actuality (narratology) The concept that there is an independent and empirical existence of things which exist apart from the perception of their existence: things not only existing now and continuing to exist, but of things having existed and existing in the future, and connected to this the concept that there are separate entities/beings that exist and can perceive actuality from an individual viewpoint and as part of a shared reality. Reality being a perception of things, that has the appearance of an objective and empirical reality, which includes memory and an understanding of things, a reality, which on closer inspection is understandable as a complex perceptual and learned reality. Our reality is that of a lived experience that appears real, but even if there is an actuality, then our understanding of it is a perceptual construction. This perception of reality can be understood to be solipsistic: there may only be a perception things, there are just phenomena, as for all I know, I may only be a head in a jar, imagining that there is any form of actuality. Alternatively, I am an entity that does have existence, that lives and perceives, and as part of this there are other entities and beings that also exist, and we can perceive in similar and different ways what actually exists. The issue here for narrative film is the relationship between actuality, reality and realism, as representation, communication and narrative form: how do narratives represent reality and how are they developed into socially shared and developed cultural forms.
Realism is a form which through a medium is able to signify, communicate, and so make a claim to represent reality. Realism mediates between our individual experience and our shared reality. Mimicry, sharing, showing and teaching through gesture, and also through spoken language can be understood as the basis for realism, which is then developed into complex representational systems and forms, in the form of narrative representations, stories, and also through conceptual abstract representations, ideas in the form of discourse/dialogue. The initial forms of realism might be considered as mimicry, ritual, story, acted through mimicry/mimesis or told through diegesis, the telling of a story, and then these have developed into social, cultural aesthetic forms such as poetry, drama, literature and film which are historically and socially specific.
Realism claims to represent the real, to show reality, but realism is also speculative: the mind being able to consider and create possible worlds: what has happened, what might have happened, how things exist in the present or might exist, and how the future might or might not occur. There is a distinction here between epistemological uncertainty, not knowing if we exist or not, how we exist, and the mind’s capability to map out contingent realities: if it rains tomorrow the ground will be wet, if it’s dry the ground will be dry.
To set out the relationship between actuality, reality, realism:
Actuality is what exists, did exist, or will exist. We do not have direct access to this.
Reality is what we perceive to exist, it has the feature of being certain, but it is a construction, which might be identified as the cognition and the structuring of sense data, or as the relationship between phenomena and consciousness/beingness.
Realism is a method for producing and transferring a representation and/or understanding of reality that can be shared. Some of the forms of realism are impermanent, speech, mimicry, ritual, oral storytelling, live performance, and different mediums, writing, image making and sound recording, have been developed into material forms that carry and communicate realism. Realism, as used here, should not be confused with the literary and theoretical terms Naturalism, Realism and Social Realism as they are used in relation to the development of the novel and film, where these forms aim to represent specific historical times and places, this is a very specific and limited definition of realism, describing particular historical forms of narrative. Realism in the context of actuality and reality, can be expressed through semiotics: an object/representation can be iconic, it represents itself: a tree is a tree. An object/representation can be indexical, it is a part, one element that represents a larger whole: a tree represents a forest. An object/representation can be metaphorical, the object/representation represents something else to which is understood to have some comparative, substitute similarity: a tree, because it is strong, represents strength. An object/representation can be symbolic, the object/representation represents something but with only a socially conventionalised connection: a tree symbolically represents wisdom. All of these are realist representations in the sense that they are taken to represent how things are, or might possibly be: we can relate what the object/representation represents and our experience of the world: reality.
In relation to the discussions of narrative in the Lexicon of Narrative Film it is accepted that there is an actuality, so the lexicon does not debate ontology or epistemology. There is a world, we do know things. Reality is an individual experience which is based on an actuality, but reality is always a constructed experience: what we know is learned in an individual and shared context. Realism is how our shared knowledge and understanding is developed in impermanent and material forms. Speech is impermanent, writing is a material form.
Any form of articulation and artefact can have a realism. The mimicry that can be used to show an infant that something is to be eaten on drunk has a realism. Realism develops into a complex sense of reality within beings, people, communities and societies, with a shared reality being constructed through a realism that codifies and defines reality through grand narratives: beliefs, ideology, culture, knowledge, experience. These grand narratives define reality and are experienced as understood as part of reality: Europe is an abstract construct, but it is understood to have a material reality and to be a thing, and not just an abstract idea.
Narratology discusses how mediums and forms represent shared meanings and understandings as these are represented in narrative forms. Narrativity can be understood as part of an articulation of realism: there is the object/representation, it has a reality, a realism, and there is narrativity because this object/representation exists within a temporality, a narrative where things change, and this temporality can be constructed into a cogent narrative sequence, which can be socialised as story within many different forms and expressed and carried in a range of mediums. Narrative constructs a reality through mimesis, the depiction or description of action, rather than through an abstract conception of things: one can describe a society, a democracy, as a concept and this is a representational form, the form of an abstraction, and one can narrate a story about what happens in what is understood to be a society that is a democracy and this will be represented through a series of connected actions, through the narration of action which is formed into a narrative, a story. Mimesis enacts and shows a story, diegesis associate with speech and writing tells as story, without enactment. If stories are understood to offer narrative rhetoric, to present a reality, then the essential argument in this rhetoric is the reality of the story: the validity it presents, offers, and shares as part of our reality and experience of actuality.
Copyright: Eugene Doyen 2019