School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics
Thesis submitted to the University of Sheffield in partial requirement
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Abstract This thesis presents the first cognitive-poetic account of the dystopian short story and investigates the experience of dystopian reading. In doing so, it takes a mixed-methods approach that draws upon various types of experimental and naturalistic reader response data in support of my own rigorous stylistic analysis. The study focuses upon four contemporary short stories published within the last ten years: George Saunders’ ( 2014g) ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries’; Paolo Bacigalupi’s ( 2010a) ‘Pump Six’; Genevieve Valentine’s ( 2012) ‘Is this your day to join the Revolution?’; and Adam Marek’s ( 2012b) ‘Dead Fish’. These texts were selected for their focus upon socially relevant thematic concerns, their cultural resonance and their inherent didacticism – attributes which I argue determine the dystopian reading experience.
In moving beyond the periodic demarcations imposed on dystopian narrative by traditional literary criticism, this study argues for a reader-led discussion of genre that takes into account reader subjectivity and personal conceptualisations of prototypicality. My research therefore offers a new contribution to the area of dystopian literary criticism, as well as advancing research in cognitive poetics and empirical stylistics more broadly. Framed within Text World Theory (Gavins, 2007; Werth, 1999), my thesis builds upon existing research and advances text-world-theoretical discussions of world-building, characterisation and reading experience. In particular, I argue for a more nuanced discussion of paratextual text-worlds and propose a systematic account of social cognition that can be applied in Text-World-Theory terms.
As an original piece of stylistic analysis, this thesis challenges traditional conceptions of genre and aims to extend existing discussions of the emotional experience of literary reading. As a result, several contributions are also made to the field of empirical stylistics, as I test multiple reader response methods and combine key findings from each case study to present a multifaceted account of dystopian reading.
‘Not real can tell us about real’.
( 2004: 118)
For my Mum,
List of Figures ii Chapter 1: Introduction 1 - 6
Aims and Preliminaries 1
1.1 Thesis Outline 3
Chapter 2: A Poetics of Dystopia 7 - 31
2.0 Overview 7
2.1 Dystopia: Introducing the Genre 7
2.2 Mapping the Dystopian Impulse 10
2.2.1 The Critical Utopia 10
2.2.2 The Rise of the Critical Dystopia 11
2.2.3 Ecodystopia 12
2.3 Dystopia: Influences and Characteristics 13
2.3.1 Dystopia, Science Fiction and Satire 14
2.3.2 Cognitive Estrangement and Dystopian Worlds 16
2.4 Dystopia in the 21st Century 18
2.4.1 YA Dystopias 19
2.4.2 Evolving Platforms: Videogame and Filmic Worlds 23
2.5 The Dystopian Short Story 24
2.6 Dystopia: Re-evaluating the Genre 28
2.7 Review 30
Chapter 3: Towards a Cognitive Poetics of Dystopia 32 - 57
3.1 Stylistics 32
3.2 Cognitive Poetics and Dystopian Reading 33
3.3 Dystopian Minds 35
3.3.1 Point of View in Fiction 36
3.3.2 Mind-Style 40
3.3.3 Fictional and Social Minds 43
3.3.4 Theory of Mind and Mind-modelling 45
3.4 Text World Theory: Introducing the Model 47
3.4.1 Text World Theory: Structure and Practice 49
3.4.2 Text World Theory and Dystopian Minds 53
3.5 Reading Dystopian Short Stories 55
3.6 Review 56
Chapter 4: Reading the Dystopian Short Story 58 - 75
4.0 Overview 58
4.1 Investigating ‘Real’ Reader Responses to Dystopia 58
4.2 Online Reader Response Data 61
4.2.1 Online Reader Response Data and ‘Pump Six’ 65
4.3 Think-Aloud Studies 66
4.3.1 Think-Aloud Data and ‘Is this your day?’ 68
4.4 Reading Group Discourse 71
4.4.1 Reading Group Talk and ‘Dead Fish’ 73 4.5 Review 74
Chapter 5: ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries’ 76 - 108
5.0 Overview 76
5.1 ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries’ 76
5.2 Epistolary Modes and Dystopian Text-Worlds 79
5.2.1 Diary Writing and the Narratee 84
5.3 Satirising the American Dream 86
5.4 Mind-modelling the Semplica Girls 92
5.4.1 Social Minds in ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries’ 100
5.4.2 Intermental Frames 103
5.5 Review 107
Chapter 6: ‘Pump Six’ 109 - 136
6.0 Overview 109
6.1 ‘Pump Six’ 109
6.1.1 The Text-Worlds of ‘Pump Six’ 111
6.2 The Ecodystopian Impulse in ‘Pump Six’ 115
6.2.1 Urban Degeneration and the Text-Worlds of ‘Pump Six’ 117
6.2.2 Technological Decline in ‘Pump Six’ 120
6.3 Reading the Future: Online Readers and ‘Pump Six’ 123
6.4 Devolved Minds in ‘Pump Six’ 127
6.4.1 Mind-modelling the ‘Trog’ 128
6.5 Responding to Ecodystopian Text-Worlds 132
6.6 Review 135
Chapter 7: ‘Is this your day to join the Revolution?’ 137 - 165
7.0 Overview 137
7.1 ‘Is this your day to join the Revolution?’ 137
7.1.1 The Text-Worlds of ‘Is this your day?’ 138
7.2 The Oligarchic Worlds of ‘Is this your day?’ 146
7.3 Reading ‘Is this your day to join the Revolution?’ 154
7.3.1 Estrangement and World-Building in ‘Is this your day?’ 155
7.4 Unreliable Minds in ‘Is this your day?’ 160
7.5. ‘Is this your day to join the Revolution?’: Resisting the Lie 162
7.6 Review 164
Chapter 8: ‘Dead Fish’ 166 - 193
8.0 Overview 166
8.1 ‘Dead Fish’ 166
8.1.1 The Text-Worlds of ‘Dead Fish’ 168
8.2 Unnatural Narration and the Worlds of ‘Dead Fish’ 170
8.2.1 Reading Unnatural Minds in ‘Dead Fish’ 173
8.3 Toxic Landscapes as Dystopian Text-Worlds 178
8.4 Dead Fish: Ending with Indifference 186
8.4.1 Comparing Emotional Reading Experiences to ‘Dead Fish’ 189
8.5 Review 192
Chapter 9: Conclusions 194 - 207
9.0 Overview 194
9.1 Main Contributions 194
9.1.1 Reading the Dystopian Short Story 196
9.1.2 Reading Dystopian Minds 198
9.1.3 Text World Theory and Dystopia 200
9.1.4 Cognitive Poetics and Empirical Stylistics 202
9.2 Future Research 203
9.2.1 Dystopian Narrative 203
9.2.2 Text World Theory 204
9.2.3 Empirical Stylistics and Reader Response 205
Appendix E: ‘Is this your day to join the Revolution?’ 257
Appendix F: ‘Dead Fish’ 258
Acknowledgements Sitting in front of this newly completed manuscript I don’t quite know how to begin thanking all of the wonderful people who have stood by my side and supported me throughout my PhD. The experience has been an incredible one and I couldn’t be more grateful to all those who helped make it so.
Firstly I owe so much to my amazing supervisors, Jo Gavins and Sara Whiteley. I cannot thank them both enough for their invaluable advice, support and motivation, for providing detailed feedback on earlier drafts of this work and for introducing me to a research community that I am truly proud to be a part of. I could never have done this without them and indeed none of this would have taken shape without their own inspirational work that was introduced to me during my undergraduate degree.
I owe a debt of gratitude to the University of Sheffield’s School of English for making this experience possible, for giving me the opportunity to teach and for welcoming me into such a stellar department. Also to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for funding this research, for helping me to attend various conferences and engage with like-minded academics from around the world. I have been lucky enough to present my research at various events over the last three years and I am thankful for each opportunity. Special thanks are due to the Poetics and Linguistics Association, particularly to Alice Bell, Joe Bray, Sam Browse, Patricia Canning, Alison Gibbons, Rachel Hanna, Chloe Harrison, Arwa Hasan, Jess Mason, Louise Nuttall, Paul Simpson and Peter Stockwell (who also deserves special thanks for introducing me to cognitive poetics in the first place – who knew it would take me this far?). Huge thanks are also due to the Cognitive Poetics Reading Group, for their friendship, inspiring conversation and continued reassurance that my spiralling levels of crazy were all part of the process.
Thanks to all my reading group and think-aloud participants, for their commitment and enthusiasm, and for offering such detailed and amusing insights into the experience of dystopian reading. Even during the most frustrating moments of writing-up, their responses never failed to remind me just how much I love my subject. For my Sheffield family: Richard Finn, Charlotte Foster, Jess Hannington, Sarah Jackson, Hannah Leach, Sarah Lund, Rosie Shute, Emily Thew and Isabelle van der Bom. This experience would not have been the same without them; they are some of the best people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Thanks especially to the wonderful Lizzie Stewart for her constant support, laughter and listening ear, and to Jill Le Berre Anderson for always reminding me not to ‘chaucer’.
Finally, to my family for their continued encouragement, support and unwavering faith. Especially to my siblings James and Vicki, Michele and my Auntie Ang and Uncle Sid for always being at the other end of the phone. For my Mum and best friend - I will never be able to thank her enough for her constant love, encouragement and support, for tirelessly listening to me read and reread chunks of thesis and for reading countless dystopian stories just to share in the drama. Her strength and determination are my inspiration. This is for her.
Sheffield, December 2016
List of Figures Chapter 5: ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries’
Figure 5.1 Triadic structure of satire as a discursive practice 89
Figure 7.2 The Paratextual Worlds of ‘Is this your day to join the Revolution?’ 144
Chapter 8: ‘Dead Fish’
Figure 8.1 The Text-Worlds of ‘Dead Fish’ 182
Chapter 1: Introduction
Aims and Preliminaries
This thesis proposes the first cognitive-poetic account of the dystopian short story, which, framed within Text World Theory (Gavins, 2007; Werth, 1999), offers an original contribution to the fields of stylistics and literary criticism. The study comprises three key aims: 1) to investigate the particular readerly experience of engaging with dystopian narratives; 2) to advance current Text-World-Theory practice by applying the framework to dystopian literature; and 3) to provide a critical account of dystopian literature that, in drawing upon insights from cognitive linguistics, narratology, psychology and cognitive science, moves beyond existing literary theoretical studies of the genre.
Analytical focus is placed upon the study of the dystopian short story – a medium that has been significantly overlooked in dystopian literary criticism to date – and on four dystopian short stories in particular: George Saunders’ ( 2014g) ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries’; Paolo Bacigalupi’s ( 2010a) ‘Pump Six’; Genevieve Valentine’s ( 2012) ‘Is this your day to join the Revolution?’; and Adam Marek’s ( 2012b) ‘Dead Fish’. Each of these texts, which have received little to no critical attention before, are united on two key fronts. Firstly, they each present refracted yet remote possible worlds, that is worlds which are fundamentally similar to the actual-world, but which through processes of exaggeration and defamiliarisation come to subvert real-world expectations (see Ryan, 1980). Secondly, as contemporary publications, each of the texts are culturally specific and like classic dystopias before them identify with a particular real-world historical moment. As a result of this ontological relationship, each of the four texts reflect upon actual-world concerns, a process which in turn invites readerly critique and promotes real-world reflection. I argue that it is the actual-world to fictional-world relationship set up by these two motivations which defines the experience of reading dystopian fiction, a relationship which Text World Theory can most effectivly bring to light.
Text World Theory (Gavins, 2007; Werth, 1999), as a unified and multidimensional model of discourse processing, allows for a combined micro- and macro-level analysis which takes into account both the particular texture of dystopian writing and the human experience of reading dystopian texts. Through the application of a Text-World-Theory perspective, I therefore purpose to draw out the distinctive and defining characteristics of the dystopian short story, as specified by the language of dystopia itself and as further delineated by dystopian readers. Text World Theory is an apposite framework for addressing these two concerns, as being a systematic and unified model, it ‘aims to show how real-world contexts influence the production of discourse and how that discourse is perceived and conceptualised in everyday situations’ (Gavins, 2014: 7). As such, the application of Text World Theory to my chosen sample of dystopian short stories enables the exploration of the emotional, often estranging experience of reading dystopian texts; the ethical or affected responses of dystopian readers; the social, cultural and political contexts of dystopian writing; the potential motivations of dystopian authors; and the intricacies of the language of dystopia itself. Given the scope of this project, such explorations act as a foundation for future applications with the resultant analyses acting further to test and augment existing applications of Text World Theory, offering the first extended analyses of both dystopian world-building and of the experience of dystopian reading more broadly.
