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Poetics 9 (1980) 525-546

0 North-Holland Publishing Company



This paper deals with epistemological and discourse-theoretical aspects of a theory of fiction-
ality which tries to realize research principles like interdisciplinarity, discourse-orientation, and
empiricity. Presupposing H.R. Maturanas biology of cognition it is argued that there is neither
such a thing as “the” reality nor such a thing as “the” meaning as ontological givens. Instead a
theory of fictionality must realize that people construe their world-models and their meaning-
syndroms according to their biological equipment, their processes of socialization, and their
biographical preconditions as well. Consequently fictionality must be treated as a phenomenon
of conventional acting conditions on the level of discourses. ‘Fictionality’ names a relation
between semantic units (like discourse elements and discourses as a whole) and the state of the
world-model a linguistic agent holds to be true in his social group at a certain time. The prob-
lem solving perspectives of such fundamental assumptions with regards to common topics in the
debate on tictionality is demonstrated in the rest of the paper.

1. A plea for cooperation, discourse-orientation, and empiricity

In a recent paper Ihwe and Rieser advocate interdisciplinary efforts in the field of
language-oriented research: “Without extensive collaboration between logicians, lin-
guists, language philosophers, and literary theorists no real progress can [. . .] be
expected with respect to semantical problems of fictional discourse” (1979 : 69).
Perhaps some critics may interpret this plea for interdisciplinary cooperation as
a utopian strategy of some younger scholars, especially in West-Germany. But I
think it is the inevitable result of a series of experiences with compler problem-
situations which obviously require interdisciplinary efforts in order to become clear
as problems even if they cannot be solved this way. This insight into the need of
interdisciplinary cooperation in the fields of language philosophy, logics, linguistics,
and the study of literature as well does not appear to be as widespread in other
countries, including the USA, as it is in Europe.
Besides interdisciplinarity, discourse-orientation seems to be the second indis-
pensable prerequisite for successful research on fictional&y. This insight, too, does
not appear to be sufficiently widespread. As Ihwe and Rieser emphasize: “Most

* Paper contrbuted to the Colloquium on ‘Fiction: Logical and Semiotic Perspectives’, Victoria
University, Toronto, June 20-21,198O.

526 S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse

logicians don’t yet seem to have discovered the notion of discourse at all. A descrip-
tively adequate logic of fiction seems possible only if the reconstruction of dis-
courses makes progress” (1979: 83).
My third point of departure, my plea for empiric@, is also touched upon by
Ihwe and Rieser: “. . . we have to investigate more seriously the exact nature of
the processes taking place when we read a work of fiction and which lead us to
label it as such. Clearly, these must be dynamic processes” (1979: 73). This means
that we need empirically confirmed insights into the nature of reception processes
in order to be able to build up a valid theory of fictionality.
For the time being no such empirical theory is available, as far as I can see. In
this state of research, scholars interested in the problem of fictional@ could pur-
sue the following strategy:

- intensivation of studies in the fundamental concepts of a theory of fictionality

- intensivation of interdisciplinary cooperation with neighboring disciplines
- enlargement of empirical studies in the behavior of people acting in fictional dis-
courses [l].

My own contribution will be centered on the first task for the simple reason
that I am convinced that any (partial) theory of fictional@ urgently demands a
clarification of basic concepts such as ‘world’, ‘perception’, ‘reception’, ‘literature’
etc. and that it should clarify the fundamental presuppositions governing the
researcher’s intuition and his feeling foi evidence. Many of the following considera-
tions are still speculative; this cannot be surprising in view of the fact that theories
of fictionality thus far must be characterized as “preparadigmatic” (in Th.S. Kuhn’s
sense of the term). In such a metatheoretical situation we need speculation as an
indispensable heuristic device. Although I characterize the majority of the following
considerations as “speculative” - measured against the metatheoretical value of
empiricity - I shall try to avoid empty speculations by using basic concepts or
“theory elements” (in J.D. Sneed’s sense) which have already undergone empirical
tests. That is to say, I try to provide some basic heuristic devices for further
research on the problem of ficitionality as a relevant social problem without claim-
ing more than plausibility and partial fruitfulness for my ideas. Consequently my
paper does not intend to treat formal or technical problems of a theory of fiction-
ality. This does, of course, not mean that I deny their relevance.

2. A short problem review

The contributions in Woods and Pave1 (1979) instructively reflect the state of the
discussion about fictionality. Ihwe and Rieser, in their contribution, have already
[l] As far as I know two stepsin this direction havebeen undertakenup to now: Wildekampet
al. 1980;and Hintzenberget al. 1980.
S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse 521

given a thorough survey of the different problems and approaches. Thus I can refer
to their work and restrict myself to a short reference of those problems which, in
my opinion, must be dealt with in theories of fictionality:

(1) The crucial problem is stated in Castaf’ieda’scontriiution to Woods and Pave1

(1979): ‘Fiction and reality: their fundamental connections’. It is obvious, in
my opinion, that any concept of fictionality is fundamentally determined by
the presupposed concepts of reality, world or the like. All issues which have
been raised in the debate on iictionality and which I shall shortly mention in
what follows, directly depend on the conceptual framework in which the tic-
tion-reality-relation (intuitively or explicitly) is modelled.

(2) This hypothesis clearly holds for all those problems which are centered on
“ontological” and ‘creference-semantical” questions, e.g.

- the truth-functional state of descriptions and assertions in so-called fictional

- the semantic structure of fictional discourse;
- inference in fictional discourse;
- contradictions and coincidences in fictional discourse;
- non-fictional sentences in fictional discourses and the status of mixed sen-
- fictional discourses in fictional discourses;
- vagueness and its solution in fictional discourse;
- proper names in fictional discourse;
- guest appearances of fictitious persons in different fictional discourses;

(3) The above mentioned hypothesis also applies to the relation between fiction
and literature. This debate, too, cannot be brought a step further without a
‘proper clarification of the framework in which the reality-fictionality-relation
is considered.

(4) A special branch of the fictionality debate concerns methodological problems,

especially the question of how we obtain the empirical data we want to inter-
pret in the light of our theory. Is introspection the only source of such data,
and are data which have been introspectionally found reliable enough? Ihwe
and Rieser are right, I think, in stating: ‘Though intuition seems to be an obvi-
ous vantage point for a logic of fiction, the particular intuition of the individ-
dual investigator [. . .] seems to be too narrow and unreliable a source in order
to serve as a basis. What matters for a logic of fiction are the common intui-
tions shared by various groups of people, by communities or cultures. [. . .] As
far as we can see, nobody has ever taken the pains of trying to state clearly
528 S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse

and systematically the intuitions which he wants to reconstruct. This, how-

ever, seems to be a minimal methodological requirement” (1979: 72). Without
a convincing solution of those problems it is impossible to define the notion
of fictionality (as a one- or many-place term) or to decide what kinds of fic-
tionality-indicators might be found in fictional discourses or what sort of fic-
tionality-operators ought to be construed in a logic of fiction.

(5) Whether or not problems of fictionality can be sufficiently dealt with in

speech-act theories is a question that has ontological as well as methodological
aspects [2]. Can sentences in fictional discourses be regarded as speech-acts at
all? Is the speech-act theory a proper tool at all to cope with the problems of
fictional discourses? Or what sort of semantical and pragmatical theories must
be applied in addition or instead of speech-act theory? What is the reasonable
contribution which possible-world-theories can make towards theories of
fictionality? Can problems of iictionality be dealt with in other than discourse-
oriented theories at all?

3. On the notion of fiction&y: preliminary remarks

My attempt at clarifying the notion of fictionality tries to take into consideration

the following aspects:

In their discussion of J. Woods theory of the “bet-sensitivity of fictional sen-

tences”, Ihwe and Rieser point out “ . . . that the distinction fictional vs. non-
fictional does not belong to linguistic competence but results from a compli-
cated socio-cultural educational process”, Consequently “ . . . there is simply
no reason to suppose that the members of all the various cultures in existence
share the same attitude to fictional discourses” (1979: 75). This remark reveals
that the distinction between fictional and non-fictional discourses is a result of
complex processes of socialization and not an innate concept. In addition, it
suggests that the concept of fictionality must be treated as a dynamic concept
where contextual factors have to be regarded in terms of semantic conventions
pertaining to social groups of actors behaving in fictional discourses.

(2) In their paper of 1980 Wildekamp et al. offer the following definition of ‘fic-
tional&y’: “ . . . we will speak of ‘fictionality’ if and only if a person X within
his or her world version Y attributes null denotation to a label Z” (1980: 549).
This definition stresses the point that agents attribute fictional@ to labels, i.e.
that the fictionality of something can only be dealt with in regarding the activ-

[2] For severe critics of speech-act theoretical theories of fiction see Ihwe and Rieser 1979; and
Wildekamp et al. 1980.
S.J. Schmidt/ Fictionalityin literary and non-literary discourse 529

ities of speakers or hearers. Consequently, Wildekamp et al. treat fictionality as

a matter of “conventions of linguistic behavior”. They introduce a “flctionality
convention” that enables us to account “ . . . for the fictionality not just of
assertions but also of requests, questions, commands, and all the other speech
acts” (1980: 555).

(3) As I already tried to argue in two recent papers (1975, 1976) we should talk of
world-models instead of “the world” or “the reality” in order to be able to
take account of the findings of epistemology and recent biological and psycho-
logical theories of cognition (see below). Talking about world-models obliges
us to clarify the epistemological and ontological state of the pretended world-
models in order to be able to define what sort of relation holds true between
different world-models and fictionalizing operations of speech agents.

4. Presuppositions for a theory of frctionality

People, not their eyes see.

Cameras and eyeballs are blind.
(N. Hanson)

The following epistemological considerations are based upon the research work of
H. Maturana (and his research group), H. von Foerster, E. von Glasersfeld, N.R.
Hanson, W.T. Powers, and others; research work that has led to a radical construc-
tivist position in psychology and the theory of cognition. The most important hy
potheses of this position can be summed up as follows:

(1) From a biological point of view men are living systems interacting with other
systems, and - by means of their neuronal equipment - with themselves, too.
These systems are autopoietical as regards their structure, and they are homeo-
statically organized; they are dynamic and closed. The cognitive domain of
these systems is enclosed in the living system itself. What we call abstract
thinking is a sort of recursive interaction of the nervous system with its own
internal states. Self-observation of the system leads to self-conciousness by
means of producing representations of the systems’ interaction (i.e. the system
is able to act as its observer).

(2) Cognition must be taken to mean the interpretation of neuronally provided

signals by so-called orientational interactions in the interior of the living sys-
tems. That is to say: through sensory organs (called “interactional surfaces”
by Maturana) systems record stimuli form their environment.‘These stimuli
are transformed and processed according to those transformational and pro-
cessual conditions or conventions which either belong to the biological equip-
530 S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse

ment of the system or result from the complex process of socialization. It is

very important to realize that our nervous system informs us exclusively about
the existence of neuronal signals, not about their internal or external qualities.
That is to say, the organism can perceive nothing but its own sensory signals:
“What we experience is a set of outputs of perceptual functions, and we have
no way to detect the true nature of’the input” (Powers 1976: 6). The con-
sequences of this system-theoretical model of cognition are remarkable
enough: to perceive is a process of construction. What we call an object is the
result of the coordination of certain senso-motorical signals by our organism.
As a result, our picture of “the world” is a model constructed by us. To quote
Powers again: “The brain’s model of reality, as far as consciousness is con-
cerned, is reality - there is nothing else to perceive” (1973 : 24). In any case,
behavior controls perception which must be conceived of as an active process:
“There is no dichotomy between perceiving and interpreting. The act of per-
ceiving is the act of interpreting. The activity of perceiving consists in con-
structing an invariance. Isolating, selecting, focussing, attending, are all part
of this process” (von Glasersfeld and Richards 1978: 25).

