Friday, 28 November 2008

Emily V: The Process of Writing

This is my third post on how I wrote The Case of Emily V. I have today put Chapters 5 and 6 into the archive of Original Fiction. You can read them by clicking here.

When I wrote this novel, I tried to convince myself that to write fiction was to take psychological thinking towards a larger world, and that was part of my job as a university professor. But despite this, I found I could not write my novel during term time. It jostled with teaching and research. It seemed to occupy the same mental space, so that I could not just say: "OK, I'll do a couple of hours of fiction from six to eight in the morning, before I start my academic work." Instead, I worked on the novel in the vacations over three summers, or was it four? At the beginning of each summer, I would load the whole thing up into my mind, so that was what was going round in there. I would get up at 5.30 am, before other members of the family. I could concentrate. Then, by mid-morning, I could do other things.

My main sense of writing during those summers was of being very caught up in it. I fell rather in love with the two female protagonists, Emily and Sara. So getting up early to think about them was a delight. I wrote to see what they were doing, and what they would do.

I continued to read round the subjects of Freud and his circle, of turn-of-the-century feminism, of the literature surrounding Sherlock Holmes, and so on. From my reading, or sometimes just from having the novel go round in my mind, I would have a new idea, and write something to embody it. That would produce ripples through the whole structure, so that modifcations had to be made to other parts. The sense was that everything had to fit together. It gave the process of thinking and creating a rather enjoyable quality.

I can't remember how many drafts I wrote, but when a particular stage of drafting was completed, Jenny (my spouse) would read it, and her suggestions would suggest further modifications, which made further ripples. When I the end, as I thought, that is to say when it seemed polite to let the manuscript make its way outside the circle of the family, I passed it round to friends: more modifications, more ripples. My final draft was done in response to the editor at Secker and Warburg, Dan Franklin, who had accepted the book. He said that in the version he read, Sherlock Holmes disappeared too quickly in the final part of the story, too soon before the end of the book. He was right: more modifications, more ripples.

What a good editor can do, I think, is to enter a book with the mind of the author, grasp the purpose and flow, see the book from the author's point of view but from a position outside the enclosed bubble of the author's mind.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Must We Be Read?

“Life, it has been agreed by everyone whose opinion is worth consulting, is the only fit subject for novelist or biographer; life, the same authorities have decided, has nothing whatever to do with sitting still in a chair and thinking. Thought and life are as poles asunder." This is how Virginia Woolf, speaking through the narrator in Orlando (1928), mocks the business of writing about writers. Yet this theme, that writing is somehow incompatible with living, recurs frequently in her writing, enough to betray a preoccupation, perhaps even an anxiety. It is an anxiety familiar to those who spend days, months, years of their life writing down imaginary things happening to imaginary people. A worm of suspicion, small and soft and slow, burrows through a hard tree bark that shields the writer from the possibility that these days, months, years, have perhaps been misspent. The narrator of Orlando is much harsher about misspent time. “If then," the narrator insists, “the subject of one’s biography will neither love nor kill, but will only think and imagine, we may conclude that her or she is no better than a corpse and so leave her.”

A corpse? Need it be so extreme? Can we not sit and think and write in the morning, and love (or kill) in the afternoon? But that is really beside the point. The point is that you create imaginary worlds, and these imaginary worlds depend on you for a living. Here now, few pages later, is Orlando’s manuscript speaking to her: “It wanted to be read. It must be read. It would die in her bosom if not read.” What then, if it is not read? Then not only it dies, but perhaps you die too. You, who have spent the days, months, years writing the dead thing, are perhaps a corpse too.