So as to examine multiple aspects of the dystopian reading experience, a mixed-methods approach is taken that incorporates rigorous stylistic analysis of introspective reading alongside data from both naturalistic and experimental empirical studies. I focus initially on my own introspective reading, offering a systematic Text-World-Theory analysis of ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries’. I establish my investigation of dystopian text-worlds and begin to highlight the emotional and ethical significance of dystopian world-building to the overall experience of dystopian reading. I then go on to test different reader response methods, gauging their usefulness to my investigation and highlighting the types of reading experience they illuminate. As this is the first extended study of the dystopian short story, such a mixed-methods approach is particularly useful as it enables me to examine a broad range of reader responses and take into account different stages of reading and multiple reading contexts, all of which impact upon experiential reading practice. By drawing each of these methods together alongside my own Text-World-Theory analysis, I aim to present a multifaceted and complete perspective of the experience of reading the dystopian short story.
1.1 Thesis Outline The thesis comprises nine chapters. The current chapter provides a brief introduction to the aims and motivations of this research, highlighting my analytical focus and mapping the parameters of my study.
Chapter 2 provides a review of existing literary criticism surrounding the development of dystopian narratives from their inception in the nineteenth century through to the present day. I map the literary-historical development of dystopian writing and highlight the limitations of period-specific sub-genre labelling. The chapter also addresses the evolving hybridity of the dystopia and details the surge in peripheral dystopian mediums, such as digital narratives, videogames and films. At the close of the chapter, I review existing work on the short story, as the key medium addressed in this thesis, and introduce the four dystopian short stories on which I place analytical focus. The texts examined are George Saunders’ ( 2014g) ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries’, Paolo Bacigalupi’s ( 2010a) ‘Pump Six’, Genevieve Valentine’s ( 2012) ‘Is this your day to join the Revolution?’ and Adam Marek’s ( 2012b) ‘Dead Fish’. Following this introduction, I outline the limitations of existing literary-critical approaches to dystopian fiction and propose the need for a systematic and cognitive approach to dystopia that takes into account the poetic craft of dystopian narratives themselves and the particular experience of dystopian reading.
In Chapter 3, I offer a critical introduction to the fields of stylistics and cognitive poetics, which provide the overarching framework for this research. Following a brief review of each of these disciplines and the key works undertaken in these areas, I narrow my focus to address stylistic and cognitive-poetic approaches to fictional consciousness in Section 3.3. The study of fictional minds is particularly neglected in literary criticism of the dystopian genre and is consequently of key focus within my own research. Throughout the thesis, I aim to draw a link between the construal of dystopian minds and emotional readerly responses to dystopian texts, a connection, I argue comes to light through world-building. After mapping the parameters of existing approaches to fictional minds, I then move on to introduce the primary analytical model applied within this thesis – Text World Theory. I provide a detailed outline of Werth’s (1999) original model, including a review of its early influences and critical development. Section 3.4 maps out the structure of the text-world model and offers an overview of contemporary practice.
Chapter 4 concerns the empirical-stylistic methods drawn upon in support of my own introspective analysis throughout this thesis. The chapter opens with a brief overview of research into the ‘reader’ in stylistics and details my own use of the term ‘reader’ throughout my work. The remainder of the chapter provides an introduction to each of my forthcoming case studies and the methods they incorporate. Section 4.2, details existing research into the use of online reader response data and maps the parameters of my own use of online reader reviews in support of my analysis of ‘Pump Six’ in Chapter 6. Section 4.3 reviews experimental reader response methods and the ‘think-aloud’ method in particular. I examine the benefits of introspective protocol analysis and summarise the written think-aloud study conducted in support of my own analysis of ‘Is this your day to join the Revolution?’. Finally, 4.4 discusses the study of reading group discourse from a stylistic perspective and introduces the small reading group study that provides support for my analysis of ‘Dead Fish’. Within the boundaries of this chapter, I also argue for the benefits of taking a mixed-methods approach to this research and the rigorous, multifaceted insights such methods can provide into the experience of dystopian reading.
