Who Are we?
This article seeks to explore the notion of ‘self’ as it pertains to autobiographical writing. Drawing on discourses of literary theory and spirituality, it will show that ‘selfhood’ is not a transparent and unproblematic proposition, and will reveal the impact of this re-evaluation on the fact/fiction dichotomy inherent in autobiographical praxis. The article will also interrogate the ways in which this troubling of the ‘self’ problematizes the ‘paradox of fiction’ and will finally theorise a new modality of the paradox, thereby negotiating a satisfactory reading position for so-called autobiographical writings. The mode of articulation of these issues will be a discussion of the reception of two one-man plays performed by Yama Theatre Productions: Memoires Of A Confused Man (2016) and Are Strings Attached? (2017). These plays have been (and continue to be) performed in both conventional venues and in domestic settings – which is to say in the context of being performed someone’s living room. A discussion of the differences in reception of the plays in these two very different contexts, especially regarding the fact/fiction dichotomy, forms the basis of this article. Here, I will argue that these differences in reception are predicated on two key mechanisms: ‘transfictional disavowal’ and ‘affective metalepsis’.
How true is autobiography?
Yama Theatre Productions was formed in 2012 and their modus operandi is to write and perform pieces of ‘unmediated fictional autobiography’.  Although their plays are sometimes performed in venues, performances usually take place in someone’s living room. The plays have been carefully constructed to work equally well in both contexts. The Stage Manager arrives at the ticket buyer’s house at an agreed time, and orientates the audience. This may involve re-arranging the furniture as well fulfilling more conventional duties. The Stage Manager then leaves and the actor knocks on the door. The play begins from this moment. This is not ‘immersive’ or improvised theatre; the plays are scripted and there is no audience participation. They purport to describe a real life. There is a conceit to explain why the actor has come to the house in each case. In Dead Happy (2012), the character is a Funeral Director who has come to collect a body; in Are Strings Attached? the character is a graffiti artist who has come to throw a piece on the living room wall; in Memoires of A Confused Man, Francis, who has Alzheimer’s disease, thinks it is actually his own home. It is all very plausible, except for the fact that one person seems to be monopolising the conversation. Afterwards, there is a question and answer session between the audience and the actor/writer (this writer).
As a result of these question and answer sessions, now numbering well over 70, we can say that the burning question is always authenticity. Is it autobiography, or is it fiction? This is a question to which there is no straight answer, hence the deliberate oxymoron in Yama’s advertorial publicity: ‘fictional autobiography’. But what does this mean? Surely, if it happened it is true?
Hegel posits an ideal, ‘original history’: bare facts with no embellishment, no omissions and no spin (Hegel 1953: 4). And now, in our post-factual world of ‘fake news’ we know this to be impossible. As Hayden White tells us, ‘all [historical] discourse constitutes the object which it pretends only to describe realistically and to analyse objectively’ (White cited in Renov 1993: 7. Original emphasis). White’s formulation differs from Hegel’s (impossible) original history, undistorted by agenda. Here we have endless deferral of the historical real and no recourse but to constitute it – ergo to render it as a fiction. And it matters very much how we do this, as even the ‘form’ of our narration has content (White 1987). White posits that real events should not ‘speak themselves’. They are admissible as the referent (that which is spoken about) but they should not be self-enunciating (White 1987: 3). And so it is with autobiographical fact. Autobiography is, after all, nothing more than an articulation of a personal ‘history’.
Paul De Man moves us a step further than Hayden White and problematizes the concept of autobiographical reference per se. He shows that behind every text there is not a reality, but another text:
Are we so sure that autobiography depends on reference (as a photo depends on its subject)? […] Is the illusion of reference not in fact a correlation of the structure of the figure, no longer clearly and simply a referent at all, but something more akin to a fiction? (My ellipsis).
(De Man 1979: 920)
There are also various arguments demonstrating the undecidability of autobiography, which stand against the traditional Cartesian position of autobiographical ‘truth’ deriving from a so-called ‘knowing subject’. For Robert A Rosenstone
[t]he reality of the past – national, familial, personal, does not lie in an assemblage of data but in a field of stories – a place where fact, truth, fiction, invention, forgetting and myth are so entangled that they cannot be separated.
