Date of Award

Spring 5-4-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

MA English




Jonathan Farina, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Russell Sbriglia, Ph.D.


epistemology, verisimilitude, fictionality, paratext, truth, fake news


Scholar Gérard Genette defines the term “paratext” as accompanying components of a text like titles, forwards, illustrations, footnotes, etc. Genette claims these “productions” affect the “reception” and function as a liminal space between the “inside and outside” of a written work (1-2). Many texts and other works of fiction, across years and genres, use their paratexts to create fictitious histories that surround their main stories. The success of this rhetorical strategy, a convention that I call “fictive truth,” depends heavily on the paratexts’ reception from its audience. These genre conventions are traceable through canonical Western literature, from texts like Walter Scott’s Tales of My Landlord series and Edgar Allan Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gorgon Pym of Nantucket, to contemporary popular culture like the FX series Fargo. Tales of My Landlord, Pym, and Fargo, like many pieces of fiction, create a sense of a “true” narrative undermining a fictional narrative. Texts like these highlight a type of aesthetic irony. This project aims to focus on how these exemplary texts from both British and American fiction and popular culture like Fargo generate this kind of irony. On the one hand, these types of texts parody the empiricist imperative to be referential – their truth claim is that they reference some actual event, person, place, or thing external to the text. The irony, then, lies in their concomitant assertions that their references are untrustworthy. The examples in this project, I argue, indulge in referentiality with disregard for their actual referents. The effects of these paratexts branch far outside of one’s imagination where it is safe to indulge in fiction – these texts ask audiences to question their understanding of “facts” and “truth,” and to scrutinize what they find reliable and why. The implications of this line of thinking bleed into contemporary news and politics and draw connections between early modern and contemporary epistemologies as subjective experiences.