the scientific conception of truth as correspondence, a conception which thrives in a competitive environment, since truth-claims must pass the test of alternative representations.