(Rosenstone 2005: xiii.)
Finally, for Raymond Williams ‘[t]he autobiographical act spontaneously generates epistemological ambivalence’ (Williams 1980: 269). It is ‘a unique phenomenon, definable neither as fiction nor as non-fiction, not even a mixture of the two. We might view it instead as a unique, self-defining mode of self-referential expression’ (Williams 1980: 271).
From all this we can say that the boundary between autobiography and fiction is blurred, at the very least. Finally, the end product can be reduced to something approaching fiction from at least two critical fronts: namely, the historical and the literary, as argued above.
But what of the subject of the autobiography? Me. The ‘auto’; the ‘self’. That is unassailable, surely? Here I am; things have happened to me. But even this position can be attacked from at least two further quarters: neuroscience and non-duality. Sam Harris, amongst others, argues that scientifically there is no identifiable ‘self’, no special part of the brain which accounts for the persistent intuition that ‘I’ am somehow ‘in’ my body somewhere:
There is no discrete self or ego living like a minotaur in the labyrinth of the brain. And the feeling that there is—the sense of being perched somewhere behind your eyes, looking out at a world that is separate from yourself—can be altered or entirely extinguished. Although such experiences of “self-transcendence” are generally thought about in religious terms, there is nothing, in principle, irrational about them. From both a scientific and a philosophical point of view, they represent a clearer understanding of the way things are.
(Harris 2015: 9)
Spirituality has maintained this for thousands of years in a position which can be articulated thus:
In reality, the gaining of enlightenment consists, not in the addition of a transcendental attainment to an actually existing individual self, but rather merely in the cessation of the delusion that any kind of self exists at all.
(Sangharakshita 2001: 206)
In other words, the self is no more than an idea, a thought. Most humans wander around with a belief in a little someone who lives somewhere inside them – probably located somewhere behind the eyes; a little controller, the internal homunculus, who does all our thinking, acting, reacting and experiencing. He, or she, is both author and owner of all our experience. But can we find such an entity anywhere? If we look, we will find that we cannot. All that we can ever say, or think, about the self remains just that: something said or thought. There is no self, outside of thought. And with that, the Cartesian view collapses (again), with ramifications for autobiography. Traditional autobiography valorised the Cartesian Cogito, the knowing subject, s/he who is able to order her/his life story through the creation of a chronological biographical narrative. This narration equates to the ‘fabula’ of Russian Formalism – the chronological ordering of events – as opposed to the ‘syuzhet’, the (manipulated) order in which they might appear in a purely fictional text for dramatic or literary effect (Bordwell 1985: 49-50). On this view, all we are, at best, is the chronological ‘sense making’ version of our history, predicated on memory. But the imputed ‘self’ arising from this activity is a mere chimera. We simply narrate ourselves into apparent being. In reality, just as a film has no concrete narrator (Bordwell 2005), so too with the so-called self. Like a film, the self is an illusory text, narrated by nobody. There is no a priori narrator. Who would that be, and who could possibly be narrating the narrator’s story? This way lies infinite regress, reflexivity en abyme. In fact, it is the narration itself that we misperceive as a coherent, existing self. Who would you be without your story? No-one at all. Not so much ‘I think therefore I am’ as ‘I think the thought “I am,” therefore I think I am.’
It seems that the truth claims of autobiography now have nowhere to hide. Not only is autobiography, as a mode of literary expression, inherently fictive; anything one may say about the ‘self’ is also always-already a fiction because the posited self is a fiction. Things are looking grim for autobiography. But it gets worse. Let us consider the wholly autobiographical comedy sequence from Are Strings Attached? detailing this writer’s first, abortive, Drama School audition:
My audition for Dartington was typical. Well, I knew all about Dartington. It was just down the road from where I’d been at school. A bunch of old hippies desperately hanging on to the 1960s.
At the audition, we were all herded into a sports hall and asked to adopt a foetal position on the floor. We were then invited to close our eyes and roll around, to “find out who you truly are.” Well, I rolled for all I was worth. I was going to outroll everyone. We were then asked to grow from a small seed into a mature tree and imagine the passing of the years, with our eyes shut all the time, so that we could (in an American accent:) “really experience the seasons, from within.”
