Possible Purple People
Characters used in novels are all fictional, whether based on actual individuals or not. Literary characters, even those based in whole or in part on actual individuals, are all fictional. All characters in fiction are re-presentations, limited by language and by the limitations of the possible worlds in which they exist.
Authors have three options when creating possible individuals with which to populate their novels. Characters may be actual, fictionalized actual, or fictional. While Truman Capote's non-fiction novel, In Cold Blood, is entirely populated by characters based on actual characters, most of the novels included on the Fiction/Nonfiction course syllabus this semester include characters of more than one of these types. The possible worlds of Marin Amis' Money, for example, are populated by predominantly fictional individuals. The exception is Martin Amis, the character who, like his author, is an author. Peter Carey's novel, My Life As A Fake, is populated by both fictional and fictionalized actual characters. The novel fictionalizes actual people involved in the Ern Malley affair, like Stewart and McAuley, who become the fictional character Christopher Chubb, and Max Harris, who becomes David Weiss. Carey also further fictionalizes the fictional character that Stewart and McAuley invented, Ern Malley. In My Life As a Fake, Malley becomes the character Bob McCorkle, and unlike the entirely fictional Malley, Carey, this fictional character becomes manifested as a supposedly actual character, albeit only within the possible world of the novel.
All instantiations of fictional characters are essentially schemata: a collection of variables that can be resolved to be either true or false. In computer programming terms, each begins with a class object; this equates, in Rescher's article "How Many Possible Worlds Are There?" to the generic. The possible individual begins as a type: adult, cat, boy, girl. Specifics are then detailed; variables are turned on, or off. The process of describing the possible individual quickly becomes engaged with the process of defining the possible world of the novel; according to Rescher, the two cannot be maintained separately. He writes:
•1. The only way to identify a possible world is by indicating the individuals that are to populate it.
•2. The only feasible way to identify a possible individual would be with reference to the world to which it belongs-as the only individual in that world to answer to a certain description. (40?)
Carey's development of McCorkle, for example, is very closely tied into McCorkle's interactions with the possible world of the novel. From the narrator - an existent object in the possible world of the novel, we learn that she learned about him from Slater, yet another existing object:
In any case, he said, and his tone was very cool, our Mr. Chubb had what you could only call a phantom pregnancy. That is, he gave birth to a phantom poet, a certain 'Bob McCorkle' who of course never really existed but to whom our bitter little Australian gave a ragingly modern opus: life, death, a whole biography (Carey, 60).
McCorkle is individuated by his relationships to his possible world. The reader's knowledge of him is, by necessity, limited to only the truths that can be discerned about him from the text. When he later appears as existing, complete with physical description, the reader's understanding of him will be modified accordingly - but he will continue to be differentiated by his interactions with the other individuals and objects within the possible world of the novel.
Dolezel writes that "possible worlds do not await discovery in some transcendent depository; they are constructed by the creative activities of human minds and hands" (254). This is true, also, of possible individuals, regardless of the basis of their creation. The possible individuals of fiction are constructed by the author, using language to differentiate them through their interactions with their possible worlds - during which, the possible worlds in which they exist are also being constructed and modified. The difference that evolves from the author's choice of type of fictional character is, however, that the more representative of an actual character the fictional individual is to be, the less variables the author has to work with. Possible people who are not to be related to any actual individuals or situations can be modified in any manner the author wishes. If she wishes to have purple people, for example, as long as she creates a world in which purple people are tolerable. Capote, too, could have created purple people - but had he done so In Cold Blood would then be a very different novel, and clearly no longer one which could be offered as a nonfictional portrayal of actual people engaged in actual events. The more like the actual the author intends the character to be, the less they are likely to push the limits of the essential characteristics of their possible individual or its possible world.
Doležel notes that "Verisimilitude is a requirement of a certain poetics of fiction, not a universal principle of fiction-making" (257). Carey demonstrates this with his handling of McCorkle in My Life As a Fake. To bring McCorkle to life is a very large change to what might perhaps be considered an essential nature of the Ern Malley - which might be why Carey chose to work with fictionalized characters not named for the actual individuals on whom they are based. This observation, however, begs the question of whether a fictional character such as Malley can even have an "essential nature" of being entirely fictional. Can, for that matter, any character, actual or fictional, have essential features? Roderick M. Chisholm argues that essential properties are unworkable, especially within possible worlds. He argues that if an individual (he uses the example of Adam)
does have such essential properties, there is no procedure at all-for finding out what they are. And it also seems to me that there is no way of finding out whether he does have any essential properties. Is there really a good reason, then, for supposing that he does? (7)
The most essential property of Ern Malley would seem to be that he did not exist - and yet in Carey's work, McCorkle comes to life. He is not purple - but he might as well be.
Even when fictional characters are very like their actual counterparts, however, there are significant differences. First, as discussed by Rescher, actual individuals and objects can never be completely described. There is always more that can be said about them, and, according to Rescher, even when the truths - that which can be stated in any actual language - are exhausted, facts remain (405). Facts, he writes, exist independently of language. They are "an actual circumstance or state of affairs" (405). Rescher argues that actual objects and individuals, unlike their fictional counterparts, can always be associated with additional facts. Fictional objects, on the other hand, are finite. It would be possible, albeit boring, to list every known truth about a fictional character. Fictional, or schematic, individuals "will only qualify as particular individuals by linguistic courtesy" (Rescher, 408).
Doležel highlights another key difference between the actual and the fictional object. He writes that the actual world "includes what has actually existed and what will actually exist or happen as well as what now exists or happens. Each possible world, if temporally ordered at all, is a complete world history and not a momentary stage of one" (254). Possible individuals exist only within their possible worlds, and therefore are restricted to the same limitation. They have no existence beyond the scope of the text: no history, and no future. Martin Amis has continued, for example, to live outside of Money, while the Amis of the text has and will forever remain unchanged.
Still needs a conclusion and a Works Cited page... but I think I might get there yet.