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Poetics of the contemporary American fictional imaginary : Rikki Ducornet, Steven Millhauser, Patricia Eakins


The creation of imaginary worlds is a thing that, in the field of fiction, seems self-evident. However, the concept of “imaginary” resists definition, and the research on the literary imaginary multiply to try and break this resistance in order to reach a definition. We propose in this thesis to take the opposing view of the current research on the imaginary and to reflect not on what could be a definition of the contemporary imaginary or on a classification of the images that compose it, but rather on the ways in which it manifests itself both in fiction and in language. In other words, we aim at studying the characteristics of the contemporary American fictional imaginary in language, and at seeing if they can enable us to confirm the existence of a poetics of the imaginary.We are particularly interested in the part of contemporary American fiction (from the 20th to the 21st century) that experiments with the creation of imaginary worlds and with language. In these fictions, imaginary constructions constitute the keystone of fictional writing, which explains why such fictions are the most appropriate to reveal what would constitute a poetics of the contemporary American fictional imaginary. Among these stand the literally extra-ordinary fictions of Rikki Ducornet, Steven Millhauser and Patricia Eakins, whom this thesis aims at making better known. We are looking forward to studying the narrative elements in the fictions of these three authors which could contribute, through their similarities and differences, to revealing the characteristics of a poetics of the imaginary in contemporary American fiction.The presence of the real (that of the reader) through numerous historical, geographical and literary references among fictions that unfold boundlessly rich imaginaries can seem paradoxical, but the analysis shows that the real is the breeding-ground of the imaginary and allows for both the birth of the imaginary and the fact that it belongs to the domain of what is plausible. In each fiction we study, the fictional imaginary becomes so pregnant that it is able to modify the data that constitute the real, including space and time, to create the foundations of its own world. This pushed us into studying, with the help of Michel Foucault’s conceptualizations, the characteristics of the heterotopias created by the narrative voices in the fictions we focus on in this thesis, and into questioning the very nature of the imaginary as it is usually perceived (that is to say, as a “world” in itself, distinct from the real). It is actually a mode of the real, and the round trips between both “worlds” are made easier in fiction by the unifying virtues of the characters’ perceptions: the fictional worlds are based on descriptions that testify of an understanding of the world closely linked to sensory perceptions. The study of the characteristics of these journeys between the real and the imaginary is necessary both to see how the imaginary functions in relation to the real, and what tools the three authors use to write the imaginary.

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