What We Talk About When We Talk About Worlds

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Llamas-Rodriguez, Juan

Why worlds?

It’s the question I am left with as we wrap up the first set of talks at the Practices of World Building Conference. As Marta Boni pointed out in her introduction, and Marie-Laure Ryan echoed in her presentation, the idea of worlds, though hardly new, is increasingly shaping how authors conceptualize their works and how audiences consume these works. But does it naturally follow that scholars interested in these works should take up the idea of worlds as an object of study in and of itself?

Here is where my hesitation comes from. In Marie-Laure Ryan’s talk, she elaborated on ‘worldness’ as a sort of scalar concept, particularly in relation to narrative proliferation. On one end are stories without worlds; on the other end are worlds without stories. This spectrum allows for different readings of texts such as Cloud Atlas, which can be thought of as multiple stories within one world, or multiple worlds with one story each. Admittedly, most works would fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. But does this new approach necessarily beget new forms of thinking about these texts?

Similarly, Martin Picard’s use of the Japanese context begs the question of whether studying worlds as an industrial characteristic is simply a generalization of other, more culturally specific phenomena. What does studying worlds reveal that studying texts whilst contextualizing them within a world has not yet achieved?

Guglielmo Pescatore’s intervention acts as a foil to this question since he instead argues for American TV serials to be thought of as narrative ecosystems, transposing a scientific method to the analysis of these media forms. Certainly this represents a new approach, one that, judging from the audience's responses, could have significant drawbacks and/or potentialities. It begs the question then, what are the stakes in taking up worlds as the locus of study instead of (eco)systems, networks, or intertextual relations?

From reading some of the upcoming presenters’ works, I realize some of them have, to some extent, already taken up the task of arguing for the study of worlds as a valuable enterprise. However, I’d be interested to hear whether any of them have (or do not have) reservations as to the value of this task. As Eric Prince pointed out when asking a question earlier today, it might seem that we are taking the notion of world for granted. I really look forward to the rest of today’s and tomorrow’s talks, where I suspect - whether implicitly or explicitly - the why of studying worlds will become as central as the how.

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