Saturday, February 23, 2008

This Is This

There’s a lot to argue with in James Wood’s How Fiction Works, including his dismissal of the importance of story (contrary to the dust jacket puff he isn’t at all interested in the ‘machinery of storytelling’, whatever that is), and his rather fussy obsession with hierarchies. But there’s a lot of good things too, notably his sustained meditations on the many ways by which character can be conveyed, and his acute sentence-by-sentence anatomisation of judiciously selected passages of prose. And then there’s this:

. . . A convincing impossibility in mimesis is always preferable to an unconvincing possibility. The burden is instantly placed not on simple verisimilitude or reference . . . but on mimetic persuasion: it is the artist’s task to convince us that this could have happened. Internal consistency and plausibility then become more important than referential rectitude. And this task will of course involve much fictive artifice and not mere reportage.

Which seems to me to cut straight through the heart of the Gordian knot into which science fiction has currently tied itself, in fits of embarrassment, over ‘relevance’ and ‘probability.’


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