Should this be a warning to us all (or at least all of us without book deals) who are in the midst of writing pages that might rot away in some musty drawer, never to be read? Is this anxiety what fuels the infinite terror of never finding a publisher for our novel or a play? Or, perhaps, is it an anxiety that masks another, more terrifying, one—that it is not the writer that keeps the writing alive, but the writing that keeps the writer alive. And that if we awake one bright morning to find dead words on our page, we would no longer have the means of finding that which is alive in ourselves. That, to me, sounds far more terrifying than an unread manuscript.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Science in Fiction

Last week I gave an invited talk in Port Hope, Ontario. It was sponsored by the Northumberland Learning Connection, a lovely organization (the website of which you can reach here) chaired by Joanne Bonebakker, which is a model of how to offer fascinating programs to a community. For five or six weeks in the autumn and again in the spring, a speaker is invited each week to give a lecture one evening and a seminar the next morning. The current series is entitled "Nudes and neutrons: Leaps of imagination in art and science."

I talked about how there was a small but rather interesting set of fictional pieces—novels and plays—about science and scientists. My set started with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which, in its opening chapters, takes its readers inside the mind of a scientist. One can imagine that some of what Victor Frankenstein thinks, as he works on how to endow inanimate matter with life, could be thought today by a graduate student working in artificial intelligence trying to create a system that would be more intelligent than human beings.

Despite the potential that novels have for taking us inside the minds of others, including scientists, the relatively small set of fictional works on scientists and science tends to focus not on this issue, but on repercussions of science. Perhaps most striking are issues of unwanted repercussions of scientific discoveries, of the kind that Mary Shelley wrote about when Frankenstein's creature started to wreak destruction. This idea, of course, became topical with Hiroshima, with Chernobyl, and more recently with the unwanted effects of the human use of fossil fuels.

For the most part, when science does enter fiction, the work is devoted to social implications, such as the rejection of scientific evidence on economic grounds, as in Henrik Ibsen's An enemy of the people, or the hostility to progress by established society in Bertolt Brecht's Life of Galileo.

Then there are fictional experiments on the social and personal effects of science and technology in science fiction, with writers like Ursula Le Guin. In The left hand of darkness, for instance, she offers a wonderful idea—a thought experiment—to imagine that for most of the time we were asexual but that, once a month for a few days, we would become sexualized as either male or female, depending on whom we were with.

Science fiction has, of course, become enormously popular. But when this is so, why is it that the mental processes of scientists as they strive for, and accomplish, the betterment of the human condition, has attracted relatively little interest?

Bertolt Brecht (1940). Life of Galileo. New York: Arcade (current edition 1994).

Henrik Ibsen (1882). An enemy of the people. In Four great plays by Henrik Ibsen, translated by R. F. Sharp, Bantam: New York (current edition 1958).

Ursula Le Guin (1969). The left hand of darkness. New York: Ace.

Mary Shelley (1811). Frankenstein: or The modern Prometheus. Harmondsworth: Penguin (current edition 1985).

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Voices in Emily V.

This is my second post about how I wrote The case of Emily V. When I started, the idea was to work with my spouse, Jenny Jenkins. She would write from the point of view of Emily, and I would write from the points of view of Freud and Watson.

As it happens, Jenny continued writing for a shortish time. She was very busy, and said I should take over the whole thing. So, there I was writing a novel in three voices. In fact Jenny stayed involved. She read drafts, and took part in plot conferences. As those of you will know who have read the first chapter, Emily announces at the beginning of the book that she has killed her guardian, Mr S. Thus we did not have the readily available plot-line of a mystery story that by a chain of clues progresses towards the discovery of a perpetrator (though later in the book Holmes does take up this kind of progression). The as-it-were reverse mystery plot, and the interrelation of events in narrative time as recounted by three different narrators made us think quite hard, and the plot conferences were tremendously important. Their result was that the whole novel reads (I think) fairly smoothly: as something complex (that is to say with interlocking parts), but not as something complicated (that is to say it's not a jumble).