The following four chapters present individual case studies that address the experience of reading the dystopian short story. Each of these analysis chapters is framed within Text World Theory and, in employing cognitive-poetic tools and theoretical research from within narratology, cognitive linguistics and cognitive science, they provide rigorous, text-driven insights into reading dystopian short stories.
Chapter 5 takes for its focus George Saunders’ ( 2014g) ‘The Semplica Girl Diaries’. I examine the experience of reading dystopian epistolary narrative and the relationship between the epistolary narrator, the implied reader and the narratee. I discuss the satirical nature of Saunders’ discourse and detail the estranging experience of world-building promoted by the text. I argue that the reader’s conceptualisation of the Semplica girls determines an ethical and emotional reading of the story. In expanding upon Palmer’s (2004) work into fictional minds, I suggest that multiple continuing-consciousness frames may be created for a particular character and go on to propose a more nuanced model of social cognition in terms of Text World Theory. By approaching social minds from a Text-World-Theory perspective I aim to bring added clarity to Palmer’s notion of intermental thought and ameliorate the more contentious aspects of his original model. In particular, I argue that the term ‘intermental framing’ be integrated into the text-world model at the modal-world level, as a replacement term for ‘intermental mind’ so as to better distinguish those ontological structures which are dependant upon group or collective thought; collective thought in itself being a distinctive feature of dystopian characterisation.
Paolo Bacigalupi’s ( 2010a) ‘Pump Six’ is the subject of Chapter 6, as I move on to look at the creation of ecodystopian text-worlds. In this chapter, I expand upon my discussion of ethical reader responses to dystopian narratives, applying theoretical insights from psychology and Stockwell’s (2013) work on encoded preferred responses. I argue that the apparent authenticity and believability of Bacigalupi’s text-worlds encourages the reader to make cross-world mappings between their real-world present and the possible future worlds of the narrative, a dynamic which is effectively brought to light in the discussion of discourse-world to text-world relationships. This argument is supported with online reader response data which is incorporated into my analysis. In expanding upon my discussion of dystopian minds, I also pay attention to the attribution of consciousness to the posthuman in this particular narrative, which in itself further advances my examination of ethics and dystopian reading.
In Chapter 7, I address the ambiguous text-worlds of Genevieve Valentine’s ( 2012) ‘Is this your day to join the Revolution?’. The analysis in this chapter centres on the readerly processes of world-building and cognitive estrangement. I advance discussions of world-building to consider the emotional experience of conceptualising a particular world, placing emphasis upon the use of personal discourse-world knowledge, schema awareness and narrative interrelation (Mason, 2016). The multidimensional nature of Text World Theory offers a unified framework under which to explore each of these concepts, enabling me to address the importance of those experiential factors associated with reading alongside the linguistic make-up of the narrative itself. In support of my discussion, I draw upon data collected as part of a written think-aloud study to investigate the developmental stages of interpretation that occur during, rather than after reading. The analysis centres upon my participants’ understanding of the text-worlds of ‘Is this your day to join the Revolution?’ and their identification and empathy with the narrative’s primary protagonist.
Chapter 8 explores Adam Marek’s ( 2012b) ‘Dead Fish’ which, in its presentation of an ecodystopian narrative, reflects the recent hybridity in the dystopian genre. I place particular focus on the categorisation of the story as an ‘unnatural narrative’ (Alber and Heinze, 2011; Alber et al., 2010) and the experience of conceptualising unnatural minds. As will be discussed in 8.2, ‘Dead Fish’ is narrated by an unidentified, first-person narrator whose ontological status is ambiguous and whose vital status is unknown. I draw upon reading-group interpretations during my investigation of the narrator so as to gain broader insights into how such minds are commonly perceived. I draw upon the reading-group data in support of my own introspective analysis of the worlds of Marek’s text and the experience of becoming immersed in or disassociated from an unnatural narrative.
Finally, in Chapter 9, I offer a closing discussion of the key analyses and findings presented throughout this study. I evaluate the main contributions made by this thesis to the areas of literary criticism, stylistics and cognitive poetics and propose several future directions this research might take. A final review of this thesis that takes into account its original intentions, motivations and theoretical significance is then offered in 9.3.