(3) By interpreting stimuli and constructing invariances any system builds up a

cognitive structure to whose elements it assigns ontological descriptions like
“existing outside this system” or “existing inside this system”. Constructs like
those I shall call models of reality or, in short, world-models. World-models
in this sense (not in the ferminology of model semantics) are necessarily situ-
ated inside living systems: they are the system’s construction. The making up
of these constructions is determined by the ontological equipment of the sys-
tem as well as by acting conditions resulting from the complex process of
socialization the system has undergone up to the acting moment (= system of
acting preconditions). Of course these constructions are not arbitrary for two
different reasons:

(a) as Riedl (1980) in his “evolutionary epistemology” convincingly shows,

the biological development of life has always selected those organisms and
their structures, ‘forms, abilities, etc. which have proved to be more capa-
ble than others in solving problems in their environments. Based on this
billion years lasting process of selection and learning, the biological devel-
opment of man’s preconscious “ratiomorphic apparatus” followed this
same rule. As a result, Iife in general, including man, has become what
Pied1 calls a “hypothetical realist”. That means life acts according to hy-
potheses which have been ontogenetically proved as being successful con-
cerning the existence and structures of “reality”. It does so although it
has turned out that man’s consciousness is unable to prove the truth of
those hypotheses in an absolute way by scientific or philosophical means;
(b) secondly the world-models or constructions of reality by human systems
S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse 531

(men) are permanently corroborated or refuted, corrected or confirmed

through conscious behavior, action, and social interaction with other sys-
tems in the framework of society. The world-model on which a system
relies in his social group I shall call ortho-world-model (abbreviated WI&).
E. von Glasersfeld has deliberately pointed out that radical constructivism
must not be confused with the philosophical positions of solipsism or radi-
cal idealism. The reason is that we must make a sharp distinction between
the organism-view and the observer-view on the ontological problem of
reality. Acting as observers, we construe a model of the world and of other
individuals to whom we attribute the same or similar attributes and quali-
ties as we attrrbute to ourselves. “‘Asobservers we can have our real world,
as organisms we must remain aware of the fact that it is our construction”
(von Glasersfeld and Richards 1978: 30). Only by confusing these two
views do we end up with the ontologica fallacy of solipsism.

(4) One of the most important tasks of socialization consists in adjusting and
assimilating the world models of the different members of a social group or
society by cooperation and consensual communication, by punishment and
reward. Normally this process works without fundamental conflicts such that
most individuals intuitively think their own personal model to be an objective
and adequate picture of “the reality”.

(5) By means of signals (signal systems) one living system is able to orientate other
systems towards certain orientational processes inside the system. Systems do
not communicate information; but they instruct (by means of physical stimuli)
one another to change their internal domain of cognition. The systems
addressed produce information in themselves, using the messages offered to
them by other systems. As far as interaction by natural lanpges is concerned
this process of analogous and parallel production of information inside differ-
ent systems in a communicational situation is supported by (normally) analo-
gous linguistic socialization, by stimuli from the situation, by commonly
shared frames or systems of reference which contribute to the process of
“understanding” [3 1.

(6) The most important consequences of this theory of cognition for a theory of
communication and semantics are the following:

(a) Language is not primarily a system of signs in order to refer to objects; but
language is an instrument for instruction: fustly to orientate a system in
his own cognitive domain; and secondly to orientate other systems in their

[3] For details see Maturana 1970; Hejl et al. 1978; von Glasersfeld 1974, 1977, 1978; von
Foerster 1981.
532 S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse

cognitive domains. (It should be noted that, owing to the symbolic nature
of language, the kind of orientation is independent of the kind of the
orientational interaction.) Consequently communication is not a transmis-
sion or exchange of information between systems Sl and S2, but a sort of
instructional interaction between Sl and S2: Sl tries to activate S2 to pro-
duce in S2’s cognitive domain information of the type Sl wants S2 to pro-
duce. The crucial presupposition of human communication consists in Sl’s
conviction that S2 equals Sl .

0) The most important consequence for any semantic theory consists in that
meaning can only be defined as an at least four-place predicate: X means 01
to system S in a communication situation CS. S must be taken seriously as
a living system determined by its needs, abilities, interests, motivations,
and intentions: a system that acts in the framework of his political, eco-
nomic, social and cultural acting preconditions which determine his bio-
graphical situation. A second consequence is that instruments of communi-
cation do not have meanings; instead, communicating systems (communi-
cators) assign meanings to communicational instruments which they have
learnt to manage. In order to clarify these rather complex hypotheses I
propose to introduce a distinction between TEXT and ICOMMUNIKAT.In
the following discussion I shall use these two German terms (defined in
Schmidt 1980) written with capital letters to indicate that they are theo-
retical terms which ought not to be confused with the many different text-
concepts used in linguistics [4]. ‘TEXTS’ are defined as physical objects
(accoustic or graphematic) which communicators have learnt to produce
and to receive as instruments or means of communication. Communicators
expect that they are able to assign cognitive representations to objects
which they recognize as items of a natural language L,, by applying the
rules and conventions which they have learnt during their linguistic sociali-
zation. According to these rules and conventions a communicator (= living
system) Sl transforms the physical stimuli of a TEXT into neuronal signals
adapted to his system-conditions and - by internal operations - assigns an
emotionally charged cognitive structure to this set of stimuli. This cog
nitive representation (which is always emotionally loaded) whose value for
Sl’s biographical situation is automatically checked by Sl, I shall call the
KOMMUNIKAT which Sl assigns to a given TEXT. Sl normally expects
that a TEXT offered to him in a normal situation allows him to construct
a coherent KOMMUNIKAT. People who continuously frustrate this
expectation of “sense-Constance” (cf. Harmann 1976) have to expect
severe sanctions. In assigning a cognitive structure (= KOMMUNIKAT) to a

[4] In his translation of Schmidt 1980, de Beaugrande uses the terms ‘surface text’ (for TEXT)
and ‘communicative text’ (for KOMMUNKAT).
S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse 533

TEXT, Sl makes use, of course, of the devices he has learnt during the
process of verbal socialization; e.g. the productive operations like per-
ceiving, disambiguating, and evaluating follow a number of rules such as:

- meaning rules, governing the ordering of stereotyped intensions to

- inferential rules, governing the elementary and natural deductions in
the course of reception processes
- framing rules, assigning intensional structures to interpretative stereo-
typed social situations or institutions
- interpretational rules, governing the extensional (or referential) inter-
pretation.of intensional items of KOMMUNIKATE.