I wanted to invent a case about which my Freud could think what the real Freud was thinking in 1904, for instance about whether patients were to be believed when they talked about having been molested in childhood. I was fairly well versed in Freud's writings, and had written about the cognitive psychology of Freud's case of Dora. I had been in psychoanalytic therapy, and trained as a psychotherapist in R.D. Laing's group in London. My challenge was to make my Freud sound like Freud, but to have him move along a bit more briskly than when he wrote himself. If you want to know how Freud thought as he developed his idea of psychoanalytic therapy in the early years of the 20th Century, you could do a lot worse than read this book. One of the things I like about it is that, although the case of Emily is invented, all the thoughts about psychological processes that Freud has in it are as accurate as I could make them, as are the references that I give, just as they would be in an academic article.

Finding the voice of Dr Watson was easier, because the whole set of Sherlock Holmes novels and stories fit between covers that are less than two inches apart. I enjoy immersing myself in the works of a thinker, and internalizing them to the point that I can generate extended versions. An engaging addition, here, was to drop a few soft suggestions about the emotional relationship between Holmes and Watson, to have the two of them pitted against adversaries who were intellectually their equals, and to make mild fun of Holmes's statements about the certainty of his inferences.

The voice of Emily was a different kind of challenge. But here again, I was wonderfully helped by the literature of the time, turn-of-the century feminism and the fiction of Kate Chopin and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. They were, of course, Americans, and so although Emily was English, she clearly had to go to university in America. I was glad to find a suitable place for her at a women' s college near Philadelphia that had been founded by the Quakers. My efforts at finding a voice for Emily more or less came off, I think; I don't remember a reviewer saying that she is unconvincing.

It was only after I had written the book that I discovered Bakhtin, and his idea of multiple centres of consciousness in the novel. Then, as I was reading him, I could think to myself: "exactly so." You can read chapters 3 and 4 of The case of Emily V. (which I have joined to the first two chapters) by clicking here.

Mikhail Bakhtin (1963). Problems of Dostoevsky's poetics. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press (translated by C. Emerson, current edition 1984).

Kate Chopin (1899). The awakening. (A current edition is published in Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Arthur Conan Doyle (1887-1914). The Penguin complete adventures of Sherlock Holmes. London: Penguin (current edition 1981).

Sigmund Freud (1905). Fragment of an analysis of a case of hysteria (Dora) (A. Tyson, Trans.). In J. Strachey & A. Richards (Eds.), The Pelican Freud Library, Vol 8: Case histories, II (Vol. 8, 29-164). London: Penguin (current edition 1979).

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892). The yellow wallpaper (and other stories). New York: Bantam (current edition 1989).

Keith Oatley (1990). Freud's psychology of intention: The case of Dora. Mind and Language, 5, 69-86.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The Solitary Vice

Mikita Brottman, who holds a doctorate in English Language and Literature from Oxford University, has recently written a book entitled The Solitary Vice: Against Reading. Although the subtitle of this book is purportedly intended to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek (and perhaps, deliberately controversial for the purposes of marketing), Brottman is of the opinion that reading has become dangerously fetishized by modern culture which tends to over-value literature, and that reading literature might in fact be detrimental for some people. More specifically, she puts forth a hypothesis that is in direct contrast with much of what has been expressed on this site: Brottman believes that reading literature may be personally damaging with respect to one’s capacity for social interaction and social integration. You can listen to an interview in which she describes her book and her perspective below, conducted by Jesse Thorn as part of his radio show The Sound of Young America. While I will withhold extensive comment until readers have had a chance to familiarize themselves with her ideas, it goes without saying that we here at OnFiction disagree with her thesis. You can also read another interview with Dr. Brottman here, and read a review of her book in the LA Times here.

