Mediation and Dynamics in the Experience of Narrative Fiction

Adam Lively

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This interdisciplinary thesis, an exercise in post-classical narratology that draws on “second-generation” cognitive science, phenomenology and semiotics, argues for mediation and dynamics as the basis of the experience of reading narrative fiction. Chapter One, “Narrative Mediation”, presents the case for seeing the primary form of narrative signification as being a triadic mediation (as opposed to a dyadic “communication”) involving not just the parties to the communication but also their joint attention on (and intentions towards) the object of their communication. The narratological implications of this triadic view (which draws on recent discussions in developmental and evolutionary psychology) are explored through readings of the Decameron and Don Quixote, and through a discussion of the semiotics of “character” in fiction. Chapter Two, “Narrative Contexture”, draws out the functionalist implications of this view of narrative language, arguing that the interaction of reader and narrative text is characterized by a dynamic, “non-linear” systematicity in which the non-linearity is constituted by the polyfunctionality inherent to language. This dynamic systematicity is termed, following the Czech structuralist Jan Mukařovský, its contexture.
One of the most important features of the contexture is its holistic appeal, through the “aesthetic function”, to the entirety and open-endedness of the perceiver’s experience. Chapter Three, “Narrative Disclosure”, identifies this experientiality as a key feature of modern fiction, and puts forward the argument that both the experience of and the experience (“representations of consciousness”) in modern narrative involve the bringing to awareness of a fundamental process of phenomenological “disclosure” whereby the world is manifested in consciousness. This “bringing to awareness” through semiotic mediation is illustrated through readings of Lewis Carroll and John Updike, and of narratives by Georges Rodenbach and W.G. Sebald which incorporate photographs into the text.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Roberts, Adam, Supervisor
Award date1 Apr 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


  • narratology
  • narrative theory
  • Narrative Analysis
  • Narrative Structure
  • Cognition
  • Phenomenology
  • semiotics

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