Research seminar April 17, 2024

Talks by Alberto Voltolini and Fotis Jannidis

Speaker: Alberto Voltolini (University of Turin, Italy)

Title: What Makes a Version of a Work a Version of That Work? (slides)

Abstract: There are two main ways of individuating fictional works. A first one is Meinongian: fictional works are sets of propositions that involve fictional characters (e.g. Zalta 1983). A second one is artefactualist: a fictional work is a composition that traces back to its moment of origin and its author’s intentions (Thomasson 1999). To me, the first way is preferable, for it enables to provide an ontological proof concerning the existence, in the overall realm of beings, of fictional characters (Voltolini 2006). Yet, it has a consequence that for some is unpleasant: the identity conditions of a fictional work are so rigid that if one changes a single proposition of such a work, one obtains a different work. As a further result, it seems to turn out that different versions of one and the same work are simply different works, since they involve such a change. In this talk, I will try to dispense with this further implication by relying on the identity of games of make-believe that underlie the generation of fictional characters. Appealing to this identity will hopefully explain why different versions of a work are indeed more intimate to each other than versions of different works.

Bio: Alberto Voltolini is a Full Professor of Philosophy of Language at the University of Turin. Among other research interests, he has extensively worked on the ontology of fiction and fictional objects, with lots of publications. His books include: How Ficta Follow Fiction. A Syncretistic Account of Fictional Entities (Springer, 2006), A Syncretistic Theory of Depiction (Palgrave, 2015), Down But Not Out: A Reassessment of Critical Turning Points in Analytic Philosophy (Springer, 2022) and a forthcoming book on intentionality. Together with Fred Kroon, he has also written the entry on fictional objects in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Suggested readings:
Orilia, F. (2006). “Identity Across Time and Stories”, in A. Bottani and R. Davies, eds., Modes of Existence, Ontos Verlag, Frankfurt, 193-222

Thomasson, A.L., (1999) Fiction and Metaphysics: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Voltolini, A. (2012). “Crossworks ‘identity’ and intrawork* identity of a fictional character”. Revue internationale de philosophie 66, 561-576


Speaker: Fotis Jannidis (Julius Maximilians Universität Würzburg, Germany)

Title: Modeling attributes of literary characters

Abstract: Figures are a central topic of research in computational literary studies. However, the relevant research differs significantly from research in the field of narratology. On the one hand, this is due to the different affordances of these approaches: certain aspects of literary characters could be analyzed more easily with computational methods than others – and that makes it more obvious that the same is true for the narratological analysis, but these praxeological aspects are seldom reflected. So, the different affordances of the different approaches emphasize different aspects as ‘obvious’. On the other hand, the work in the CLS is subject to the conditions of an empirical framework: Concepts are under much more plausibility pressure due to sub-steps such as annotation by several annotators and the calculation of the interannotator agreement, the demands of operationalizability as well as the application to very many texts. To discuss the tension between the two approaches, the starting point for my presentation is therefore my own pragmatic model of the character in narrative texts, according to which a character can be described as a mental model of a model reader, which is built up in the course of a text via a semiotic process of attribute aggregation. A character description in this sense is then confronted with the model of the character based on the analytical perspectives of CLS, which highlights acts of communication or cooccurrences in the same text span. In this perspective characters are most of all entities described by the entities linked with them in a social network, while attributes are much rarer in texts. The question is what kind of theoretical assumptions would allow us to integrate these two perspectives into one framework.

Bio: Fotis Jannidis is professor for Digital Humanities and Literary Studies in Würzburg. He worked on a narratological theory of literary character (Jannidis 2004, Eder/Jannidis/Schneider 2010) ; nowadays his research is focused on the analysis of narrative texts with computational means including a formal description and analysis of character (Konle/Hilger/Jannidis 2023). More:

Suggested readings:

Jannidis 2004. Figur und Person. Beitrag zu einer historischen Narratologie. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Eder/Jannidis/Schneider 2010. Jens Eder, Fotis Jannidis Ralf Schneider (ed.): Characters in Fictional Worlds. Understanding Imaginary Beings in Literature, Film, and Other Media. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Konle/Hilger/Jannidis 2023. Leonard Konle, Agnes Hilger, Fotis Jannidis: On Character Perception and Plot Structure of German Romance Novel. In: Artjoms Sela, Fotis Jannidis, Iza Romanowska (eds.): Proceedings of the Computational Humanities Research Conference 2023, Paris, France, December 6-8, 2023. CEUR Workshop Proceedings 3558, p. 592-615.