I grew with grace and style. I felt the chill of winters, refreshing spring showers, the leafy splendour of indolent summers, and the fading glory of dying autumns.
FORMING A CONTORTED ‘TREE’ SHAPE
I was aged, gnarled and bent, I was magnificent! (A yelp of pain). My back was killing me, but I didn’t care. I was going to get into Dartington! When the class ended I opened my eyes, trembling with expectation. This was going to be my day! But somehow, I had rolled beneath a partitioning curtain, into a disused area of the hall. I had conducted my entire performance to several stacks of empty chairs, quite invisible to the audition panel.
After that, I had a short interview in a tiny little room that might have been a part-time broom cupboard. And the first question the tutor asked me was, “So… (He strokes his beard. Scots accent:) Tell me. Do you ever think of yourself as being … like an onion?”
BEAT. (A bit of bewildered, gauche mugging here)
Well, not really. I mean, I like onions… Some of my best friends are onions!
(A short desperate laugh.)
(As if he got in:) Amazingly… (BEAT) I didn’t get in.
To what extent is this autobiographical? Is it now a mere story, a narrative like any other fictional narrative? Is it legitimate to claim that I am still the person to whom that event happened? For example, I can easily show that I am not the person I was when I was five years old. I do not have the same opinions, attitudes, or tastes now as I did then (in most cases), and certainly bear little physical resemblance to that five-year-old. A genuine anecdote about that period, when retold in the present, seems as if it happened to ‘someone else’. If this is so, then the event has truly become fictional and ‘autobiography’ does not exist outside of that fiction. Although spoken discourse tends to minimise the discontinuity, the gap that exists between the autobiographical writer him/herself and the discursive, lexical ‘I’ appearing in the written account (Williams 1980: 274), a crack remains. This is the premise from which we work at Yama, and our shows exploit this paradoxical ambiguity.
DOG, the protagonist of Are Strings Attached? claims to be six feet nine inches tall, a blond haired, blue eyed Nordic sportsman with a high, squeaky voice. He claims to be a graffiti artist, tennis star, and actor. He claims to be an elective mute and finally, towards the end of the play, claims to have disappeared. Now, given that all of this takes place in somebody’s living room, and given that the actor is in fact five feet six inches tall with black hair and brown eyes, is fifty-eight years old and speaks – in a conventionally modulated voice – throughout the piece, we can say that these mismatches point to the non-indexical nature of representation in the play. In one sense at least, an acceptable concrete referent cannot be found. Yet audiences consistently believe me. This is not a case of simple ‘suspension of disbelief’ because the belief extends well beyond the conclusion of the play. During the question and answer session which always follows the performance, audiences repeatedly ask me ‘did you really play at Wimbledon?’ (which I did not) and ‘are you really a graffiti artist?’ (which I am not), and other such questions. Interestingly, these questions are never asked after performances in conventional venues.
So why are ‘domestic’ audiences more credulous than their ‘theatrical’ counterparts? I propose two causes: affective metalepsis (the nomenclature is my own) and transfictional disavowal (El Miskin 1993: 73). To take the second term first, we can say that transfictional disavowal is the mechanism whereby the spectator recognises that what s/he is seeing is false, yet the truth claiming conventions of the form, as a discourse of truth, overpower even repeated indications of inauthenticity from within the text itself, and paratextually (de Seife nd: 9).
Audiences clearly form complex relationships with Are Strings Attached?. Paratextually, they have seen the play advertised in a theatre programme, they have booked a ticket, and they have been briefed by a Stage Manager. They may even have seen the actor performing in other plays on previous occasions. On the other hand, the space in which the performance takes place is somebody’s living room. This is a ‘real’ space, the use of which introduces a level of ontological indeterminacy, independent of the script and performance style. This is not a space in which people expect to be deliberately misled. The actor shares the space with the audience. There is no stage, no dividing line between ‘worlds’. This domestic context acts as a powerful truth claim, as does the absence of any theatrical paraphernalia, and this seems to trump all paratextual cues, and all internal textual cues, signalling the ‘falsity’ of many of the autobiographical claims. When the audience discovers that the performer also wrote the play the mechanism of transfictional disavowal is complete. At this point audiences find it difficult not to read it all as autobiographical fact. Even though my physical presence as a diminutive, bald, middle-aged man of Mediterranean extraction clearly belies all such claims, audiences repeatedly ask, ‘did you really play at Wimbledon?’ and so on.
