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Israel, June 2001

David S. Miall and Don Kuiken
A Feeling for Fiction: Becoming What We Behold

Feelings during literary reading can be characterized at four levels. First, feelings such as suspense and amusement are reactions to an already interpreted narrative (Hansson, 1990). While providing an incentive to sustain reading, these feelings play no significant role in the distinctively literary aspects of text interpretation. Second, feelings that derive from perceived affinity with an author, narrator, or narrative figure are the outcome of an interpretive process by which a fictional representation is developed. Although important in the reader’s development of a situation model (Kneepens & Zwaan, 1994), these feelings, too, do not derive from distinctively literary aspects of text interpretation. Third, feelings of appreciation (aesthetic pleasure or interest) are an initial moment in readers’ response to the formal components of literary texts (narrative, stylistic, or generic). Although serving to capture and hold readers’ attention (Miall & Kuiken, 1994), these aesthetic reactions only anticipate the level of feeling that will be the main focus of our discussion. This fourth level of analysis involves the modifying powers of feeling that appear to be triggered primarily by the formal and narrative components of literary texts. We will argue that these components interact during reading to produce composite and interactive metaphors of personal identification that modify self-understanding, and that the familiar concept of catharsis (the conflict of tragic feelings identified by Aristotle) identifies one particular form of this more general pattern of response in which feelings evoked during reading interact to modify the reader. During this process, in Coleridge’s words, we "become that which we understandly [sic] behold and hear" (1804).

David Miall
Dept. of English
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta
Canada T6G 2E5

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