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Completing the Incompleteness of Fictional Entities

Author(s): Ruth Ronen

Source: Poetics Today, Vol. 9, No. 3, Aspects of Literary Theory (1988), pp. 497-514
Published by: Duke University Press
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Completingthe Incompleteness
of Fictional Entities
Ruth Ronen
Poetics and Comparative Literature, Tel Aviv

Fictional entities are inherently incomplete because it is impossible

to construct a fictional object by specifying its characteristics and re-
lations in every detail (Heintz 1979). This notion of incompleteness
relates to the logico-semantic status of fictional entities. The absence
of a complete referent entails indeterminate areas and an impossi-
bility to verify properties of the fictional entity not attributed to it
by the fictional text itself. This absence of a complete referent at the
background of the fictional construct, leaves many propositions ascrib-
able to the fictional world indeterminable ("How many children did
Lady Macbeth have?"). In reality, as opposed to fiction, gaps are filled
by reference to a complete, fully detailed and, at least in principle,
available object. Incompleteness is thus the reflection of the logical dif-
ference between an extraliterary real object and a fictional construct.
Incompleteness therefore has to do with the essential status of fictional
objects and not with the verbal mode of their construction.
Although the constituents of fictional worlds are inherently incom-
plete, they are not necessarily grasped as such. Within the fictional
domain objects are constructed as singular, definite and well-individu-
ated. To some extent this is explained by the sufficiencyof informa-
tion we assume in literary texts: what the text chooses to present is
sufficient for the readers "to place themselves properly in regard to
the unfolding events" (Goffman 1974: 149ff.). The principle of suf-
ficiency shows that, in teleological terms, areas of indeterminacy are

Poetics Today 9:3 (1988). Copyright ? 1988 by The Porter Institute for Poetics and
Semiotics. ccc 0333-5372/88/$2.50.
498 Poetics Today 9:3

irrelevant to the narrative and to any of its fictional constructs. The

Shakespearean text does not tell how many children Lady Macbeth
had because this is an indifferent detail with respect to the unfold-
ing narrative (both on its sequential and on its re-constructed level).
The indeterminacy regarding this property of Lady Macbeth does not
entail an incomplete character.
The sense of a completeness of fictional constructs can also be ac-
counted for by the mere extensional emptiness of fictional constructs;
that is, the absence of a pre-existing whole with respect to which the
limited set of characteristics actually attributed to the fictional entity
may be regarded as incomplete. This absence of a complete refer-
ent in the background can indeed indicate that fictional worlds are
limited to what is described, implied or alluded to in the text (Pavel
1983: 50), whereas other entailed gaps, in the logical sense, are not
pertinent to the construction of fictional entities. It can therefore be
argued that the fictional construct is, in principle, a whole composed
of those properties actually attributed to it in the course of the nar-
rative. Accordingly, incompleteness can be viewed as a measuring-rod
imposed on fictional universes by the real world. Within the domain
of the fictional, incompleteness is not necessarily marked. Manifesta-
tions of incompleteness are rather a matter of textual choice: literary
texts may either accentuate an incomplete quality of the worlds they
construct or they can overcome or suppress it.

Incompletenessin Fictionand in Reality:

Some Ontological Considerations
The way of defining incompleteness has important theoretical implica-
tions for one's understanding of the nature of fiction. Incompleteness,
I suggest, is a marked quality of fictional worlds only when the latter
are seen against the completeness of "reality." According to the ap-
proach advocated here, the fictional world is one among many possible
worlds possessing a certain autonomy in relation to the actual world
and related to it only indirectly. Thus, fictional entities are seen as
semantic constructs which are not representations of real ones. The
autonomy of fictional worlds resides in their fictionality, viewed here
as a particular ontologicalperspectivecontained by the literary world
(Pavel 1975: 172-75). The ontological perspective of a literary work
can be regarded as a stance or as a global strategy encompassing the
different domains of the fictional universe. Rather than reflecting a
deficient representation of a complete real universe, the incomplete-
ness of fictional constructs is neutralized when incorporated into this
autonomous ontological stance adopted by literary texts in the con-
struction of their worlds. Fictional worlds are, hence, logically but
not semantically incomplete because they are not directly measured
Ronen * Completing the Incompletenessof FictionalEntities 499

