Objects of "empathy" : characters (and other such things) as psycho-poetic effects

  • In folk theories of art reception, readers and cinema audiences are said to experience fictional worlds vicariously 'through' characters, i.e. they 'identify' themselves with them, they partake in their experiences 'empathetically'. In the first section of my essay, I will argue that it is not character but focalization (point of view) which, on a fundamental level, guides our fictional experience, and I will exemplify several ways that characters (or similar ideas) can then in addition come into play. In the next two sections, I will discuss possible cognitive correlates of both the textual device of focalization and textual clues indicating ›persons‹. The aim is to show that what I call ›psycho-poetic effects‹ (that is, the mental representation of anthropomorphic instances) are best described as byproducts of various cognitive programs involved in the reception of narrative fiction. 'Empathy', as it is understood in the above mentioned folk theory of art reception, can then be analysed into individual algorithms of social cognition. And it can be differentiated, as is done in the last section, from other phenomena often confused with it, like emotional experience proper and emotional contagion. Also, I refer to the idea that mirror neurons provide the means to empathize with others, literary characters included. My general proposition is to revise and refine those concepts with the help of evolutionary theory and, thus, to hypothesize as cognitive correlates for textual features only programs specific enough to be correlated with a specific adaptive function which they may have performed in the process of human evolution.

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Author:Katja Mellmann
Parent Title (English):Characters in fictional worlds : understanding imaginary beings in literature, film, and other media / [Conference "Characters in Fictional Worlds: Interdisciplinary Perspectives", which was held at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research of the University of Bielefeld, Germany, 28 February - 2 March 2007]. Ed. by Jens Eder ...,
Publisher:De Gruyter
Place of publication:Berlin ; New York, NY
Document Type:Part of a Book
Date of Publication (online):2013/03/26
Year of first Publication:2010
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2013/03/26
GND Keyword:Literarische Gestalt; Charakterisierung; Fokalisierung; Einfühlung; Literaturpsychologie
Page Number:26
First Page:416
Last Page:441
Dewey Decimal Classification:8 Literatur / 80 Literatur, Rhetorik, Literaturwissenschaft / 800 Literatur und Rhetorik
Sammlungen:CompaRe | Allgemeine und Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft
BDSL-Klassifikation:03.00.00 Literaturwissenschaft / BDSL-Klassifikation: 03.00.00 Literaturwissenschaft > 03.08.00 Poetik / BDSL-Klassifikation: 03.00.00 Literaturwissenschaft > 03.08.00 Poetik > 03.08.01 Studien
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht