Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty of Creative Arts
Gibson, Thomas, Nothing on earth & Sparsely furnished worlds : narrative fiction and the problem of incompleteness, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, Faculty of Creative Arts, University of Wollongong, 2009. https://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/3474
Part A: Creative component
Nothing on Earth
The novel tells the story of an amnesic voyager, or ‘fugueur’, who is trying to retrace his own forgotten journey through the island of Madagascar. As he attempts to uncover what he has been doing in the country, and thus what might have compelled him to travel there, he finds himself repeatedly delayed by the people he meets along his way. But although these encounters on the road distract him from his search, they ultimately prove to be no less important to it than the clues he manages to recover. Raising as they do the themes of loss and memory, place and belonging, hope and nostalgia, they hold up a series of distorting mirrors to his own strange situation.
Part B: Theoretical component
Sparsely furnished worlds: narrative fiction and the problem of incompleteness
The thesis examines the ‘gaps’ in narrative fiction and what they mean for our understanding of fictional objects. In the philosophy of fiction it is sometimes argued that such objects are peculiarly incomplete, due to the fact that they are only partly determined by the fictional text in which they are constructed. What the narrative fails to tell us about the object leaves a gap in the object itself. Against this view, it is just as often argued that the objects are complete within the fiction, although they are only very partially revealed by the lacunary narrative. What the narrative omits to tell us leaves only a gap in our knowledge.
It is argued that neither of these positions can give an adequate account of the complex ways in which the gaps in the narrative affect our perception of fictional objects. What the narrative leaves unsaid has a decisive, yet rarely acknowledged, influence on the ‘ontological appearance’ of the fictional world—the sense of its reality or unreality, completeness or incompleteness, particularity or universality, and distance or proximity to the actual and familiar.
In order to explain this influence, the thesis sets out a broad typology of narrative gaps, providing examples of the varied ways in which they can be employed in literary works. At the same time narratology is used to show how the effect of these omissions, or the way in which they are interpreted by the reader, depends fundamentally on narrative form. What emerges from this analysis is a general way of reading narratives ‘in the negative’, according to their kinds and ways of leaving out. Only through such reading is it possible to arrive at a more nuanced answer to the question of how the gaps in the narrative affect the ontological texture of the fictional world.