The other factor in the production of this unbelievable belief effect is what I choose to call ‘affective metalepsis’. The term derives from Gérard Genette’s discussion of narrative world levels, in which he states that ‘[a]ny event a narrative recounts is at a diegetic level immediately higher than the level at which the narrating act producing this narrative is placed (Genette 1972: 228). For Genette, ‘[t]he transition from one narrative level to another can in principle be achieved only by the narrating, the act that consists precisely of introducing into one situation, by means of a discourse, the knowledge of another situation’ (Genette 1972: 234. Original emphasis). Metalepsis occurs when there is a violation of the ‘shifting but sacred frontier between two [narrative] worlds’ (Genette 1972: 236). In other words, a metaleptic text is one in which there are impossible or paradoxical changes in narrative (world) level. Woody Allen’s short story The Kugelmass Episode – in which Kugelmass enters the world of the novel Madame Bovary – is exemplary (Allen 1981). Consequently, ‘narrative metalepsis’ can be defined specifically as the ‘taking hold (of telling) by changing level’ (Genette 1972: 235 n51).
In what follows I want to re-read Genette to allow metalepsis an ontological bent, predicated on affect. When I perform an emotional autobiographical segment of one of the plays, whose emotions are these? To which world do they belong? I have already outlined that autobiography is no less a narrative, no less a fiction, than out and out fiction. Does this mean that the emotions displayed are therefore false? To answer this question, and thus to understand the mechanism of affective metalepsis, we must first approach the thorny ‘paradox of fiction’.
The Paradox of Fiction:
First articulated by Colin Radford, the paradox of fiction can be summed up thus: 1) we are moved emotionally only by what we believe to be actual. For example: if I tell you that my wife died last week, you will probably have a sympathetic response. However, yowever, HHou will withdraw that sympathy when you discover that, in fact, I have never been married. Your reaction depends on your belief in my statement; 2) fictions present us with notional characters and situations that we do not believe to be actual; 3) we are moved by fictions. According to Radford we cannot hold all three propositions without falling into contradiction. Hence our capacity to respond emotionally to fictions is ‘irrational, incoherent and inconsistent’ (Radford 1975: 78). How so? Why do we care when a notional entity, Anna Karenina, throws herself in front of a train? Or when Dory finds Nemo?
Various theories have attempted to explain this: Pretence theory, in which we ‘make-believe’ and thus only experience ‘quasi-emotions’ (Currie 1990: 206-7); Illusion Theory, in which we actually believe, temporarily, in the world of the fiction, so emotions are real; and then there is Thought Theory, articulated by Noël Carroll. Carroll denies the first premise of the paradox – that we respond emotionally to the actual. Instead, we respond simply to ‘the thought of X’, the thought of the person being in that situation, which generates the (genuine) emotion (Carroll 1990: 79-87). And this could, of course, be equally true of fictional characters. Murray Smith goes a step further. Smith holds that to be moved by events in the real world, we must believe such events to be real (for example, tragic). But he contends that we can be moved by the same story in a fiction, although we do not believe the events and persons to be real. In fictions ‘we merely imaginatively propose to ourselves that the object exists […] In responding to what is clearly a fictional event, we do not asses the object for its referential validity’ (Smith 1995: 57. My ellipsis). Interestingly, this is very close to Paul De Man’s view of autobiography, quoted earlier. Thus, the paradox of fiction seems to be a paradox – made much of in psychoanalytic and structuralist theory – but actually the two ‘are not structurally identical’ (Smith 1995: 57). For Smith, there is really no paradox at all. It only appears, or seems to appear, when we wrongly assume that the cognitive schemata we apply in order to make sense of the actual (one of which is the need for concrete referents in the real world) are identical to the schemata we apply when comprehending fictions (which do not demand concrete referents). We are not comparing like with like, and so the paradox dissolves.