In addition, the construction of a KOMMUNIKAT is supported by infor-

mation provided by the communicational situation as well as by the sys-
tem’s memory. Despite the fact that this socially provided mechanism of
KOMMUNIKAT-construction normally guarantee the functioning of
verbal communication we must realize that KOMMUNIKATE are internal
cognitive states characteristic of any system and not directly accessible.
Because what we come to know about another system’s KOMMUNIKAT
is a TEXT uttered by this system and transformed in our own and personal
KOMMUNITUT, which is constructed in accordance with our personal
conditions. This fact, normally hidden by more or less well functioning
communication processes, drastically emerges in cases of disturbed or
highly emotional communication as well as in cases of literary communi-
cation where supporting devices like context information are missing. In
my opinion the most important points of the above mentioned position
of radical constructivism consist in the following hypotheses: -

(9 Ontorogicargiven-world theories are unacceptable; there is no such thing as

“the reality” - or if there was one it should be unperceivable to us.
Instead, each living system constructs his own world-model according to
the innate (biological) and acquired (socialized) acting preconditions in his
cognitive domain. By means of socialization, interaction, and consensual
communication certain features of private world-models become consen-
sual within a social group (or even within a whole society) and tigure as
ortho-world-model w. The reality of an object or a state of affairs, or
the truth of an assertion denotating or describing objects or states of
affairs, is necessarily decided in the framework of this WM,. Obviously
there exist more or less remarkable variations in the WkQ’s of different
individuals, social groups or classes. Consequently what can be real or true
in m of a social group Gr can be false or unreal in WMZof G2 according
to the rules of truth confirmation agreed upon in the different world-
534 S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse

models. This hypothesis corresponds to the ontological position of

advanced analytical philosophies of science. According to Sneed’s solution
of the problem of theory concepts (1971, 1976), there is no essential
distinction between theoretical terms and observational terms. We always
operate with sorts of theoretical terms formulated or defined in theories
that belong to different hierarchies of theories. What we call “reality” is
the result of theoretically impregnated operations, i.e. we conceive of
reality by theories (of different ranks and different formal elaboration).

(ii) Ontological given-meaning theories are unacceptable as well; there is no

such thing as “the meaning” of a TEXT, as, strictly speaking, there are as
many meanings (= meaning variations) of a TEXT as there are readers. Any
recipient constructs his own KOMMUNIKAT related to a given TEXT in a
receptional situation. This KOMMUNIKAT is variable as changes occur in
the receptional situation and in the system of acting preconditions of the
recipient. By means of socialization and continuous verbal and non-verbal
interaction consensual techniques of KOMMUNIKAT-assignment are intro-
duced and applied in social groups stabilizing verbal communication in
normal cases and inducing most speakers’ intuitive certainty that TEXTE
possess meaning in themselves. The less stereotyped communicational pro-
cesses are, or the more disturbing factors (as emotion, conflicting interests,
lack of sympathy, abstractness of the terms used, etc.) that occur, the
more different are the KOMMUNIKATE assigned to the same TEXT by
different communicators. That is to say: meanings are not only context-
sensitive but they are system-sensitive, too. They exist in forms of KOM-
MUNIKATE inside the cognitive domain of living systems. What we can
experience about another system’s KOMMUNIKAT is our own interpreta-
tion (= our KOMMUNIKAT) of the TEXT which the other system declares
to “contain” his KOMMUNIKAT assigned to the TEXT - a rather delicate
hermeneutic problem that has drastic consequences for theories of literary

5. Some consequences for a theory of fiction&y

From these presuppositions it follows that any definition of ‘fictionality’ must con-
tain a reference to the world-model and to the cognitive activity of the agent.
Descriptions, assertions, objects or states of affair are not fictional themselves but
they are judged or declared to be fictional by people according to the relation of
their cognitive representation of the objects to their WM, at the time of that decla-
ration. This basic assumption coincides with the position which Wildekamp et aL
have formulated as follows: “Strictly speaking, ‘fictionality’ is thus to be defined in
terms of labels, having null denotation and NOT in terms of ‘non-existing objects’.
S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse 535

This engenders two important consequences: first, we avoid highly complicated and
seemingly endless ontological discussions. Secondly, we will have to abolish the
notion ‘fictivity’: defining ‘fictionality’ in terms of labels having null denotation,
and not in terms of non-existing - read: ‘fictive’ - objects, leaves no place for its
entry into our vocabulary” (1980: 549).
Accepting this definition of ‘fictionality’ (,c . . . we will speak of ‘fictionality’ if
and only if a person X within his or her world version Y attributes null denotation
to a label Z”) I propose the following explication of ‘fictionality’: a person Sr
holds an assertion or description to be fictional if his WM, does not contain an
extralinguistic referent for it, but S1 is nevertheless capable to imagine such a refer-
ent or to assign a coherent intensional interpretation to Z using contents and mech-
anisms of WM,.
This concept demands the clarification of two problems:

(A) What sort of reception takes place with “fictional sentences/TEXTS”?

(B) Why does Sr attribute null description to a label Z?

Among the list of problems dealt with in the fictionality debate there figure
three which have direct impact to an answer to question (A), namely: the problems
of inference, contradictions, and vagueness in fictional discourses. How can we cope
with these problems in the framework of the approach outlined so far?
In reading or receiving a so-called “fictional TEXT” and reading or receiving a
“non-fictional TEXT” we make use of the same receptional operations, e.g. :

- recognizing a physical event as TEXT of a natural language I_,

- syntactic disambiguation
- semantic disambiguation
- assigning a coherent thematic deep structure (in van Dijk’s sense) to the TEXT,
etc. [S]

That means that we construct a coherent KOMMUNIKAT over the given TEXT.
As I said before, the construction of a coherent KOMMUNIKAT is normally sup-
ported by information provided by the communicational situation, by frames,
acquired previously, and by knowledge stored about topics of the TEXT, etc. Infor-
mation of this type may be more or less missing in reading/receiving a “fictional
TEXT”. Let us regard a literary example: in reading “Burtleby the Scrivener” by
H. Melville I construe my KOMMUNIKAT by means of the information I gather
from the story plus the encyclopedic knowledge about human behavior, large cities,
bureaus, etc. stored in my memory. Insofar the difference between receptional
strategies applied in receiving “non-fictional” or “fictional” discourses is a differ-

[S] For details see Schmidt 1980: ch. 5.3.

