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Impossibility, Fiction, and (Make-)Belief


Event Summary

In this talk Murray Smith (University of Kent) opened up a novel perspective on impossibility – taken in the broad sense to encompass logical contradictions, contingent impossibilities, and values to which we are “imaginatively resistant” – in fictions. Smith’s argument took note of a recently developed position in philosophical aesthetics that disputes the orthodox distinction between fiction (understood in terms of imagining or make-belief) and nonfiction (understood in terms of belief). Without collapsing the important distinction between fiction and nonfiction, the thrust of this emerging position is that fictions both import and export states of belief, and cannot be understood adequately in terms of imagining or make-belief alone. To the extent that this insight is correct, impossible fictions take on a renewed salience, insofar as these fictions actively confront our beliefs (or at least, particular subsets of beliefs). Such fictions thereby take on renewed interest not only on their own terms, but in terms of the light they shed on conventional fictions (that is, those that do not foreground impossibilities, but rather aim to engage us on the territory running between the possible and the probable). Smith explored this hypothesis with a particular (though not exclusive) emphasis on the case of cinematic fiction, drawing on works by David Lynch, Alain Resnais, and John Smith.

This talk was presented as part of the Impossible Fictions conference at the Neubauer Collegium, March 2–5, 2022.


Murray Smith


Murray Smith is Professor of Film and Director of the Aesthetics Research Centre at the University of Kent.