The Sound of Young America interviews Mikita Brottman

Monday, 17 November 2008

Art as Gift

The idea that art is a gift ... it's a lovely idea. Lewis Hyde has written about it in his book, The gift: Imagination and the erotic life of property. Hyde, his writing, and his influence on matters of copyright and intellectual property, were the subjects of an article by Daniel B. Smith in The New York Times Magazine this Sunday, so if you take the Times but haven't seen this, don't recycle the magazine yet. (Those of you who don't distract themselves with the Sunday New York Times, can see the article by clicking here.) Although Smith says that Margaret Atwood, who lives only half a mile from me, keeps six copies of Hyde's book on hand, "to distribute to artists she thinks will benefit from it," I am ashamed to say that I had not heard of Hyde or his book. But the idea of art as gift was sufficiently exciting that I dressed quickly on Sunday morning and went to get the book from the library.

Although I have only just begun reading it, I can see from the start that The gift is a fine book. (I shall write a micro-review of it for our Books on the Psychology of Fiction.) It has an epigraph by Joseph Conrad: "The artist appeals to that part of our being ... which is a gift and not an acquisition—and, therefore, more permanently enduring." Hyde then starts his book with the observation that at his corner drugstore he and his neighbours could buy a line of romantic novels, published by Silhouette, written according to a formula derived from an advertising agency's polling of women readers: the heroine must be between 19 and 27, the hero unmarried, preferably a widower, they are not allowed in bed together until they are married ... and so on. "Why," asks Hyde, "do we suspect that Silhouette Romances will not be enduring works of art?" The reason, he answers, is the subject of his book. "It is the assumption of this book that a work of art is a gift, not a commodity."

Lewis Hyde (1983). The gift: Imagination and the erotic life of property. New York: Vintage.

Daniel B. Smith (2008). What is art for? The New York Times Magazine, 16 November, pp. 39-43.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Writing The Case of Emily V.

This Friday, and each Friday for the next few weeks, I shall offer some thoughts about how I wrote my first novel, The case of Emily V., which was published in 1993, and won the 1994 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Novel. It has been translated into French, German, and Japanese, and in 2006 an American edition was published in New York, which you can buy direct from the publisher by clicking here or from Amazon by clicking here. Each week you can read two chapters of the first part of the novel in serialized form in our archive of Original Fiction, which you can access by clicking here.

The case of Emily V. is about Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud, and how they came to investigate the same case: that of Emily Vincent, who may have pushed her guardian, Mr S., a member of the British Diplomatic Service, off a mountain crag in the Austrian Alps in 1904. Some years earlier, Mr S. seems to have seduced Emily when she was in his care, when she was only 14.

The novel is in three voices: that of Holmes's biographer, Dr Watson, that of Sigmund Freud, and that of Emily herself. It is not a whodunnit. It is, perhaps, a why-she-done-it, or a whether-she-done-it. It is focused on three pairs of characters: two males (Holmes and Watson), two females (Emily and her friend Sara), and a male-and-female (Freud and Emily). In each pair there are sexual currents, but in only one pair does does actual sex occur.

The novel, as I see it, is about the search for truth. The truth about the outer world, and the evidence that we need to understand it, is represented by Holmes and the kind of investigation he conducts. The truth about the inner world also requires evidence, but of a rather different kind. In the novel, the search for inner truth is represented in Emily's psychoanalytic therapy with Freud, and in her own search to understand herself.

I was prompted to write The case of Emily V. when I read a pamphlet by one Michael Shepherd, a professor of epidemiological psychiatry. In this pamphlet, Sherlock Holmes and the case of Dr Freud (1985), Shepherd writes about the parallel between the investigative methods of Holmes and Freud.

Shepherd's starting point was Nicholas Meyer's The seven-per-cent solution, and he discusses, too, the paper by David Musto, published on the First of April 1968, which was the starting point for Meyer's novel. In his paper, Musto speculated that when Holmes disappeared after confronting the dastardly Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls, he went secretly to Vienna to undertake treatment by Freud for his cocaine addiction.

Shepherd asks: Can one imagine a meeting between Freud and Sherlock Holmes? His conclusion is that we don't have to imagine it: these two meet every day on the shelves of detective fiction.