536 S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse

ence concerning the degree of information applicable to the construction of the

coherent KOMMUNIKATE; information which is used to come up with vaguenesses
and inconsistencies in the TEXT.
Wildekamp et al. seem to hold a similar position: “To understand fictional utter-
ances a receiver makes use of his empirical and linguistic knowledge. This accounts
for the fact that inconsistencies in a fictional utterance, depending on group and/or
individually determined factors, are observed by a receiver and, unless he/she is
able to assign a certain function to them, rejected by him/her” (1980: 558).
But there is a difference in principle as concerns the judgment of the results of
the receptional process with regard to the extensional interpretation of the KOM-
MUNIKAT as a whole or some of its parts in WM,. As far as I can see we can dis-
tinguish between five possibilities for such judgments:

(a) Sr is able to decide that label Z has a nonverbal referent in WM,.

(b) Sr is ab2e to decide that label Z has no nonverbal referent in WM,.
(c) Sr is unable to decide that label Z has a verbal or nonverbal referent in m.
(d) Sr is not interested in deciding whether Z has a nonverbal referent in WM, or
not, because of special signals or conventions governing special instances or sys-
tems of communication.
(e) S1 is able to decide that Z has a nonverbal referent in WM, but he is not pri-
marily interested in this decision but in other features of the communication

(I’ll come back to some of these points later.)

The gist of my argument is that the fictionalizing operation works on the results
of reception processes insofar as Sr judges the WM,-truth of the descriptions and
assertions given in a TEXT. It does not principally or necessarily affect the process
of receiving (or “understanding”): in receiving “fictional TEXTE” Sr must of
course make use of his linguistic and empirical knowledge, must draw inferences,
refer to frames, etc., i.e. bring into play his complex system of acting preconditions,
in much the same way as if he received “non-fictional-TEXTE”. Thus, if a TEXT T1
provides a description of a hunter’s activities and this description contains evident
inconsistencies, then the reader wilI reject the description notwithstanding the fact
that the hunter is a WM,-real hunter or a “fictional” one. In a similar way I would
handle the vagueness-problems as raised by Ihwe and Rieser: “Given the fact that
most predicates in natural languages are vague, how could this vagueness be dis-
solved in fictional discourse? In everyday discourse one has recourse to the context.
[. . .] And how could one assert the meaning of a predicate in fictional discourse
when, by definition, there is no context to exploit?” (1979: 66). The context to be
exploited is the cognitive domain of the receiver. Let us regard the following exam-
ple: if in a certain TEXT Tr a man is said to see a mill in a valley without any
further specification added in T r, then the reader assigns exactly that amount of
information about mills, etc. which he has at his cognitive disposal and which he
S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse 531

thinks is compatible with the other parts of the KOMMUNIKAT he assigns to Tr

[6]. Now, if I argue in favor of the hypothesis that it is the judgment of the systems
which renders a receptional result fictional or not I have to answer question (B)
raised above why he acts as such.

6. Discourse oriented aspects of a theory of fictionality

A clarification of question (B) presupposes some clarifications with respect to the

level of analysis required.
Many discussions about the problem of fictionality remain on the level of iso-
lated sentences. On this level it is very often undecideable whether a sentence like
“John saw the unicorn again” is to be judged as fictional or not. In order to decide
this question we have to take into consideration the communicational process or
discourse as a whole. Following Wildekamp ef al. this process consists of:

“( 1) (pragm.) The intentions of the author

(2) (pragm.) The situational conditions of production
(3) (sem./synt.) The intersubjective rules for production at tprd (‘production
(4) (sem./synt.) The intersubjective rules for reception at t,,, (‘interpretation
(5) (pragm.) The situational conditions of reception
(6) (sem./synt.) The producer’s deviations from the intersubjective rules for pro-
ductions at t,,d
(7) (pragm./sem./synt.) The ‘contribution’ of the receiver at t,,,
(8) (sem./synt.) The ‘message’, i.e. the sentence or text” (1980: 551).

My point is this: if ‘fictionality’ is a predicate a system Sr assigns to something,

then this judgement depends upon
- the WM, of Sr , including his acting preconditions
- the interests, abilities, and motivations of Sr
- signals or indicators that motivate Sr to behave in such a manner.

Many authors in the debate on fictionality have argued in favor of the existence of
“fictive textual indicators” or “fictive illocutionary indicators”; but, as Wildekamp
et al convincingly show in their paper, the existence of these or comparable con-
textual indicators (theater, genre-indicator, erc.) does not at dlgh~~~t~fe~ that both
author and reader treat the TEXT as a fictional one. In addition, such indicators are
[6] For this reason 1 hold Searle’s ‘paradox’ to be nonsensical: “1.. .] how it be the case in
‘Little Red Riding Hood’ both that ‘red’ means red and yet that the rules correlating ‘red’ with
red are not in force?” (1975: 319).
538 S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse

conventional and historically variable. Therefore I maintain my position (in 1974:

181) that it turns out to be extraordinarily difficult to discover necessary and suf-
ficient textgrammatical correlates for fictionality expectations. Of course I do not
deny that for special persons or groups at a given time certain indicators do func-
tion as fictionaliziig stimuli opening the process called ‘fictional discourse: Now,
how can this process be characterized?

(a) The fictional discourse presupposes at least two actors, where S, intends to
produce a TEXT that can be judged by Sz as ‘fictional’.
(b) Sz must recognize Sr’s intention (by means of whatever indicators) or he must
act us if S1 had (had) the intention of entering a fictional discourse.
(c) Sz must agree to behave as he has learnt to behave in fictional discourses, i.e.
he must apply the “fictionality convention” (see below).
(d) Sz must consider the final result of the discourse to be fictional.

What is meant by ‘fictionality convention ? According to Wildekamp et al., from

whom I adopt this concept, our normal linguistic behavior is dominated by two

“‘(1) Communication participants, in the normal course of linguistic events, use a

communication act to express their sincere feelings, needs, opinions, and the
like. For the producer this implies that he vouches for his utterances and for
the receiver that he trusts the producer to act as such.
(2) The producer normally intends to involve his communication partner in the
communication act, and the receiver takes it that he/she is directly involved
and acts as such” (1980: 554).