There are, of course, objections that can be raised against Carroll’s and Smith’s positions. As Richard Sinnerbrink makes clear, emotion ‘is too complex to be reduced to a simple cognitive stance (a propositional content, entertaining a thought or belief, imagining that such and such is the case)’ (Sinnerbrink 2011: 82). An emotional response is produced from a wide range of input, some of which is intuitive rather than cognitive. However, it is reasonable to impute that the cognitivist stance might also explain – and is perhaps therefore borne out by – the fact that we can be moved again and again by events in fictions which we have previously seen or read, and with which we might be very familiar indeed. A re-reading, or re-viewing, of a text can be as enjoyable as the initial reading or viewing. We may well find ourselves willing Anna Karenina not to throw herself in front of the train on our third reading – just as strongly as we did on our first reading – despite our knowledge that she will do so. Each time, we imaginatively propose the events/objects to be real, and that is all that is required for allegiance and alignment with characters to occur. To ‘imaginatively propose’ the existence of events is not the same as make-believe. We do not pretend to believe them. Neither is it the simple so-called suspension of disbelief required of Illusion theory.
But why is this relevant to a discussion of performed fictional autobiography? For this reason: if my early assertion that autobiography is really fiction is correct, then we ought to apply the schemata proper to fictions when viewing or reading autobiographical works. We would simply apply ‘the thought of X’ as Smith and Carroll put it, without demanding a concrete referent – in this case, the actual occurrence of the events related – to arrive at our emotional response. So let us conduct an experiment. Below is a short extract from Memoires of A Confused Man. Imagine that Francis, a middle aged man wearing a mismatched jacket and trousers, with an off-kilter bow tie and a dazed expression, has just walked into our living room. He sits down in our favourite chair and regales us thus:
I grew up in a house that looked like a castle, in the grounds of a boarding school where my parents both taught. Now, I went to that school, as a boarder, and during the term time I had to call my mother Sir! For eight years. Now, some people might consider that odd. And when I was 10, I came home for the holidays to discover that I couldn’t sleep in the house any more. Because I didn’t have a bedroom. Oh no. (A canny chuckle:) I was to sleep in a hut in the garden, which we very imaginatively called (as if it is a great name:) “the hut.” But don’t get me wrong. This wasn’t a tool shed. It was a room… of sorts. I mean, there was a bed. True, there were also two industrial sized chest freezers in there as well, and a whole lot of saddlery, but there was a bed. So yes, we were in many ways a normal family. We kept a couple of racehorses in a Nissan hut beside the living room. Who doesn’t? We had four dogs and two and a half cats – I say two and a half because clearly we shared one of them with a local farmer. It would be gone for days at a time, and God knows we didn’t feed it!… (Nostalgically:) And then there were these two other dogs, who were never let into the house. Had to sleep in a hut in the garden.
Not my hut. Another one. (A conspiratorial laugh.) Place was crawling with huts! You know, I really related to those two dogs. But this all changed when, a few years later, I graduated to… “the caravan”. (Fearing that something is amiss here:) Which, strange to tell, was also not in the house. Hmmn. (Reassuring himself:) Anyway, the caravan stood in a lovely spot, on a scrappy old piece of concrete, just outside the disused school gymnasium. Every child’s dream, eh? (Brighter:) It even had electricity. And I wasn’t completely neglected. We had this arrangement, you see. When it was time for breakfast, my mother would lean out of the dining room window and give three short blasts on an ancient post horn to summon me to the table. What’s odd about that, I ask? Shortly before I left home I did finally work my way up to an actual bedroom inside the house. Was it worth waiting for, I hear you ask? Well, let us say there were certain drawbacks. For example, I would have to get up at just the right time in the morning. Because if I got up too early, I’d be confronted by the sight of my naked father writhing about on the floor in the hall, inserting suppositories. He simply hated me stepping over him on my way to the kitchen. He’d be furious, as if it was all my fault – funny old stick.
No doubt the above extract will have elicited some sort of response from the reader. It has been signalled, perhaps, as comedy fiction due to the context and the content. Were concrete referents expected, required or looked for on reading? Now, what happens when it is revealed that every word of the above is completely autobiographical? This is not a specious truth claim designed to engender ontological uncertainty in the reader. That all happened to this writer – Simon Lovat.