against real and allegedly complete objects and they do not lack prop-
erties.1 This view, which may seem to state the obvious, faces an appar-
ent difficulty when specific textual constructions question the overall
fictionality of literary worlds; as when the literary text names an object
that has a correlate in the actual world.
He had been to Amsterdam,Mr. Bankes was saying as he strolled across
the lawn with Lily Briscoe. He had seen the Rembrandts.He had been to
Madrid.Unfortunatelyit was Good Fridayand the Pradowas shut. He had
been to Rome. Had MissBriscoebeen to Rome?Oh, she should-it would
be a wonderful experience for her-the Sistine Chapel; MichaelAngelo;
and Padua,with its Giottos." (TotheLighthouse: 68)
In the construction of the spatial domain in fictional worlds (space
being one fictional narrative domain like action, character, time and
ideology), names of places that also belong to the actual world are
constantly used. In what follows I will restrict my examples to the
construction of places in literary texts.
It may seem a plausible suggestion to consider "Amsterdam" and
"the Ramsay's lawn" as two categorically different objects. Thus Par-
sons (1980) describes the latter as an object native to the story whereas
the former provides an example of an object immigrant to the story.
Parsons grounds this distinction in the concept of incompleteness
which characterizes those entities created in fiction (Ibid.: 183, 51n.).
Incomplete fictional objects carry only those attributes ascribed to
them in the course of the story. Immigrant objects are however cor-
related with real entities and are hence complete. Parsons qualifies
his argument by introducing an additional category of surrogate ob-
jects (he concentrates on the objects, Sherlock Holmes and London,
in Conan Doyle's novels):
Now there are those who think that the real London does not appear in
those stories but rather that another object does; it is a fictional object,
called 'London' in the story and it is different from the real London. It,
like Holmes, is an object that is nativeto the story;it is a city "created"by
Doyle (with the aid of our commonunderstandingof the real London). So
the London of the novels will be an incompleteobject, and will also be a
non-existent object (Ibid.: 57-58)
Parsons, wavering between two positions, acknowledges the difference
between Conan Doyle's London and the real London, yet he favors
the theory according to which London in fiction directly refers to Lon-
don in reality. A surrogate London, he claims, does not appear in the

1. Since fictional entities are logically incomplete, I cannot accept, at face value,
the claim that "the use of language in a literary text is basically similar to that
in real life situations which are outside our direct experience" (Hrushovski 1984:
500 Poetics Today 9:3

story as such; it only emerges when, standing outside fiction, we refer

to "the London of Conan Doyle's novels" (a specific version, created in
fiction, of the real London). Similarly, Searle (1979) argues that Conan
Doyle's reference to London is an example of a non-fictional element
within a work of fiction. In such cases, maintains Searle, the author
has a non-fictional commitment as in any real act of referring (72). On
the other hand, when describing Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle pre-
tends to be referring to a character who is a creation of a fictional act.
If SherlockHolmesand Watsongo from Bakerstreetto PaddingtonStation
by a route which is geographicallyimpossible,we will know that Conan
Doyle blundered even though he has not blundered if there never was
a veteran of the Afghan campaign answeringto the description of John
Watson,MD. (Ibid.)
Textual expressions like "Amsterdam" and "Rome" can therefore un-
dermine the view of fictionality as a global strategy of literary texts;
they therefore serve as test-cases to the ontological autonomy of fic-
tional worlds. We face here the crucial questions of whether the ex-
pressions "Amsterdam" and "Rome" amount to real acts of referring
with an entailing commitment of the speaker to actuality; whether fic-
tional worlds are wholly or only partially fictional. If one treats such
cases as "islands" of non-fictionality within the fictional domain and as
direct references to complete objects in the actual universe, it becomes
practically impossible to speak of the autonomy of fictional worlds
in relation to the actual world. The division of literary worlds into
real and fictional domains therefore has an obvious implication for
one's understanding of the incompleteness of fictional constructs. En-
tertaining direct relationships with fictional worlds, the actual world
imposes a differentiation between objects with a completecounterpartin
reality and fictional constructs that lack such a counterpart.
The distinction within a literary work between the fictional and
the non-fictional implies a propensity to privilege the real world over
fictional worlds which Parsons and Searle share. This privileging, ex-
pressed either in terms of a referential power or in terms of complete-
ness, assumes a priority of the real world with respect to fictional ones:
facts of the actual world stipulate the truth value or the logico-semantic
status of propositions about fictional elements thus constraining the
representation of these facts in fiction.
According to such views, fictional objects with a correlate in reality
are completed by reference to a familiar and complete set of attributes
associated with the object in reality. This explains the required truth-
fulness-to-life in their literary representation. When compared with
objects in reality, fictional objects are considered incomplete.
This theoretical position cannot explain how fictional objects are
Ronen * Completing the Incompletenessof FictionalEntities 501

grasped as no less complete than objects with a correlate in reality. A

first stage toward solving this difficulty is offered by Hrushovski (1984)
who claims that, although the internal field of reference constructed
in literary works is modeled upon external examples, this internal
field is unique and internally coherent. The view that fictional objects
are less complete than objects in reality is challenged more specifically
when we recognize that real objects, complete and complex as they
are, provide in fact endless possibilities for their fictional construction.
Since, even in reality, one cannot perceive and comprehend the many
aspects and facets of a given object, the whole concept of the com-
pleteness of objects in reality is questioned. Consider, for instance, a
literary construction of Paris in the nineteenth century. The availabil-
ity of a correlative place in actuality is of little avail when historically
bound properties of the city are described. Moreover, it is practically
impossible to determine what are the essential properties of an ob-
ject, properties that compose the meaning of its name in all possible
worlds. The problem I pose here concerns the extent and mode in
which a correlate in reality actually completes an object constructed
in literature. In the following section I will discuss the semantic sta-
tus of proper names in general since theories of naming demonstrate
the difficulty of attempting to match the proper names of objects with
clear-cut sets of properties.

