Strategies of Fiction (2019)

Stephen Bain

About this exposition

Fictional Worlds as Structures for Public Space Performance is an exposition that fractures into multiple parts, text, performance, spatial design, and creative writing. Fiction is seen as a device for creating shared experience, a familiar process in the performing arts but also observed in the public domain of politics, where a key example is taken to discuss the dynamics of how fiction may be both symbol and action. Relating aesthetics to politics through fiction as a method, a collective influence is confirmed by the event. Fiction is split into various strategies in a poetic reflection on archetypes of space, proposed as 8 distinct fiction-types that open the way for common understanding. Using the format of a screenplay, 8 types are fleshed out and supported by reflections on influential international artworks and theories. Finally these types are used as a tool to analyse my own public space performance experiments in Auckland, New Zealand.
typeresearch exposition
keywordsfiction, performance, public space, event, truth
last modified23/05/2019
affiliationUniversity of Tasmania
published inRuukku Studies in Artistic Research
portal issue11.

Ruukku portal comments: 2
Johnmichael Rossi 21/05/2019 at 12:01

The following peer review was presented to the author during the process and has influenced the final exposition. It is here presented in a slightly edited form.


Johnmichael Rossi


This a compelling and topical article exploring the role and functionality of function in the daunting post-truth era, raising questions around the relationship between performance, fiction and truth; specific to playwriting and theatre-making practices.


The range of theories considered is comprehensive and succinct in its articulation; and the more ‘academic’ Part 1 of the article has good flow, and further guidance by the sub-headings keeps the reader on course.


The opening section/scene of the paper (a prologue of sorts) the crafted Trump/Kim Jong Un encounter leaves the reader speculating on whether or not this text is a verbatim work, a word-for-word transcription depiction of what actually happened; or, is it fictionalization, strategically re-shaped. In its very nature as a ‘play text’ (in format) the work is left hanging over the theoretical analysis. In some respects, this effective, but the writer might consider framing more directly this text from the on-set.


Some of the poignant questions/points that I found to be particularly resonant are:

- “In both these scientific and artistic examples, performance enables fiction to be transformed into fact, the event effectively heralds a new truth. In order for fiction to affect reality, it must still be determined in relation to truth. Can truth therefore be responsive to fiction yet still uphold factual meaning?”

- “The event becomes a key marker for truth. Events and truth have a special relationship with one another. Either truth is upheld by an event, or our understanding of the truth alters to make sense of the event.”

- “Fiction can be said to be strategic in that it assumes a position that cannot be refuted, since it is not claiming to be factual.”


In considering the theme/focus of the journal issue, ‘How to do Things with performance,’ I wonder if the author considers the (play)text itself to be a performance? How does the play form blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction? The closing section, A Performative Turn, comes to a somewhat abrupt halt. I wonder if this is intentional, as to propel the reader into parts 2 and 3, or is there a word limit that is keeping the work constrained. Suggestions below on ‘Layout and orientation’ might offer a resolve to this.


Layout and orientation of the material:

I particularly enjoyed the presentation of practice in Parts 2 and 3, and I wonder if the practice might be disbursed or embedded within the body of the more traditional academic writing (Part 1); Perhaps links within Part 1 that re-direct into the practice, rather than a Part 1, 2, 3 left-to-right orientation. In some respects, the layout implies that the theory is needed to enter the work and I wonder if a different set-up would impress a more two-way relationship between practice and theory.


Particularly with the presentation of Part 3, I found it difficult to get my head into, whereas Part 2 effectively uses internal links out to further information and contexts and opens new screens, which counteracts the succinctness of Part 1 and reflects the nature of PaR toggling between the oriented, organized and orderly versus the rest …


Well done – thoroughly enjoyed reading this work, which is quite thought-provoking.

nimetön/anonym/anonymous 21/05/2019 at 12:04

The following peer review was presented to the author during the process and has influenced the final exposition. It is here presented in a slightly edited form.


Anonymous Reviewer

In this one reader’s idiosyncratic experience, the most interesting aspect of this slightly overwhelming exposition is the poetic interweaving of fiction’s ‘strategies’ and ‘tactics,’ in Parts II and III: the de Certeau’ian framing might be something of an oversimplification, but the author him/herself does speak of “strategies of fiction that are frequently adopted as power systems” (Part II) and “tactics of performance that reveal or test fictional strategies” (Part III). At the same time, Part II frames fiction as ‘structures,’ ‘objects,’ and ‘imagined worlds’ as well, and those outlined in the “fanfiction” screenplay already anticipate the Part III ‘tactics’ (my favorite being the “infinite bundle of sticks”). This does seem to create some ambivalence, between strategies and tactics, and even redundancy, between overlapping parts in the screenplay and Part III: Could some of the former clarify the latter still further? Should Calvino’s influence be stated more overtly, i.e. is it just Polo/Khan/“Cities” or more? Should Larry Bogad be mentioned when it comes to ‘tactical performance’?

But I do not say any of the above as a bad thing. Personally, the Trump/Polo-Kim/Khan ‘transposition’ both irritates me with its certain formality and added length, and still, it also keeps fascinating me as a jarring ‘residue.’ Altogether, the poetic style of Parts II and III, with all the logical inconsistencies it may engender, provides for just the sort of ‘interweaving’ that I presume the RC format is intended to provide: not only an ‘exposition’ of ongoing artistic research, the intertwining affords avenues for further research, thought, action, performance – at least for those readers who resonate with its terms and sensibilities.

This said, the overall ‘terms’ of the piece do appear somewhat overwhelming: there’s stuff here for a whole thesis, and in this limited format, quite necessarily, many of the terms and concepts are left either vague or undefined. Given my confessed sympathy with Part II and III, in other words, I would suggest that the author shuffle the ingredients of Part I once more, perhaps cutting some, perhaps making some of it more explicit. A wide array of theories and theorists are evoked, and they do give important clues to the reader (given that the alleged readership is likely to know at least most of them), but then again, in such number the references can only scratch so many surfaces.

Many of the concepts in Part I suggest contrasts that could also be elaborated on: fiction/truth, event/performance, truth/reality, performativity/fiction? Is there a contrast of fiction being still a matter of ‘signs,’ and performance, of ‘actions,’ and how about when we turn from what the work “represents to what it does”? If the focus is on “affecting reality,” should the notion of performativity be more focal – given also the Austin/Derrida debate on ‘fictional utterances’? If the focus is just ‘fiction,’ it could be more defined even in this intertwining of ‘possible worlds’: early on, it is “the bedrock of theatrical performance and literature,” but I’m not sure if that is something one can just claim as a given? The very notion of ‘power systems’ might deserve some clarification as well.

In short, I don’t feel the grander words of Part I intertwine quite as productively as the more poetic ones do later – though both do leave much to the reader. I may well be reading the whole thing wrong, but against the very titling of the Parts as they stand, I would suggest shifting the whole strategy/tactic framework over to Parts II and III, and clarifying Part I by some shortening and restructuring: what would happen if the sections came in a different order? Are all of them equally necessary (personally I could do without ‘truth’ and ‘event’ but that’s my bad) or would some of them suffice to outline the general kinds of ‘structure’ that are then more poetically elaborated in Parts II and III?

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