Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Amy J. Elias

Committee Members

Stephen H. Blackwell, Allen R. Dunn, Thomas F. Haddox


This dissertation defines “artifact texts” as works of fiction utilizing a narrative device in which the book held by a reader is purportedly a physical object from the story-world. I argue that this structure shifts the traditional narratological distinction between story and discourse, making discourse itself a part of story and, through that, the narrative form evokes a greater sense of presence for the reader. The first chapter establishes the terms of this argument, identifying the main requirements for the narrative structure and introducing Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s notion of presence, which he opposes to meaning and interpretation.The second chapter considers Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, showing both the characteristics of this narrative structure as well as its stakes in relation to common postmodern and post-postmodern literary tropes. The presence gained by the artifact structure allows such texts to engage in postmodern play and language games without sacrificing immersion and emotional investment in plot and character. In Pale Fire, the totalizing nature of unreliability threatens to unravel any investment in the text, but the artifact offers stability and assurance against that unreliability.The third and fourth chapters consider two other artifact texts in detail, to show some of the variety of effects increased presence can have. In Chapter 3, I argue that Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves sets up a tension between the text and a controlling authorial figure, which leads to the reader’s greater investment in the text itself, even as the author denies answers or even mocks the search. In Chapter 4, I argue that Doug Dorst and J. J. Abrams’s S. creates an experience of the relation between the everyday and history that closely resembles reality through the mixed temporalities of its fictional narrative and ongoing marginal commentary.The final chapter considers Luigi Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus, an encyclopedia-like text of a fantastical world featuring an untranslatable language and strange, unexplained images. This book reverses the previous trend, bordering on pure presence instead of meaning. I argue that the artifact preserves meaning, by suggesting a language to the reader from its genre and graphical devices.

Available for download on Thursday, August 15, 2019

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