Theories of Naming and the Incompletenessof Named Objects

Fictional entities are textually designated either by proper names or
by descriptions which are kinds of "singular referring expressions"
(Lyons 1977: 640). The logico-semantic difference between names
and descriptions has been the object of an ongoing polemic which can
elucidate the concept of incompleteness developed in this paper. The-
ories of naming center around two basic approaches, one identifying
names with sets of definite descriptions and another which rejects such
an identification. Donnellan (1971: 100-114), for instance, claims that
proper names are always used referentially, while definite descriptions
can also be used attributively (stating something about a thing and
not just identifying the right referent). When used referentially, de-
scriptions can be replaced by names and vice versa. For example, "Mr.
Edwards" and "the man standing behind that chair" are referentially
interchangeable in a particular context. Searle (1969: 85ff.) takes the
extreme position, claiming that a proper name contains identifying
descriptions that constitute the sense of a proper name. The name sig-
nifies a set of descriptions whose disjunction is analytically tied to the
proper name by referring to an object that satisfies these descriptions.
In other words, proper names are logically connected with descrip-
tive characteristics of the referent and an identifying description can
502 Poetics Today 9:3

not only determine the right referent but can also replace a name.
However, the looseness of the sense of a name distinguishes its refer-
ring function from its describing function. Although the expression
"the man standing behind that chair" or "the man with the white
beard" can replace "Mr. Edwards" in determining a referent, the for-
mer are no more than contingent features of Mr. Edwards and there-
fore cannot serve as descriptive substitutes. In another counterfactual
situation, these will not constitute the meaning of "Mr. Edwards" (for
instance, when Mr. Edwards dyes his beard).
Those who believe that names have sense face the problem of the
looseness of information related to a name and the unclear line that
divides necessary information for the definition of a name from un-
necessary information (that is, essential from contingent properties of
the named object). Kripke (1972), who questions the identification of
names with sets of descriptions, distinguishes between names that are
rigid designators (designating the same object in all possible worlds)
and descriptions that express the properties of objects: "the properties
an object has in every counter-factual world have nothing to do with
properties used to identify this object in the actual world" (50). Worlds
other than the actual world can be imagined only because diverse de-
scriptive conditions are associated with the same object in different
possible worlds. That is, the indefiniteness of the sense of names can
be diminished when descriptions contextually fix the name.
Following Kripke, it can be argued that, when a name is inserted
into a literary text, it is not self-evidently associated with the set of
properties related to the designated object in the actual world. One
can hypothesize, for instance, another possible world in which Nixon
was not the president of the United States. In such a world, Nixon is
no less complete than his actualization in reality; he just has a different
set of attributes. Thus, since names are rigid designators, in another
possible world the name could identify an object although most of the
important properties associated with the named object do not hold in
reality.2 The reader of literary texts is therefore not automatically sent
to verify a set of descriptive statements he carries and associates with
the name based on his established actual-world knowledge. Rather,
the literary text introduces both the name and the set of descriptions
which, in that particular world, are identifying marks of the denoted
Even when the name used in literature exists in the reader's stored

2. According to Kripke and others, there are minimal individuating requirements

for a name to remain a designator. A sufficient individuating feature can be the
structure of the fertilized egg which later became Aristotle, for instance (for a
fuller discussion, see Pavel 1979).
Ronen * Completing the Incompletenessof FictionalEntities 503