As concerns assertive speech acts I would like to add a third convention:

(3) Performing an illocutionary act such as “assertion” the speaker and hearer
expect that it is (in principle) possible to decide whether the assertion is true or
false in w. If a receiver Sz treats an utterance or a whole TEXT as fictional,
he replaces this convention by the fictionality convention: “In agreement with
this convention, the receiver believes that the producer consciously abstains
from conveying his true feelings, opinions, needs, and the like. Consequently,
the receiver does not consider requests or commands to be made and he/she
does no accept assertions as factual informations supplied to him/her. It is this
fictionality convention that enables us to account for the fictionality not just
of assertions but also of requests, questions, commands, and all the other
speech acts” (1980: 555).

Let me now come back to the question of why people take part in fictive dis-
SJ. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse 539

courses, before I try to redefine the up to now used defmition of fictionality and
contrast it with other pertinent linguistic phenomena. I suppose that people engage
in fictional discourses for several reasons. First of all, we have to differentiate
between fictional discourses in the system called LITERATURE (in the sense of my
theory of LITERATURE developed in Schmidt 1980) and outside this system. In
non-LITERARY fictional discourses the reasons are often expressed, implied, or at
least hinted at by formulas opening fictional discourses, e.g. “imagine that . . . “;
“taken for granted that . . . “; “ let me play the advocatus diaboli for a while. . . “,
erc. These and similar expressions show that situations like “brain-storming”, “imag-
inatory plays”, “entertainment “, “play of the phantasy”, etc. are invoked: fictional
discourses exercise what R. Musil once called the “Mijglichkeitssimt” (sensitivity for
possibilities), the “as if’, the “change of roles”, without suspending of forgetting
their genuine feelings and opinions. (For LlTERATURE see below.)

7. An attempt at an explication of Tictionality’

The preceeding considerations allow an attempt at giving a more complete explica-

tion of what is meant by ‘fictionality’ than the one I formerly adopted from Wilde-
kamp et al.
This explication must consider the following points:

(a) Not only sentences but whole TEXTE can be deemed fictional.
(b) Not only assertive speech acts but all kinds of speech acts can be deemed tic-
(c) Fictionality is not a quality of TEXTE but a quality attributed to KOMMUNI-
(d) Fictionality is attributed to KOMMUNIKATE by judgments of agents accord-
ing to conventions regulating fictional discourses.
(e) The fictionality of extensionally interpretable elements of KOMMUNIKATE
is judged in WM, of Sr .

My discourse-oriented explication of ‘fictional discourse’hence reads as follows:

FD is a fictional discourse if there are given: at least two interacting systems Sr and
S,; the ortho-world-models m and WM: of Sr and S,; a given TEXT T (respec-
tively its utterance); Sr’s and Sz’s ability and interest AI to decide whether KOM-
MUNIKAT-elements actually refer to non-verbal elementsin either WM,; the fit-
tionality convention FC, so that:

(1) Sr intends to produce T according to AI and FC and signals his intention to S2

according to the pertinent conventions in the social group to which he belongs.
(2) Sz recognizes Sr’s signalized intention and - according to AI - follows FC, or
Sz behaves as if Sr would have signaled such an intention.
540 S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse

(3) S7 is able to assign a coherent KOMMUNIKAT to T, using linguistic and em-

pirical knowledge provided by WM; even if situational information is missing.
(4) Following FC means (a) that, according to AI, Sz accepts that some or all asser-
tive statements in T have no referent in his WM: because these statements bear
other kinds of relevance or fulfill a need for S? ; (b) that, for other than asser-
tive illocutionary acts of T, the sincerity condition is suspended: Sr is allowed
to play roles without thereby committing Sz to a certain activity.

The reason why I advocate a discourse-oriented exploration and explication of

fictionality problems is found in the following statements:
- tictionality as a result of a system’s judgment cannot be disconnected from the
interests, intentions, efc. of speakers and the corresponding interests, abilities,
attitudes, and motivations of hearers or readers;
- intentions, motivations, abilities, attitudes, etc. cannot be dealt with on a purely
sentence-oriented level of research: their treatment demands a thorough consid-
eration of linguistic as well as of non-linguistic elements of speech-acts, labeled
as ‘discourse’ in this paper;
- the exploration of fictionality-signals presupposes exact knowledge about the
conventions governing those social processes that pertain to fictional discourse
(e.g. special conventions in the LlTEF&4TURE-system); and conventions refer to
the domain of social institutions that regulate discourses;
- whether a linguistic event is or can be treated as fictional cannot be decided
except on the level of discourse and using information provided by the non-
verbal social context of discourse. On the other hand, the discourse-orientation
does not and should not interfere with a detailed investigation of the syntactic
and semantic features of fictional discourses with respect to the discourse-frame
that decides upon possible functions of syntactic and semantic structures.

8. On some details of the fictionalitydebate

In this section I shall try to indicate how some of the problems in the fictionality
debate hinted at in section 2 can be treated in the above mentioned discourse-
oriented framework.

(1) lkuth, lies, and fictional discourse in fictional discourse

Ihwe and Rieser remark that the problem of “alternative worlds” in fictional dis-
course has been overlooked by most theoreticians. I think it can be quite easily
treated in general in my concept of fictional&y. The starting point of my argument
is provided by the above model of reception where reception is described as the
construction of a KOMMUNIKAT over a TEXT. If the KOMMUNIKAT contains
reports on agents (A), the recipient must try to construct the world-model pre-
S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse 541

supposed by the way of acting (in the broadest sense of this word) or inferable
from these actions. In this process the recipient must invest all the knowledge of his
WM, stored in his memory into the construction of A’s ortho-world-model AWM,.
Compared with this AWM, the KOMMUNIKAT may contain WM,‘s that are judged
to be fictional by A. (E.g., a unicorn in a world of unicorns in which only white
unicorns exist reports that he (it?) dreamt of a red unicorn and evaluates this dream
as “mere fiction”.) Equally, descriptions or assertions in fictional discourses may be
judged as true or false, as irreal or as a lie according to the relation between the
world-models of the different agents in the fictional discourse itself, i.e. according
to the conditions of truth-proving conventions in the different worlds. This case
clearly reveals the world- and judgment-sensitivity of the predicate-assignment “X is

(2) Proper names in fictional discourse and the problem of ‘guest appearances’

