Murray Smith: "The Reality of (Screen) Characters"

The Higher Seminar in Practical Philosophy and The Higher Seminar in Aesthetics (NB, day.)

(NB, venue.)

Murray Smith, University of Kent: "The Reality of (Screen) Characters"

Characters are central to our engagement with narratives. In the context of film and television, character creation almost always begins with the screenplay: filmic characters are conceived in screenplays before they are incarnated by performers and born audiovisually in films. What kind of ontological status do these fictional creatures possess? Since they are fictional, is it a simple contradiction in terms to think of characters as (in some sense) real? No: characters are at once imaginary and real. But not real as persons. Instead, characters exist – are real – as abstract artefacts, brought into being by screenwriters, filmmakers, and other fictioneers. They are abstract in the same sense that a theory, a concept, or indeed a story itself is an abstract entity. We can thicken the idea that ‘merely imagined’ phenomena are nonetheless real by taking note of the social character of the imagining prompted by fictions. I conclude by considering the way in which screenplays and films can themselves probe the reality of fictional characters, via a brief exploration of Mahamat Saleh Haroun’s Bye Bye Africa (1999).