knowledge of the world, the sense of the name in the context of the
literary work may differ considerably from its sense in actuality. The
literary text provides enough information for forming descriptive sub-
stitutes for the proper name, descriptions that may replace the name
only in the context of that individual text.3 A possible access to a cor-
relate in reality does not matter when a name is made to signify within
the literary text. The only sense that can possibly be ascribed to a name
stems from descriptions that gradually "fill"the name with meaning.
The case of Paris as constructed in fiction serves to demonstrate the
twofold challenge facing the attempt to relate objects constructed in
fiction directly with their counterparts in reality: 1) it is impossible
to demarcate essential properties of Paris which do (or should) recur
in each of its literary constructions; 2) diverse descriptive sets can be
attributed to the same name in different fictional worlds and there-
fore descriptions that replace a name in one particular fictional world
cannot be transferred or applied to other possible worlds.
Un matin du mois de decembre, en se rendant au cours de procedure, il
crut remarquerdans la rue Saint-Jacquesplus d'animationqu' l'ordinaire.
Les etudiants sortaient precipitammentdes cafes, ou, par les fenetres ou-
vertes, ils s'appelaientd'une maisona l'autre;les boutiquiers,au milieu du
trottoir, regardaientd'un air inquiet;et, quand il arrivadans la rue Souf-
flot, il apercutun grand rassemblementautourdu Pantheon. (L'Education
[One morning in December,on his way to attend a lecture on procedure,
he thought he noticed more animationthan usualin the Rue Saint-Jacques.
Students were rushing out of the cafes or calling to each other from house
to house through the open windows;the shopkeeperswere standingin the
middle of the pavement,watchinguneasily;and when he reached the Rue
Soufflothe saw a large crowdassembledround the Pantheon.]
This is a typical description of Paris in Flaubert's novel. It follows
our common world knowledge according to which Paris, as an urban
center, "contains" places such as streets, cafes, public halls, squares
etc.-all belonging to the paradigm of a city. These potential locations
in the public area of cities, differentiate Paris from a provincial town
or from rural areas. Indeed many of the story-events in this particular
novel draw their significance from their location in concrete Parisian
places. In Stendhal's Le rouge et le noir, a very different set of descrip-
tions constitutes the construct of Paris. In this novel, the construction
of places within Paris is restricted almost exclusively to the private
domain of the city. This can be regarded as a marked textual phe-
nomenon because of the range of public places which define a city

3. See Dolezel (1985) for the referential function of names and

descriptions in
504 Poetics Today 9:3

in our knowledge of the world. Salons, attics, gardens, private rooms,

dining-rooms and a library are the places which build the city of Paris
in this case. One example is the scene in chapter one, part II of the
novel, where the hero's (Julien Sorel's) experiences upon arrival in
Paris are succinctly summarized:
On venait d'entrer dans la cour des postes, rue J.-J. Rousseau . . . -Je
veux aller a la Malmaison,dit-il a un cabrioletqui s'approcha .... Une
profonde m6fiancel'empcha d'admirerle Parisvivant,il n'etaittouch6que
des monumentslaiss6spar son heros [Napoleon]. (248)4
[They had just entered the mail-coachyard in the rue Jean-JacquesRous-
seau ... "I want to go to Malmaison"he said to an approachingcoach....
Deep-rooted suspicionspreventedhis admiringParisas it was in the living
present; he was only moved by the monumentshis hero had left behind.]
Later in the same chapter, Julien and his sponsor (l'abbe Pirard)
drive in a cart to the house of le conte de La Mole. Neither their
leaving l'abbe Pirard's house nor their route is described. The long
report of their conversation ends with an account of their arrival.
Only at this point does it turn out that they have been "en route":
"Le fiacre s'arreta; le cocher souleva le marteau de bronze d'une porte
immense: c'etait I'HOTEL DE LA MOLE" (252). The overall confinement
of Julien's adventures in Paris to the domestic area, the fact that the
public domain stays completely out of the focus of attention produce a
different construct of Paris than the one automatically associated with
it in the actual world (which includes both private and public domains).
This illustration also demonstrates that a novel can construct a place
like Paris without reverting to a shared knowledge of the city. In such
a case, the existence of a counterpart in reality proves to be of almost
no consequence.
The impossibility of matching proper names, which refer to specific
objects in the actual universe, with a complete set of essential (neces-
sary) properties leads me to conclude that real entities cannot play the
role of stable vantage points with respect to which literary worlds are
grasped and evaluated. Properties associated with the name are not
necessarily ascribed to it in every possible situation. The categorical
differentiation between fictional entities with and without a correlate
in reality is therefore seriously questioned. This differentiation is also
questionable from another angle. It is assumed that the existence of a
counterpart in reality for a place constructed in fiction imposes specific
constraints on the literary text which are not imposed when fictional
objects are constructed. These constraints are reflected in the passage

4. The mentionof rueJ.-J.Rousseauandla Malmaisonis one of thetwoexceptions

to the ruledescribedabove.Thereareonlytwopointsthroughoutthe novelwhere
concreteParisianplacesare mentioned.
Ronen * Completing the Incompletenessof FictionalEntities 505