I want to suggest that we do not respond identically to autobiography and fiction. Yes, we (usually) respond emotionally to fictions and, yes, we respond emotionally to autobiographies. But there is a qualitative distinction between reading a fiction about a young Jewish girl in Nazi Germany, and reading an actual account, unless we choose to take a radically sceptical position towards all attempts at representation. If we bracket off all the clever arguments proposing that ‘history’ is in fact ‘fiction’, somehow the knowledge that there is in fact a concrete referent – both in terms of the human agent and in terms of the physical situation and events – that knowledge promotes a deeper, or at least different, emotional response. This is not explicable in purely cognitivist terms. The paradox of fiction has not been explained away.
An investigation of narratives of ambiguous ontological status may throw further light on this problem. In such cases, how would we know which schema to apply? Should we respond in a manner appropriate to the reading of fictions, or should we respond as if the text were autobiographical? With this in view, let us consider briefly the film The Blair Witch Project (Myrick & Sanchez, 1999). This is a fictional horror film purporting to be ‘autobiographical’ found footage of actual events. There is a great deal of research evidence supporting the fact that many spectators thought it was genuine (Schrier 2004; Lovat 2008). Others recognised it as a fiction. Did those spectators bring different schemata into play while watching? Clearly, their own belief systems will have informed their choice. For example, the film concerns a witch and supernatural phenomena. Thus, in order to believe that the film is a genuine piece of found footage, one must first believe in witches. Conversely, the subject matter will signal to those who do not believe in witches that the film is a fiction. Belief in witches, or not, would therefore invoke the application of different schema in different spectators, based on the particular belief system or worldview held by individual spectators, and their emotional responses to the film would therefore vary considerably.
And finally, what ought we to make of narratives whose strategies of dissimulation extend to mixing fact and fiction? Smith admits the problem thus:
Representations which co-mingle the representation of real events with fictional ones are sometimes discomforting because we are invited to respond to them according to two very different, and in some ways conflicting structures of emotion.
(Smith 1995: 57)
Smith’s evocation of a sense of conflicting, warring structures of feeling is highly pertinent to the mechanism of affective metalepsis. Metalepsis proper occurs when there is a change of ‘world level’ in literature, as discussed above. However, it is instructive to consider this changing of level in the context of the emotions experienced, or apparently experienced, during the performance and reception of one of my plays. To return to some of the questions posed earlier, when performing a fictionalised monologue during which I break down in tears, to whom do the tears properly belong? Are they real? To put it another way, to which ‘world level’ does the affect belong? I imagined the words, I wrote them, I speak them. But the events described, and the person to whom they purportedly happened (who is now apparently speaking the words,) either never existed, or is not identical with the ‘lexical’ uttering ‘I’. In this case, two worlds collide. There is indeed a violation of world levels, as Genette has it, on the level of affect – brought about by a collision of ‘conflicting structures of emotion’ (Smith: 57).
How does this occur? What seems to happen is that audiences viewing the play in a domestic setting accept the affective display as genuine – which is to say that the tears are deemed to belong to ‘Simon Lovat’ and are therefore real – due to the context of the performance (a living room) and the apparently non-theatrical, conversational performance style. This affective misperception functions as another paratextual instance of the transfictional disavowal which organises the audience’s acceptance of the text as autobiographical fact.
