Epistolary Paratexts at the Threshold of Both Text and Fiction

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Abstract

This paper proposes and discusses the concept of “epistolary paratext” as a way of curating fantastic worlds. At the threshold of both text and fiction, epistolary paratexts can be defined as ancillary reference material accompanying narrative ur-texts and/or transmedia corpuses, claiming to be authentic documents originating from the same fictional worlds these texts are set in. Written in the form of notebooks, scientific reports, engineering manuals, technical blueprints, and similar factual documents, epistolary paratexts aim to systematically curate and reorganize data on the inner workings of impossible fictional worlds to provide consistency, coherence and verisimilitude. They combine the object-oriented materiality of extra-diegetic reference sources, i.e., making-of and art-of books, with the make-believe of fictional narratives within the mimicry of factual narration.
The history of epistolary paratexts can be traced back to the late-nineteenth century New Romance adventure novels which included supposedly authentic supplementary documents like archaeological illustrations and maps. Since the late 1960s, they evolved alongside crossmedia and transmedia practices blurring the line between reality and fiction and targeted mainly reference and design-oriented fans of media franchises. They acted as encyclopedic extensions of long running franchises such as Star Wars, Doctor Who, and Alien, accompanied new releases as worldbuilding companions as seen in Avatar and Cyberpunk 2077, or functioned as components of indexical narratives of video games and alternate reality games. Throughout this history, they were influenced by and have influenced fan practices and publications, such as fanzines, wikis, and lore channels.
This paper will introduce the concept of epistolary paratexts and discuss through examples how they organize and extend fantastic worlds, which functions they fulfill withing media franchises, and how they intersect with fan practices.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2022
EventImpossible Fictions: International Society for Fiction and Fictionality Studies 2nd International Congress - University of Chicago, Chicago, United States
Duration: 2 Mar 20225 Mar 2022
Conference number: 2
https://fiction.hypotheses.org/evenement-events

Conference

ConferenceImpossible Fictions
Abbreviated titleSIRFF/ISFFS
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityChicago
Period2/03/225/03/22
Internet address

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