from L'Educationsentimentalein that a familiarity with specific streets

and public places in Paris is assumed. Similarly, in the example from
Woolf above, it can be regarded as obligatory that the Sistine Chapel
be located in Rome and not in Amsterdam.
However, constraints imposed by our common world knowledge are
not related exclusively to entities with a counterpart in reality; con-
straints imposed by the same common understanding of the world
determine the correct location of the Ramsay's lawn outside and not
inside the house. That is, a world knowledge is an open system of con-
cepts and frames of reference from which various types of knowledge-
constraints are inferred,5 restraining the construction of the Sistine
Chapel and of lawns in fiction. Various types of world-knowledge con-
straints can be equally violated in some possible world, fictional or
other. For this reason, since a world knowledge includes frames of
reference of diverse types; "truths 'copied' by the author and invented
characters belong in an often indistinguishable fashion to the world
of the literary text" (Pavel 1983: 50)
Thus, in David Lodge's Changing Places, Rummidge and Euphoria
are introduced as places on an imaginary map. Yet, although figments
of the imagination, Rummidge is constructed as a typical industrial
and ugly British city while Euphoria conforms to the essential charac-
teristics of an affluent state "situated between Northern and Southern
California" (13). The fictional name mingled with a "true-to-life" char-
acterization manifests the difficulty of distinguishing fictional from
non-fictional constructs in the literary text, of differentiating between
types of frames activated in the construction of fictional entities.
Therefore, rather than claim that fictional worlds mix the fictional
with representations of the real, I will argue that both Paris-in-fiction
(inhabited by fictional characters and objects) and the fictional Rum-
midge (characterized by reality-like properties) are semantic con-
structs with a similar status in the ontological space of their respective
fictional worlds although they differ in the type and order of frames of
reference they evoke. As will be demonstrated in detail later, literary
texts differ in the degrees and modes of reliance on knowledge frames
they manifest. These may range from frames of reference which re-
count concrete sets of attributes of objects in reality, through a general
familiarity with laws and conventions according to which the world
operates, to an acquaintance with symbolic or archetypal meanings as-
sociated with entities. For instance, "Paris"carries information about
concrete locations and geographical features but also about a complex
cultural-historical system associated with a capital and a center of this
kind. As demonstrated above, none of these frames is necessarily op-

5. In Hrushovski (1982) such a flexible notion of frames of reference is developed.

506 Poetics Today 9:3

erated in particular literary texts. The ontological distinction between

non-actual entities and "quasi-actual"ones (like Paris) is consequently
converted into a rhetorical problem.
To illustrate the construction of fictional objects as complete and
well-individuated and the variability of concepts which constitute and
are activated through frames of reference, I present modes of in-
troducing and definitizing objects in the narrative. Modes of textual
definitization (of both fictional and semi-fictional objects) illustrate,
among other things, the lack of correspondence between a pregiven
ontological status of the constructed object (having or lacking a corre-
late in reality) and the mode of introducing it into the fictional world.
Further, modes of definitization demonstrate the way literary texts
cope with the logical incompleteness of their constructs.
Textual Definitizationand the Completenessof Fictional
Constructs:Some RhetoricalConsiderations
The aptitude of proper names and of definite descriptions for denot-
ing a singular element in the constructed world makes these categories
the main candidates for introducing new entities into the fictional
world. Textual definitization of objects is part of the construction of
fictional worlds. Definitization is that stage or process in which it is
textually indicated that a name or a description denotes a single, con-
crete and well-individuated (i.e., distinct from others) object. The text
indicates such a definite denotatum through the use of definite forms
of expression. Whenever such a textual indication is given, we may
say that the fictional construct has been definitized in that individual
fictional universe.
There are two basic strategies for definitizing entities. Because of
the fictionality of the world constructed, new elements are often in-
troduced as if they are already known: the text conveys information
about its fictional world as if the world is already there. Thus, many
literary texts tend to present new entities by using expressions which
are, lexically speaking, definite descriptions, although at the stage at
which the expressions appear in the text the element denoted by the
description has not yet been sufficiently definitized. In such cases, the
definite form assumes a familiarity with a fictional referent whose es-
sential properties are often not yet known. The other strategy is that
of definitizing an object by specifying, in a series of descriptions, those
properties which individuate the object in a particular fictional uni-
verse. Here, in other words, definitization relies on the accumulation
of descriptive information.
To illustrate these possibilities, I will compare the definitizing strate-
gies in two texts: one introduces its fictional entities at the outset as if
already familiar and definitized; in the other, the opposite strategy is
Ronen * Completing the Incompletenessof FictionalEntities 507

implemented and fictional entities are formally introduced along with

a set of individuating descriptions:
"Mydear, dear, anxious friend,"-said she, in mentalsoliloquy,while walk-
ing down stairs from her own room, "alwaysover-carefulfor every body's
comfort but your own; I see you now in all your little fidgets, going again
and again into his room to be sure that is right."The clock struck twelve
as she passed through the hall.... She opened the parlourdoor, and saw
two gentlemen sitting with her father.... (Emma:127-28)
Under certain circumstancesthere are few hours in life more agreeable
than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. ...
The implementsof the little feast had been disposed upon the lawn of an
old English country house.... The house that rose beyond the lawn was.
... The most characteristicobjectin the peculiarlyEnglish picture I have
attempted to sketch. (The Portraitof a Lady: 5-6)
In the example from Emma, parts of Emma's house are mentioned
as if they are already known: a definite lexical form and subordinate
clauses in which spatial expressions are inserted ("while walking . . "
"as she passed . . .") are textual indications of the definiteness of the
local description. If we observe the location of this description in rela-
tion to other text-units which denote the same place, we find that the
textual indication to an already familiar and well-individuated house
is not grounded on a previous accumulation of details. The above
passage is the first textual segment in which parts of the house are
introduced and described. In the second example, we see a gradual
definitization of a place. The cluster of predicates suggests an attempt
to definitize the introduced place although the lexical form is still that
of an indefinite description as there is more than one house satisfy-
ing the description. When later the name "Gardencourt" appears in
the text, the house has finally been definitized. Proper names and de-
scriptions definitize fictional objects by indicating at what textual stage
there appears to be only one object in the fictional world satisfying the
description (or the name).
Again, definitization is not related to completeness. The English
country house has been definitized whether or not the complete set
of attributes ascribed to it during the narrative has already been fully
constructed. Following this second mode of definitization, fictional ob-
jects can either be formally introduced (they are explicitly and directly
presented as parts of a yet unfamiliar world) or the literary text can
just implicitly follow the same definitizing route.
Puis-je,vous proposermes services,sans risquerd'etre importun?Je crains
que vous ne sachiez vous faire entendre de l'estimablegorille qui preside
aux destinees de cet etablissement.II ne parle, en effet, que le hollandais.
... Son metier consistea recevoirdes marinsde toutes les nationalitesdans
ce bar dAmsterdamqu'il a appele d'ailleurs... Mexico-City. (Lachute:7)
508 Poetics Today 9:3