In this section I shall only give the first part of an answer; the second is given in sec-
tion 9 in the context of a short report of my theory of LITERATURE. If a text
contains proper names of persons that really exist(ed) and whose actions and per-
sonal characteristics are more or less known to the recipient, this knowledge consti-
tutes a part of his complex system of acting preconditions. This knowledge is - in
one way or another - involved in the KOMMUNIKAT the recipient assigns to the
TEXT containing such proper names. It does not matter whether he is engaged in a
fictional or in a non-fictional discourse. If the elements of the KOMh4UNIKAT K
assigned to a proper name N in a TEXT T are compatible or coincide with the
recipient’s R knowledge about N no problem arises. If it is incompatible or conflicts
with R’s knowledge then R will normally behave differently in fictional and in non-
fictional discourses. Incompatibilities in non-fictional discourses will lead to a rejec-
tion of the speaker’s or writer’s utterances; incompatibilities in fictional discourses
will be asked for possible functions intended by the author of T (e.g. as a means of
irony, “Verfremdung”, etc.). The compatibility-condition equally holds for cases of
so-called “guest appearances”: Jerry Cotton must remain more or less identically
characterized in the different issues of the series so that he can be identified as “the
same”. If these attributes are changed without plausible reasons and without a
recognizable function of this change (e.g. in a parody of Jerry Cotton) then the
reader will consider those attributions to be false with regard to the world-model he
has assigned to Jerry Cotton.

(3) Mixed sentences in fictional discourses

The question of whether sentences like “The psychoanalyst analyzed’Hamlet” (see

Ihwe and Rieser 1979) are nonsensical seems to me unsolvable without a proper
consideration of the pragmatic features of fictional discourses. Only in relation to
certain discourse-contexts is this question meaningful as a question. imagine that
542 S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse

the quoted sentence is part of the description of a modem version of Shakespeare’s

Hamletwhere Freud meets Hamlet in Vienna and analyzes him. Or imagine this
sentence is uttered by a language teacher as an example for semantically vague
statements. Or Hamlet is not the Hamlet but the son of a theatre-fan who has given
literary names to all of his children. In that case a sentence like “Hamlet analyzed
Oedipus” might be a completely correct sentence in our present WM,.

9. On the relation between fictionality and literarlness

I deliberately chose an incorrect title for this section because I think the title
reflects a popular version of the problem implied and because I think that this prob-
lem is incorrect and misleading.
A more promising treatment has to start from changed presuppositions concern-
ing the concept of fictional@ and the concept of literariness. I shall not repeat the
long and controversal history of this problem; instead I shall sketch my own pro-
posal. The fust part of this task has already been achieved by the outline of a dis-
course-oriented theory of fictional&y. The second part includes a similar rough
outline of a theory of LITERATURE.
The decisive difference between traditional concepts of ‘literature’ and my con-
cept consists in the definition of the research domain appropriate to an empirical
study of LITERATURE (for all details see Schmidt 1980). Whereas most tradi-
tional concepts primarily (or even exclusively) focus on the “literary work of art”,
I am convinced that a theory-of LITERATURE must consider the totality of social
activities oriented towards so-called literary works; for the reason that not TEXTE
but KOMMUNIKATE are judged by agents to be literary according to their aes-
thetic norms and values. This is to say that TEXTE, KOMMWIKATE, meanings,
values, etc. are inseparably bound to the activities of agents - a connection which
has to be considered by any empirical theory of LITERATURE insofar that we
must realize that any analysis of isolated texts is a highly abstract operation. If this
hypothesis is correct, then a concept of LITERATURE or LITERARINESS must
be based upon he factual behavior of agents oriented towards (what they consider
co be) literary works. In Schmidt 1980, I have proposed to call this complex of
social activities focussing’on objects that are held to be literary by agents, the social
system of LITERATURE.
LITERATURE can be described as a system (in a sense close to N. Luhmann’s
concept of ‘system’ in 1970) because it has a certain structure, a so-called in-out-
differentiation (Aussen-Innen-Differenzierung), is accepted as an institution by
society, and fulfills functions which no other system in our society can equally
fulfill or actually fulfdls. The structure of the social system called LITERATURE is
defined by temporal and causal relations between the four roles of actions that are
fundamental and elementary for this system: the roles of producing, mediating,
receiving, and processing literary objects. The in-out-differentiation of the LITERA-
S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literav and non-literary discourse 543

TUBEsystem is mainly achieved by two conventions which I call the aesthetic con-
vention and the convention of polyvalence [7]. The aesthetic convention (A-con-
vention) dominates another convention which is governing all the other social sys-
tems except that of LITERATURE (or aesthetic communication in general): the
so-called fact-convention (F-convention). The empirical hypothesis expressed by
the term F-convention can be formulated as follows: all communicational partners
in our society S mutually impute to each other the knowledge that in communica-
tive actions KOMMUNIKATE and their components that have referents must be
relatable WM, in order that we can fmd out whether the assertions attributed to the
KOMMUNIKAT hold true in m, or what practical advantage they may have with
regard to subsequent actions in S. The empirical hypothesis expressed by the term
A-convention can be formulated in this way: all communicational partners in our
society S, who intend to realize (= construct in their cognitive domain) literary
KOMMUNIKATE, mutually impute to each other the knowledge that in S they
must be willing and in a position

- to suspend the F-conventional orientation towards criteria as true/false and use-

ful/useless and to act primarily in accordance with such values, norms, and
meaning rules they consider to be relevant according to the poetic norms prevail-
ing at that time in their social group;
- to mark (as a producer) communicative actions that are intended to be literary
by appropriate signals, or as a recipient, to expect such signals;
- to admit that world-models different from their own WM, may be relevant for
literary communication.

I have talked about this convention in some detail because it will turn out to be
relevant for the tictionality-debate. The second convention, relevant for defining
the system of LITERATURE, increases the recipients’ possibilities to assign mean-
ingful and personally relevant KOMhWNIKATE to literary objects. It optimizes the
reception processes by combining different modes of experiencing in one and the
same reception process (experiencing the KOMMUNIKAT at the same time in cog-
nitive, emotive, and normative domains). By interpreting these conventions in
socio-cultural contexts in terms of poetic norms and values opinion leaders and peer
groups decide first of all which objects are treated and valued as “literary works”;
they then rank the works on scales from good to bad, from serious to trivial, etc.

