The background image on this website is a screenshot from Ponyo (Japan, 2008). Whimsical and mysterious, this "fusion" of the waterworld and cosmos depicts one of the naively optimistic and unashamedly beautiful fictional worlds created by the legendary Japanese master of animation Hayao Miyazaki. His work is discussed in several chapters of Fictional Worlds.
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Reviews and Resonances
From recent (2016) reviews of Fictional Worlds in academic journals (more on ABOUT and FOR EDUCATORS):
"Alexander’s exploration sheds decisive light on the foundations, characteristics, and possibilities of fictional worlds."
Gerald Prince, Professor, University of Pennsylvania, author of Narratology and A Dictionary of Narratology
Book Review "Exploring Stories," Semiotica: Journal of International Association of Semiotic Studies, Issue 209, March 2016
"Richly detailed, generous-spirited and inspiring book... filled with many intriguing ideas... Profoundly useful."
Ellen Berry, author of Transcultural Experiments; Founder and Co-Editor of the journal Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge
The Russian Review, Issue 75, April 2016
the scholars' Reflections on Fictional Worlds
"Groundbreaking... Compelling... A page turner... Wonderfully accessible! One of the most impressive recent books." –– Andrew Horton, Professor, University of Oklahoma, author of The Last Modernist and Screenwriting for the Global Market.
“This brilliant book is far more than a screenwriting manual. Ranging across the globe and throughout history we have here a dazzling survey of the intellectual foundations and possibilities of the cinema. This is must-reading for anyone who is interested in how and, more importantly, why we tell stories on screen.” –– David Desser, Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois; author of Eros plus Massacre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema; co-author of American Jewish Filmmakers, and former Editor-in-Chief of Cinema Journal
“A new theory of narrative, which I find both convincing and uplifting. Illuminating and useful anthropological theory of genres. Terrific choice of examples, as well as the analysis. ‘Dos and Don’ts: Creative Solutions for the Formulaic Plot’ will be immensely helpful to practitioners…Among interesting ideas: the murder mystery—as tragedy in reverse! And the role of film noir... And ‘Ulysses as a Peter Pan for grownups’!! — I love it!” –– Linda Hutcheon, Distinguished Professor Emerita, University of Toronto, author of A Poetics of Postmodernism, The Politics of Postmodernism, and A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms
“An innovative approach to teaching screenwriting, based in original scholarship of real importance. The book’s ideas are of impressive originality and practicality, and expounded with exemplary clarity. Dr. Alexander does a splendid job making a case for the new and more productive understanding of genre. The book features an elegant commentary on the distinction between film as ritual and ceremony, with implications for narratology. There is much to recommend this fine volume, the writing is generally elegant. The chapter on mystery is so brilliant that it alone would make this book worthy of a semester’s study.” –– R. Bruce Elder, filmmaker; author of Harmony and Dissent: Film and Avant-Garde Art Movements, and DADA, Surrealism and the Cinematic Effect
“There's much I admire about Fictional Worlds, starting with the core project of bridging between narrative theory, anthropological perspectives on myth and ritual, and work in screen studies. I have never seen the books addressing Joseph Campbell's ‘Hero's Journey’ with relation to screenwriting in the exhaustive detail and with the nuance that Alexander deploys here, and with such a rich array of examples. What I admire is Alexander's insistence on historical and cultural specificity, even while tracing connections in the kinds of stories that have emerged across times and cultures.” –– Henry Jenkins, a Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts, and Education, University of Southern California; author of five books including Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, and coauthor of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture.
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Below is a tribute piece to the scholars who were the first to read and publicly support Fictional Worlds -- Henry Jenkins, David Desser, Linda Hutcheon and Bruce Elder, as well as a discussion of these writers' influential scholarly ideas, as part of an ongoing dialogue.
The first readers of the 1st edition -- the 428-page tome Fictional Worlds (October 2013) -- have written their reviews, and sent their blurbs, for the book cover. Who are the first readers? David Desser is one of the most influential Editors of Cinema Journal, who helped to shape the discipline of film studies in the 1990s. Linda Hutcheon is one of the world's leading philosophers of culture. Not only did her groundbreaking work on postmodern art, truly of anthropological importance, outline an emerging cultural and narrative paradigm, but also warned of emerging socio-historical developments, signaled by postmodernism. Bruce Elder is an award-winning director, and one of the world's utmost academic authorities on avant-garde art, particularly on screen, and an original artist-filmmaker in his own right. Currently at the University of Southern California, Professor Henry Jenkins was the founder and long-term head of the prominent humanities program in comparative media studies at MIT, as well as the brain and the drive behind the acclaimed millennial series of international conferences Media in Transition. Often compared to Marshall McLuhan for his impact on many disciplines, he is one of the leading philosophers of media culture. Possibly, Henry Jenkins by now has matched the influence of his famous predecessor and "mentor."
McLuhan was a paradoxalist, who tried to attract attention to the radical shifts in media communications, yet undetectable by his contemporaries. Jenkins is a "synthesist," who has been working tirelessly to fuse the best of the two worlds - the old and the new - in emerging media arts. McLuhan lived in the era when interdisciplinary studies were neither understood, nor welcome. He therefore became an armchair philosopher, who conceived brilliant ideas and conveyed them to the few, able to grasp his innovative paradigms. Jenkins, living in the era of global communication and Internet access, is a "field worker," out there, in the trenches of media industries, determined to influence them to ensure quality and positive change. McLuhan was a recluse - for unfortunate reasons (his era did not allow the transcultural communications afforded by the Internet age) - until this professor of English was "discovered by the world," and praised for his visionary ideas and interdisciplinary breadth; much later than he should have been. Jenkins, a multidisciplinary thinker from the start of his career at MIT, is continually "discovering the world": he is organizing international conferences, spreading the ideas of "spreadable media," and is operating his "world forum" for discussions on the media and the humanities, visited by people from every continent. Jenkins is a conscious and active public intellectual, programmatically inclusive, willing to engage hundreds with his scholarly visions and integrate into his thought process. McLuhan's role was in warning humanity of the radical change that may spell dangers. Jenkins took upon himself a role of a cautious driver who is moving carefully and thoughtfully, with a goal of transporting us safely around the edge. Perhaps the world needs both types of seers that we could be grateful to, for their tireless search for the new paths.
Why do people read, and comment on, the writings of others?
There may be many reasons. Among them is one reason I call resonances.
For example, David Desser came up with the idea of "global noir" or "transnational noir." He suggested that this cultural/media form has a future. It is hard to predict what narrative forms will emerge and flourish; and yet he made this bold prediction. (See his "Global Noir: Genre Film in the Age of Transnationalism" in Genre Reader IV, 2012, ed. by Barry Keith Grant). Fictional Worlds applies an anthropological analysis to the study of film noir, explaining its enduring cultural function and the cultural need behind it; thus independently supporting Professor Desser's groundbreaking and insightful ideas.
In the 1990s, Linda Hutcheon challenged and changed a general understanding of what "narrative" is. She outlined new trends and explained that a narrative can be non-linear, branching, self-reflexive and even - 'narcissistic'! She redrew the map of narrative theory and pointed at new creative opportunities, especially relevant to the era of new-media storytelling. Prof. Hutcheon also warned that the discussions of form (poetics) is inseparable from the debates on the social implications of artistic expression (politics). Writing about complex issues of narrative theory, she showed that one can write with courage (fearlessly confronting stereotypes), and wit; so the text about theory (!) can be an art form in itself. She revived the forgotten art of writing about art with elegance, sophistication, and pleasure; not shying away from playing with paradoxes and then resolving them by offering new perspectives. This is how the critics wrote about exciting emerging art in the era of modernism, the early 1900s and the 1920s. It is possible that for the above reasons Fictional Worlds picked up her curiosity for its hypotheses on narrative form and genre.
Bruce Elder, investigating experimental forms in visual and screen arts, including modernism, avant-garde and surrealism, involves in his discussions no less than... the universe. He suggests that communication methods in these art forms involve the kind of signals (light signals, vibrations, rhythms, and colors, as well as the language of geometrical forms) that are circulated by the Natural World (cosmos, perhaps?) for important reasons, we cannot yet understand but must receive and process. If not yet rationally, these coded messages must be embraced by innovative artists-seers, for possible future decoding by fellow human beings, for the sake of advanced knowledge and survival. These ideas of Professor Elder resonate with the approaches of the early symbolists and modernists (Kandinsky, etc.), as well as the modern-day thinkers such as Leonard Shlain (I had a privilege of teaching a course using his book Art and Physics). Perhaps, Prof. Elder was interested in Fictional Worlds because of the discussion of narrative forms and genres as "signal systems."
Henry Jenkins, almost single-handedly in the 1990s, started a crusade for the meaningful new media art. He tried to make sure that the videogames would not be just about guns and explosions, but will include rewarding stories, enlightening adventures, and viable lessons. At MIT, Professor Jenkins came up with the idea of "Homer on the Holodeck" for his course title - a metaphor for the art forms with limitless imagination, yet with the sort of wisdom the Homer-like archetypal narratives deliver to humankind (in his title he paraphrased Hamlet on the Holodeck, a seminal book by Janet H. Murray). Henry Jenkins taught a full-year course on Vladimir Propp's algebra of storytelling, and set the standards for the videogame design to aspire to be no less than the new Homers. Professor Jenkins inspired and educated hundreds of videogame designers who have joined the industry; hence his impact on videogame as a meaningful cultural form is enormous. Perhaps because Fictional Worlds shows a step-by-step way of how a variety of exciting yet meaningful adventure stories can be constructed, he read this book.
Writing and thinking about culture and society is like talking or singing in a chorus: we look for a tune from others, get energized by debates, and there are many exchanges of recognizable signals, resonances, and accords. Consciously or unconsciously, we talk to others in our writings, stand on the shoulders of giants, and try to inspire those who listen, including students and artists. There is a sort of fluidity in developing ideas, astonishing each other, embracing differences, synchronizing insights, and trying to create unison.
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