[May I, Monsieur, offer my services without running the risk of intruding?

I fear you may not be able to make yourself understood by the worthy
gorilla who presides over the fate of this establishment. In fact, he speaks
nothing but Dutch .... His business consists in entertaining sailors of all
nationalities in this Amsterdam bar, which he happens to have named ...
The bar is initially introduced with the definite description "this es-
tablishment;" nevertheless, the definitization of the bar relies on the
immediately succeeding predicates (specifying its location, inhabitants
and later its name) which eventually construct a unique place in the
fictional world of this novel.
To return to the question of a possible correspondence between
modes of definitization and the ontological status of the introduced
objects, let us examine, for the sake of comparison, a formal introduc-
tion of a place which has a correlate in reality.

La petite ville de Verrieres peut passer pour l'une des plus jolies de la
Franche-Comte. Ses maisons blanches avec leurs toits pointus de tuiles
rouges s'etendent sur la pente d'une colline.... Le Doubs coule a quelques
centaines de pieds au-dessus de ses fortifications.... (Le rougeet le noir: 33)
[The little town of Verrieres is one of the prettiest in Franche-Comte. Its
white houses, with their red-tiled, pointed roofs, stretch out along the side
of a hill.... Down in the valley the river Doubs flows by, some hundreds of
feet below fortifications....]

Verrieres, a point on the actual map of France, is introduced here

formally; that is, there is a textual assumption of infamiliarity reflected
in the mode of presenting it.
To summarize, the assumption of a familiarity (or an unfamiliarity)
with an object, as reflected in modes of textual definitization, does not
systematically correspond to the ontological status of the object. 1) A
fictional place can be formally introduced (Gardencourt); 2) a place
with a counterpart in reality can be formally introduced (Verrieres);
3) a fictional place can be introduced as if already familiar and defini-
tized (Emma's house); 4) a place with a counterpart in reality can
be introduced as familiar and definitized (Paris in the example from
L'Education sentimentale).
In the textual process of definitizing elements of the fictional world,
the text, through rhetorical devices (one or more descriptions and/or
names), gradually or immediately completes the object constructing it
as a determinate singular fictional object. As shown above, a definite
form of expression can be used from the very beginning; otherwise the
definitization of the constructed elements is deferred. In both cases, a
completeness of information is not a condition for definitizing fictional
entities. The literary text may either strive to complete the object with
Ronen * Completing the Incompletenessof FictionalEntities 509

as many descriptions as possible or it can denote a definitized element

when the information about that element is meager and remains so:
Le soir du troisieme jour, la curiosit l'emporta sur le projet de tout voir
avant de se presenter a l'abbe Pirard. (Le rougeet le noir: 248)
[On the evening of his third day there, curiosity overcame his plans for
seeing everything before visiting at Father Pirard's.]
"At Father Pirard's," which is the only textual manifestation of this
particular fictional place, does not even indicate what kind of place
is involved (a hotel, a mansion, a house, an apartment, etc.). Yet, in this
fictional world, the expression constructs a singular determinate ob-
ject. We may consider an opposite example where the text conveys as
many details as possible about the place it constructs. Overly detailed
descriptions may not only disorient the reader but, as a textual phe-
nomenon, they often underline the impossibility of conveying every-
thing. A typical example is the description of lAlhambra in L'Education
Deux galeries moresques s'etendaient a droite et a gauche, parallelement.
Le mur d'une maison, en face, occupait tout le fond, et le quatrieme c6te
(celui de restaurant) figurait un cloitre gothique a vitraux de couleurs. Une
sorte de toiture chinoise abritait l'estrade oi jouaient les musiciens; le sol
autour etait couvert d'asphalte, et des lanternes venitiennes accrochees a
des poteaux formaient, de loin, sur les quadrilles, une couronne de feux
multicolores. (103)6
[Two parallel arcades in the Moorish style extended right and left. The
wall of a house took up the whole of the far end, opposite, and the fourth
side, where the restaurant lay, was designed to look like a Gothic cloister
with stained-glass windows. A sort of Chinese roof sheltered the platform
on which the musicians played; the ground all round it was covered with
asphalt; and there were some Venetian lanterns hung on poles which, seen
from a distance, formed a crown of multicoloured lights above the dancers.]
The lack of thematic coherence in the description suggests that it
could have gone on and on without necessarily attaining a sense of
completeness of the constructed place. That is, the number of proper-
ties necessary in a particular text to definitize an object does not corre-
spond to the effect of completeness attained in the overall construction