[7] My definition of ‘convention’ used here reads as followp: In a society S, C is a convention

of performing an action A in a situation Q, if and only if the members of S mutually impute to
each other the knowledge that

(1) there is, in S, the precedent of doing A, or a determination, or an agreement to do A in a;

(2) on the basis of (l), almost every member of S expects almost every member of S to do A

(3) t%e basis of (2), almost every member of S does A in 0~.

544 S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse

That is to say: a concept like ‘literariness’ must primarily be defined pragmatically

and historically; only after that the semantic and syntactic features of literary
objects are discoverable and describable. The significant function of LITERATURE
can be seen in cognitive, emotive, moral, and hedonistic realms of action, percep
tion, emotion, etc. Here two points seem to be essential:

- LITERATURE consists’ of processes where subjective values of the agents are

experienced even if these values interfere with or contradict public expectations.
- The processes in LITERATURE allow a holistic experience in that the agent’s
whole personality can be and should be engaged in the experience of a literary
work of art.

Given this (highly abbreviated) explanation of LITERATURE, what can be said

about the relation between ‘fictionality’ and ‘LITERATURE’? First of all, I should
like to stress that both terms are to be defined independently from each other: fic-
tional discourses are not identical with literary discourses, flctionality occurs in
literature as well as in non-literary discourses [8]. Secondly I want to emphasize
that LITERATURE does not only consist of literary works but of the totality of
text-action-syndromes that form the social system called LITERATURE.
The reason why many authors (see the report in Ihwe and Rieser 1979) make no
distinction between the concepts of ‘literature’ and that of ‘fiction’ can be found in
the relation between fictional discourses and the effect of what I have called the
A-convention. The A-convention, by dominating the F-convention (not by exclud-
ing it) provides the possibility (not the necessity) of making use of fictional dis-
courses in LITERATURE. This possibility has been broadly exploited especially in
the last three hundred years in the history of LITERATURE. A more specific char-
acterization of the relation between the two concepts w-illbe possible by going back
to the different possibilities of judging utterances to be fictional as proposed in sec-
tion 5. There I made a distinction between a recipient’s ability and his interests in
deciding whether or not a verbal label has a non-linguistic referent in his ortho-
world-model WM,. The case in LITERATURE, in my opinion, is that owing to the
combined effect of the.two conventions (A- and F-convention) people acting in
LITERATURE know that poetical norm-relations and not truth-functional refer-
ence-relations are primurily decisive for an object’s or event’s literariness. That does

[8] cf. Wildekamp et al. (1980: 558-9): “We considerthis limitation of ‘fictionality’, [s.j.s.] to
‘literary’ utterances to be at least artiflciai. ‘Fictionality’, in our conception, also applies to
utterances and texts other than purely ‘literary’ and indeed to semiotic systems other than
verbal”. Wildekamp et al. cite examples in grammars, commercials, utopians, children’s game&
jokes and the like. “These examples all got to show that:

(1) Fictionality is a general social phenomenon that occurs far and wide in our society, in
science, art, and every day life,
(2) tictionality occurs in oral as well as in written texts.”
S.J. Schmidt/ Fictionalityin literary and non-literarydiscourse 545

not at all exclude the existence of WM,-true parts in literary works, because they
normally do not entirely consist of fictional discourse-elements. So-called realistic
novels contain descriptions of persons, landscapes, cities, erc. which are true in our
WM,. This fact does not render such novels to a non-literary status, because WM,-
truth is not excluded but only dominated by poetic norms in LITERATURE.
Here, too, we must distinguish two cases (and thereby answer the second half of
the question concerning proper names in fictional discourses):

(a) truth - mostly in terms of probability of likelihood - may be contained in the

list of aesthetic values in the poetics of a certain period: in this case the non-
fictionality is expected and evaluated on aesthetical grounds (e.g. the novels of
Hemingway, Caldwell, Renn). In this case assertions or descriptions that are
contradictory to knowledge about persons in WM,, of the recipient wilI either
be rejected as “bad literature”, or the recipient will detect a special function
fulfilled by that contradiction;
(b) truth-referentiality does not belong to the aesthetic norms of a certain poetics:
in that case contradictions to WM,-knowledge are acceptable without problems
(e.g. surrealistic or DADA-works). That is to say: in literary as well as in non-
literary discourses the communicators can be able or unable to decide on the
truth-functional referentiability of verbal items. In literary discourses they are
not primarily interested in this decision because of the special conventions in
LITERATURE but focus on aesthetical problems that are relevant in regard to
the poetics they adhere to. In the case of so-called realistic poetics refer-
entiability is taken to be an aesthetic value in LITERATURE.

10. A plea for empirical research

I already mentioned Ihwe’s and Rieser’s reference to methodological problems.

What did I talk about when I treated problems of fictional discourses in this paper?
As I already admitted in the beginning, my paper contains many intuitions, intro-
Spector-y remarks, and speculations. Nevertheless, I have tried to base my argumen-
tation on empirical theories of cognition (H. Maturana) and on analytical concepts
of theories (J.D. Sneed). As for the hypothesis concerning the A-convention in
LITERATURE, I happened to find empirical evidence for the validity of this con-
vention at least in the present population of Germany (see Hintzenberg et al. 1980).
The results of our empirical project coincide with the results presented by Wilde-
kamp ef al. as well as with some other material provided by empirical studies:Con-
sequently I dare to assume that at least this hypothesis is not only an intuition. Of
course this assumption can only be strengthened by many complementary empirical
studies. Only on the grounds of such studies can we hope to get enough non-intui-
tive data to confum our theories of fictionality. We should not hesitate to enter
into the respective empirical work because - as have become evident in the debate
546 S.J. Schmidt / Fictionality in literary and non-literary discourse

on fictionality up to now - fictionality is a widespread social phenomenon which

still deserves an empirical analysis although the relevance of fictional discourses for
the development of the individual’s “M6glichkeitssinn” cannot be overestimated.


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Siegfried J. Schmtit was professor of text theory (since 1971), and professor of theory of liter-
ature (since 1973) at the University of Bielefeld. Since 1979 he is professor of German Litera-
ture and AIIgemeine Literaturwissenschaft at the University of Siegen. He has published several
books and articles on philosophy of language, text theory, aesthetics, theory of literature, con-
crete and conceptual poetry. Among his recent publications is Grundriss der Empirischen Liter-
aturwissenschafi (1980).