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Fictional communication: developing Gregory Bateson's “Theory of Play and Fantasy”

Christine Angela Knoop (University College London, UK)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 14 August 2007



To supplement Gregory Bateson's theory with findings from literary studies and attempt a new take on literary communication.


On the basis of Gregory Bateson's “Theory of play and fantasy” the transmission of messages between author and readers is investigated. After that, it is attempted to show the particularities of literary messages and their communication, including different literary levels of what Bateson calls the “frame” of a message. The elements discussed include creativity, tension, surprise, Coleridge's notion of “the willing suspension of disbelief” in reading fiction and emotional response.


While messages usually contain signs referring to an existing range of object representations, literary texts depart from and expand this range. The term “message” is subject to shift. The creativity of both author and readers allows a level of innovation that alters Bateson's categories: the metacommunicative level is not necessarily denoted by the message itself, and the metalinguistic level is adjusted to allow creativity that is existential for fiction writing and reading.

Research limitations/implications

Trying to give a schematic introduction, this paper is rather an overview than an in‐depth study.


This paper discusses a part of Bateson's approach in the light of findings in literary theory and thus helps to create an interdisciplinary dialogue that makes both sides' achievements, respectively, accessible.



Angela Knoop, C. (2007), "Fictional communication: developing Gregory Bateson's “Theory of Play and Fantasy”", Kybernetes, Vol. 36 No. 7/8, pp. 1113-1121.



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