As with the content of the piece, discussed earlier, I suggest that an audience does not expect to be emotionally misled on its own turf. If somebody cries in our living room, there must be a genuine reason. This belief is due in part to a view of emotion first posited by William James, contending that emotion is simply the perception of bodily sensations, and changes in those sensations. On this view, I might find myself crying and then label the sensation as the emotion ‘sadness’ (James 1884). However, Noël Carroll, and others, contend that emotions require a cognitive component which might include ‘belief, or belief-like states such as thoughts and imaginings’ (Carroll 1999: 25). This effectively reverses the Jamesian position. On this view ‘emotions require cognitions as causes and bodily states as effects’ (27). In the context of a theatrical performance taking place in a living room, there is no contradiction between these positions, as I hope to show. An audience perceives ‘Simon Lovat’ to be crying and reasons that ‘he is crying therefore he must be sad.’ Thus the cognitive component is supplied by the belief in the tears. The effect is strengthened by the processes of facial mimicry and ‘emotional contagion’. The theory of emotional contagion is based on the commonplace knowledge that if we smile we feel happier. Humans have a tendency to mimic facial expressions and body postures during interpersonal communications. This mimicry gives rise to ‘catching’ the expressed emotions (Plantinga 1999: 244). Interestingly, this refers us back to James’s position. An empathetic audience, sitting a few feet away from a crying man, almost always cries too. This causes a kind of feedback loop in which the audience’s (mis)perception of the performer’s emotional state, predicated on acting, body posture and facial expression, gives rise to facial mimicry which then engenders in the audience the emotion perceived in the actor. The recognition of the genuine emotion in themselves then feeds back into their belief in the reality of the actor’s emotional display. The feedback loop is exacerbated by the domestic setting. When audiences feel moved in this way, their conviction that the content is also genuine is almost unshakeable. This is because the audience’s recognition that they are engaging in ‘play’ has been complicated. With Joseph Anderson, I suggest that ‘if the circumstances of viewing and the boundaries of the illusion itself [are] not explicitly framed, the effect could be profoundly disturbing’ (Anderson 1996: 124). It is the mechanism of transfictional disavowal, discussed above, that ruptures the boundary of the illusion in this case. For these audiences the space between the enunciator and the enounced has collapsed. DOG cannot separated from Simon Lovat.
We can now posit that the reception of performed autobiography can be said to be situationally dependent. In a conventional venue it is accepted as fiction; in a living room it is accepted as autobiography. In a domestic setting the mechanism of transfictional disavowal, in which affective metalepsis plays a crucial role, overwhelms any indicators of the fictive status of the piece. Just like those original viewers of The Blair Witch Project who believed in witches and so believed the film to be autobiographical self-taping, so audience of Are Strings Attached? come to believe in the reality of DOG/Simon Lovat. This is because the boundary between ‘play’ and reality is deliberately unpoliced. Conversely, in a conventional venue all ontologically contradictory cues internal to the text and performance are deemed to be strategies employed by the writer, director and actor to engage the audience in questioning the mechanics of character recognition, alignment and allegiance.
How can these two conflicting apperceptions be reconciled? Perhaps we ought to insist that it is, in fact, correct to apply the same schemata to everything – pace Murray Smith – because everything is, finally, fictional. The so-called self and the stories it tells are all illusory fictions, irrespective of the mode of discourse employed. We must therefore care equally, at all levels – in obvious fictions as well as in so-called autobiographical realities. With Hayden White, we must remind ourselves that ‘recent theories of discourse dissolve distinctions between realistic and fictional discourses based on the presumption of an ontological difference between their respective referents’ (White 1987: x). The apparent contradiction arises because we wrongly ascribe different levels of reality to autobiography and to fiction in experience, privileging so-called ‘reality’, when in fact there is only one consistent level – the level (or levels) of fiction.
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 Yama refer to their work as ‘fictional autobiography’. See www.yamatheatreproductions.com accessed 20.01.2018.
 Proponents of this view clearly follow Roland Barthes, who minimises the
importance of the concrete author and instead offers textual power to the reader. Barthes’s formulation of the ’scriptor’, who has no past but is born with the text, is particularly relevant here. See Barthes.
 For Bordwell ‘all materials of cinema function narrationally – not only the camera but speech, gesture, written language, music, colour, optical processes, lighting, costume, even offscreen space and offscreen sound’ (Bordwell 2005: 20). Narration arises. There is no entity that narrates.
 Transfictional disavowal is commonly employed in discussions of documentary and faux-documentary praxis, but is also very apt to our discussion of fictional-autobiography.
 This even holds for spectators who know me personally. One response was ‘you never told me you used to play tennis’.
 Kendall Walton believes that if we experienced real emotional reactions to fictions, we would be moved to act. Since we do not, they are not. See Walton 1990.
 The terms ‘allegiance’ and ‘alignment’ belong to Murray Smith. See Smith, especially pp. 82-3, 187.
 The plot runs thus: Three film students set out into the woods to make a documentary about the so-called Blair Witch. They are never seen again. The film we see purports to be the footage that they shot before they disappeared, discovered some time later and posthumously edited.
 Performance and reception are simultaneous, of course.
 This is a misperception. It is theoretically possible that the actor is actually thinking about what he will have for supper during this display.