Artistic expression

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M020-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 21, 2021, from

5. Fictional authors and personae

In the case of narrative or depictive works, it might be appropriate to regard the work as a communication from a fictional narrator or viewer, rather than from its artist. In line with critical practice, such an approach more readily tolerates the multiplicity of legitimate interpretations and the attribution of ideas and meanings to the work that were not held or intended by its artist. This fictional person, who stands outside the work and is distinct from its characters (including its internal narrator, should it have one), is constructed by the audience on the basis of the work’s contents and conventions relating to what can be known and assumed in interpreting a work of the relevant time and place (see Narrative §2).

Once this strategy has been adopted, it will be natural to attribute to the fictional narrator or viewer attitudes and emotions expressed in the manner of the work’s presentation, as well as beliefs and desires. For instance, we might learn from the story that a character feels pride, but from the tone in which this is described also that the fictional narrator regards this pride as disappointing and contemptible. In that case it could be said that the fictional narrator is disappointed in the character’s behaviour, even if there is not sufficient warrant for extending this reaction to the work’s artist – indeed, even if there is reason to think the actual author might have had a more detached or ironic view.

The interpretive procedure outlined above might be extended to works that are neither narrations nor depictions, so that the expressiveness of such pieces is attributed to a fictional persona (whose thoughts and beliefs are largely absent from the expressive context). The work is approached, if not as a story, then as dealing piecemeal with the emotional experiences of a person about whom one knows little except that they undergo an emotion or sequence of feelings, the course of which is revealed in the work’s contents and structure.

One might hear, say, a symphony as conveying the feelings of a fictional persona, but is this necessary for one to be aware of the work’s expressiveness? If words for emotions always name the experiences of sentient beings, it might be thought that some such make-believing is involved, unconsciously if not consciously, where the work’s expressiveness is not attributed to its artist, performer or audience, or to a character within it. Alternatively, if expressiveness can be present in the absence of occurrent emotions, this approach might be gratuitous.

Citing this article:
Davies, Stephen. Fictional authors and personae. Artistic expression, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M020-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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