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July 09, 2004


des von bladet

When you ask of the volcano game, "Where is the role-play here?" I feel I want to say, "Is God not also a role?"


That's actually a very sensible suggestion, come to think of it.

bob mcmanus

Serious chess-players use the simplest Staunton wooden pieces and boards, in order to not be distracted. I myself am obsessed with a monster-killing dungeon game, which uses nothing but ASCII characters:"D" is a really old big dangerous dragon, as opposed to "d".
I wrote yesterday about what an author leaves out.
A character is introduced with descriptions of his hat, shoes, and mustache. Yet we the readers form an image, however vague. Premise: it is the deliberate withholding of information, the insufficent information in fiction that provokes a participatory response, and makes it different from the passive process of watching film.

bob mcmanus

I suppose this is old and obvious to a professional in literature. But i do not form a picture of a dragon with the letter "D". It is a placeholder for a set of attributes in a game with rules.

Reading a novel is not watching a movie in our minds. It is playing a game with the author. And Hemingway, as opposed to Dickens, is with his spare language announcing a different game, with different rules.


I should probably mention in defense of Walton that he's definitely too smart to fall for the idea that reading a novel is like watching a film. He's never going to say yes to that. The trouble is that that is the only DEFINITE thing his theory could be saying, so his theory is too indefinite.

There is something right about the thought that deliberate withholding if information in fiction spurs imaginative activity on the part of the reader. Something of the sort seems right. But it's very hard to go on from here without saying something obviously wrong or something hopelessly vague. Because a lot of the stuff left out is inessential. What we want to get at is the essential stuff left out. But shouldn't a good author include everything essential? Questions of implication and fictional truth. But it's not going to be implication in a narrow, logical sense.

'Playing a game' with the author, for example, is both vague and potentially tendentious, since it seems to imply that the reader must think of himself as a player and the author as an adversary (or partner, possibly). But some critics have reasonably (if not wholly convincingly) maintained that the author is irrelevant to the fiction-appreciation game. We just grapple with the words themselves. To say that Hemingway 'announces a game', let alone a different game than Dickens announces, is a very tendentious thing to say. Not that there isn't something nice about it as a rhetorical flourish, Bob. (I really am not poo-pooing it by saying so, I hasten to add.) I do see what you are getting at. But as an analytic claim, it's a bit hard to know what to do NEXT with.

bob mcmanus

Yes. A lot of what I was saying was paraphrasing some of the earlier parts of your article, but once I get to "fiction is not entirely representational or role-playing" it gets pretty tough to generalize about the other stuff that might be going on. Good luck and thank you


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