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Plotting against Probability: Unruly Sequences, Impossible Fictions, Contradictory Worlds


Event Summary

In this talk Brian Richardson (University of Maryland) reflected on impossible fictions, including the concept of probability in fiction and the lack of a corresponding notion and portics of improbable fiction. What laws or practices determine the sequencing of improbable scenarios? What is pedestrian improbability as opposed to brilliant improbability? Richardson discussed ways that contradiction is theorized in narrative poetics, both at the more local level and at the level of fictional worlds. He attempted to bring these related issues together as he analyzed multiversion narratives – that is, narratives in which, unknown to the characters, many of the same key scenes, events, and settings are repeated and varied, such as Tom Tykwer’s film Lola rennt. Richardson explored some narratological questions that multiversion narratives invite us to probe, such as: What are the typical trajectories of such fiction? How do such works conclude? What are the implications for characterization and character theory? And what is the larger function of such odd works?

This event was presented as part of the Impossible Fictions conference, March 2–5, 2022.


Brian Richardson


Brian Richardson is a Professor of English at the University of Maryland, where he teaches modern and postmodern literature and narrative theory.