6. It should be emphasized that the definitizationof fictionalconstructs is a textual

process. The location of a description in the text therefore has to be taken into
account. The overly detailed description of lAlhambra, when the place is first
introduced into the fictional world, gives place later to a succinct denotation of
already definitized elements: "Les musiciens,juches sur l'estrade ..." (104); "Au
galop, les danseurs envahirent les allees . . " (107). The crucial questions with
respect to definitization thus concern the point at which fictional constructs are
definitized and whether succeeding information add to the "fullness" of those
510 Poetics Today 9:3

of that object. As mentioned earlier, this can be partly explained by

the fact that modes of definitization usually follow a specific logic of
selection established by the literary text. In most cases, the literary
text circumvents the incompleteness of its constructs by selecting a
limited and functional set of descriptions. Thus in the definitization
of objects, the text can follow a specific logic on the basis of which an
object is reduced to one salient and/or significant feature (significant
in narrative, symbolic or thematic terms). In L'Educationsentimentale,
for instance, Mme. Arnoux's house is often reduced to one feature:
the exterior view of the floor above the fervent Frederic. When Fred-
eric discovers that Mme. Arnoux does not live in an apartment above
her husband's store:
Il regarda les fenetres du premier 6tage; et il rit interieurementde pitie
sur lui-meme, en se rappelantavec quel amour il les avait si souvent con-
templees! (75)
[He looked at the first-floorwindows;and he laughed inwardly,pitying
himself, as he rememberedhow lovinglyhe had often gazed at them.]
Aucunedes fenetresexterieuresne dependaitde son logement.Cependant,
il restaitles yeux colles sur la facade,commes'il avaitcru, par cette contem-
plation, pouvoir fendre les murs. (109)
[None of the outer windowsbelonged to her flat. All the same, he stood
with his eyes glued to the front of the house, as if he thoughtthat by staring
hard he might penetratethe walls.]
Il leva les yeux vers le second 6tage. La lampe de Mme. Arnoux brfilait.
[He looked up at the second-floorwindows.MadameArnoux'slamp was
With such a definitizing strategy, typical of many texts, the relevance
of just one feature for the fictional completion of an object is accen-
tuated. In the last quotation, for instance, the mention of what has
been consistently constructed as the significant feature, is enough to
evoke the complete object, Mme. Arnoux's house. Thus, the reduction
of an object to one salient and functional feature does not entail a less
complete object than the aggregation of descriptive properties around
a fictional object. It rather explains the possibility of definitizing an
object on the basis of a limited set of attributes.

Definitizationand Framesof Reference

La marque n du roman [nominationdu lieu] doit conveniraux qualifica-
tions qui l'entourent.Ses attributsne peuventcontredire(si n est connu) ni
sa d6finitiong6ographiquereelle ni ses connotationsmoyennes,etjouent le
r6le de support du nom propre:ils en confirmentla v6rit6. (Grivel1973:
Ronen * Completing the Incompletenessof FictionalEntities 511

According to Grivel, the fictional place is a borrowing from a reality.

The construction of a place in fiction should match the qualifications,
attributes, geographical definition and connotations of the real place.7
The case of Paris, as constructed in fiction, demonstrated the difficulty
in trying to delineate the necessary properties of this place. Paris can
be an altogether different construct in each literary text of whose
world it forms a part (providing that minimal requirements such as
"being a place" or "being a city in France" are kept). It does not follow,
however, that literary texts do not revert to sharedframes of reference8
to construct and definitize their worlds. The textual construction of
objects can rely on specific frames of reference:
II n'existaitau monde qu'un seul endroit pour les faire valoir: Paris!Car
dans ses idees, l'art,la scienceet l'amour... dependaientexclusivementde
la capitale. (L'Education sentimentale:
[But there was only one place in the whole worldwhere he could turn them
to account: Paris! For, in his opinion, art, learning, and love- . . . were
linked exclusivelywith the capital.]
Frames of reference which literary texts employ can explain the defini-
tization of objects despite a paucity of information ascribed to them.
In this context, frames of reference are not defined as epistemo-
logical frameworks existing outside the literary text. They are treated
rather as sets of interconnected entities which the text itself constructs
(while indicating that their association is grounded on a convention).
Frames of reference are therefore intrinsic to the literary text and to
the world it constructs. In the example in the previous section from
Emma, the motivation for the selection of details from Emma's house
is actional: Emma's movement in the house justifies mentioning those
parts she passes through. This also illustrates the relationship between
textual definitization and frames of reference on which this definite-
ness relies. Here we can claim that the incompleteness of the house
is implied in the relation between the whole and the parts actually
constructed: the stairs, the hall and the parlor (notice that another
house is constructed through Emma's thoughts, the house of her ex-
governess, which is subjected to a similar procedure of definitization).
This relation in principle shows a lack: there are many other parts to
a house which remain unmentioned.
The text, however, overcomes this inherent incompleteness by de-
finitizing the introduced elements at the outset. This textual strategy

