Five Strands of Fictionality

The Institutional Construction of Contemporary American Fiction

Daniel Punday


Literary Criticism/American/General
240 pp. 6x9

$35.95 paper 978-0-8142-5678-7
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The author recommends the following links:

The Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present

The International Society for the Study of Narrative

The Sackner Archive of Visual and Concrete Poetry


The Institute for the Future of the Book


“Daniel Punday’s newest book offers a lucid, erudite, and multifaceted discussion of the nature and functions of fictionality. The discussion is engaging, insightful, and accessible, in spite of the complex theories that this book unpacks. In the process, the author reevaluates several strands of recent postmodern fiction, accompanying theoretical arguments with detailed analyses of specific narrative texts, allowing a reader less versed in theory to see concepts at work in more intuitive, experiential prose.” —Marcel Cornis-Pope, professor of English, Virginia Commonwealth University

Five Strands of Fictionality by Daniel Punday is one of the most original and wide-ranging studies I have read in the field of contemporary American literature. Indeed, here is a book that could alter the complexion of the field since the author takes the ‘constructionist’ view of literature and literary culture all the way down, to the institutions as well as the words and the published works.” —Joseph Tabbi, professor of English, University of Illinois at Chicago

Fictions, we are so often told, are everywhere in America today. The extravagant claims of advertising are everywhere, much of the day’s news concerns “pseudo-events” like rallies or ceremonies staged so that they can be reported on, and philosophers doubt even the possibility of any knowledge being objective. Thus we seem less and less able to distinguish between the real and the invented.

In Five Strands of Fictionality: The Institutional Construction of Contemporary American Fiction, Daniel Punday examines the “postmodern” expansion of fictionality—the feeling today that the line between the real and the invented is harder to draw—and argues that this feeling reflects a struggle by different cultural groups to define how we tell and use “literary” stories. He discusses the literary texts of John Barth, Alice Walker, and Ishmael Reed; paraliterary forms like science fiction and electronic writing; and resolutely nonliterary texts, especially role-playing games, in terms of how each responds to the institution of literature through its definition of fictionality.

For too long, postmodernism has been described by easy generalizations—relativist, indeterminate, commercialized—that have rendered the term nearly worthless. Punday applies a more nuanced understanding of fictionality to a variety of contemporary narrative forms that occupy different locations within postmodern literary culture. Approaching postmodernism as a configuration of institutions that legitimize fictionality, he illuminates the nature of creative writing and the conflicts between different literary groups in America today.

Daniel Punday is professor of English, Purdue University Calumet.