Feeling real in fiction : a study of the phenomenological mimesis of givenness in the novel.


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In this project, I offer an answer to the deceptively simple-seeming question: how do novels feal real to us? I argue that what makes any novel, whether realistic or fantastic, feel real is the way in which the reader’s unfolding of the novel from the text mimetically parallels fundamental aspects of the phenomenological disclosure of a life-world. Being-in-the-novel, as described by phenomenological theorists such as Iser, Ricoeur, and Sartre, feels like being-in-the-world, as described by phenomenological thinkers such as Husserl, Heidegger, and Jean-Luc Marion. I refer to this characteristic of the novel as phenomenological mimesis, and I focus in this project especially on the phenomenological mimesis of givenness. Novels give themselves, I argue, in ways that mimetically resemble the phenomenological givenness of the world in our daily lives, and coming to understand how different novels evoke this phenomenological mimesis can help us to better grasp how they have the power to show us new ways of being-in-the-world. I then to seek to validate my theory further by applying it in concrete criticism. Through a series of phenomenological close readings of Robinson Crusoe, Jude the Obscure, and Middlemarch I explore how each of these novels, in different ways, make the reader’s reception of their givenness as text feel like the reception of a life-world. In Robinson Crusoe, for example, Defoe transmutes the reader’s sense of his controlling authorial hand into a mimetic sense of Providence, rendering the foregrounded givenness of his world phenomenologically verisimilitudinous by framing it as God-given. Hardy in Jude the Obscure likewise makes his world feel real by making it feel given by a (cruel) divine hand, but he then subverts that impression of divine intentionality as illusory, thus making an illusion of divine malevolence a part of his world and eliding the reader’s sense of his authorial hand in the process. Finally, I will consider how Eliot’s Middlemarch effects a phenomenological mimesis of the self-givenness of others in order to take the reader beyond the boundaries of sympathy that govern our relating to others in our daily lives.



Novels. Novel studies. Phenomenology. Phenomenological criticism. Givenness. Daniel Defoe. Robinson Crusoe. George Eliot. Middlemarch. Thomas Hardy. Jude the Obscure.