7. Grivel admits, however, that the localization of fictional events does not inform
us about reality. The features attributed to the fictional place only realize a fiction
(Ibid.: 105).
8. Shared frames of reference are frames that mingle elements of the fictional
world with aspects of the external reality (Hrushovski 1984: 249).
512 Poetics Today 9:3

relies on the particular motivation for the selection of details. It also

relies on the frame of reference house with which the description is
associated (it is the whole which can incorporate the mentioned parts).
It prevents us from locating the incompleteness of the house in those
areas of its unmentioned parts; rather, these areas, although unspeci-
fied, are implicitly introduced in the description as if they are already
familiar and therefore do not have to be mentioned. The reliance
on a frame of reference can explain how a text, characterized by
a paucity of information about its world, rhetorically overcomes the
incompleteness of its constituent objects.
Note, however, that frames of reference cannot, in themselves, con-
struct an individuated object; they rather definitize a group or a type
of place. The connotational features associated with Paris, for instance
(related to its cultural centrality), definitize a type of Parisian places.
The text can choose to further definitize a singular distinct place
within Paris or leave it in its typical characterization. In the descrip-
tion from Emma above, the house remains non-individuated since the
text chooses to ground the definitization only on the relevant frame of
reference (without specifying the individuating features of the place).
In the definitization of places, texts can emphasize the convention-
ality of a frame of reference:
J'ai installe mon cabinetdans un bar du quartierdes matelots.La clientele
des ports est diverse. Les pauvres ne vont pas dans les districts luxueux,
tandis que les gens de qualite finissent toujourspar echouer, une fois au
moins, vous l'avezbien vu, dans les endroitsmal fames. (Lachute:144)
[I set up my office in a bar in the sailors'quarter.The clientele of a port is
varied. The poor don't go into the luxury districts,whereaseventuallythe
gentlefolkalwayswind up at leastonce, as you haveseen, in the disreputable
In this description, the familiar frame of reference related to a sailors'
bar supports the generalizing statements about bars, the self-evident
inclusion of the bar in the category of places of "ill-repute" and the
portrayal of particular and familiar situations associated with it. In
La chute, as in similar cases where descriptions rely on conventional
frames, some of the features selected for description are those that
individuate the object in that particular world. Features mentioned
elsewhere (the mention of its name, Mexico-City, the description of
the empty rectangle on one of the walls and the enigmatic bar tender),
individuate this concrete "bar des matelots" with respect to the general
group of such places.
Again, in the following example, a place is definitized because the
text explicitly assumes a familiarity with a relevant frame:
Pour le jugement, aujourd'hui,nous sommes toujoursprets, comme pour
la fornication.... Si vous en doutez, pretez l'oreilleaux propos de table,
Ronen * Completing the Incompletenessof FictionalEntities 513

pendant le mois d'aoft, dans ces h6tels de villegiature o6 nos charitables

compatriotes viennent faire leur cure d'ennui. (La chute: 82)
[Today we are always as ready to judge as we are to fornicate. ... If
you doubt this, just listen to the table-conversation during August in those
summer hotels where our charitable fellow-citizens take their cure for bore-
Familiarity with a type of place (holiday resorts) and with a type of
situations associated with it, form the ground for definitizing the ex-
pressions "ces hotels de villegiature." Frames of reference thus defini-
tize not a single place but a group or a type of place: "I'm sure she
has lived all her life in a boarding house, and I detest the manners
and the liberties of such places" (The Portrait of a Lady: 95), says Mrs.
Touchett of Henrietta, thus associating her with a definite place and
with a set of concrete and familiar traits (contained in the expressions
"manners" and "liberties").
Definitization, as a semantic textual feature, manifests how a fic-
tional object, constructed through a limited set of properties, is "com-
pleted." Definitization is often motivated by a frame of reference sup-
plying a definitizing context. Such frames are textually brought up
through the features or aspects selected for the description of the fic-
tional object. Alternatively the reduction of an object to a more or less
limited set of properties can also follow an intrinsic logic of reduction
which motivates the selection of details, again, without implying an
incompleteness of fictional constructs.

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