I was so irritated by Shepherd's condescending attitude to both fiction and psychoanalysis, that I read Meyer's novel and Musto's paper, and I thought perhaps that there were opportunities still for Holmes and Freud to meet: perhaps they could work on the same case, respectively trying to approach outward and inward truth. The case of Emily V. was the result.

Nicholas Meyer. (1975). The seven-per-cent solution. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

David Musto (1968). A study in cocaine: Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud. Journal of the American Medical Association, 204, 125-130.

Keith Oatley (1993). The case of Emily V. London: Secker & Warburg (American edition, 2006, New York: Pleasure Boat Studio).

Michael Shepherd (1985). Sherlock Holmes and the case of Dr Freud. London: Tavistock.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Reader's Guide

We have introduced a Reader's Guide to our site, to help new readers learn about the site and its contents. A new structure and format for our site is also described below. Major changes include the introduction of Sections to organize our posts, and a schedule for new content (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). The guide appears in its entirety below.
Dear Reader,

Welcome to OnFiction! We have prepared this short guide to help familiarize you with our site. OnFiction is quite a bit different from your average Blog. First of all, our posts do not typically deal with current events, so older posts are just as relevant and worth reading as newer posts. Posts are made on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Also, unlike most blogs, the comments on our posts tend to be substantial and of high quality. They often involve some very interesting dialogue between readers and authors, and are well worth reading.

Sections and Labels
The posts are organized into four major categories or sections: +Opinion, +Original Fiction, +Research Bulletins, and +Reviews. +Opinion pieces are typically short, theoretical or philosophical musings on the psychology of fiction. +Original Fiction denotes original fiction pieces written by the editors. +Research Bulletins summarize relevant empirical research on the psychology of fiction, or relate in other ways to current research (e.g., conference notices). +Reviews of film, books, radio programs, and television relevant to the psychology of fiction constitute our final section. You can jump to all the articles in each section by clicking on the link in the right-hand column, under “Sections and Labels.” Posts are also assigned labels related to their content, so you can pull up all the posts that relate to Memory, for example, by clicking on the Memory label.

Our site is also different in that it offers a great deal of archived information on separate pages. These include: Academic Papers, Magazine Articles, Book and Film Reviews, Original Fiction, a list of Books on the Psychology of Fiction, and a list of Psychologically Significant Fiction. You can access these archives by clicking on the links under the heading “Archives” in the right-hand column. Our lists of books (both on the psychology of fiction, and the psychologically significant) include short, micro-reviews to help you get a sense of each title.

We also offer links to other researchers who investigate the psychology of fiction, and sites related to this topic.

How can you get involved?
Currently, we are accepting submissions for our lists of books on the psychology of fiction, and fiction that might be considered psychologically significant. With your suggestion, we would appreciate a short (50 to 100 word) micro-review. If you would like to have your name added to our list of researchers, or your site added to our links, please let us know. We welcome comments to our posts (with the usual reservations about lapses of politeness and so forth). It is easy to make a comment: at the end of each post you can see something like "0 Comments" or "2 Comments." (The number indicates how many comments have been made on that post so far.) Just click on it, and a box appears for you to write in. You can contact us via e-mail (addresses in our profiles). Also, you can subscribe to our site using the options listed under the “Subscribe” heading.

Thank you for visiting our site, we are looking forward to hearing from you.

Keith Oatley, Ph.D.
Maja Djikic, Ph.D.
Raymond A. Mar, Ph.D.
Kirsten Valentine Cadieux, Ph.D.

Monday, 10 November 2008

What is in the Name?

George Eliot, Mark Twain, Pablo Neruda, George Orwell, Isak Dinesen, Lewis Carroll, George Sand... the list of fiction writers whose very names are fictional is a long one. At first glance, motivations for stepping behind the mask of another name appear pragmatic: being a woman in a world where most writers are men, having a career that can be endangered by one’s writing, not wanting to be infected by a whiff of disreputability that clings to those who make their living by their pen, having a complicated name that begs for simplification or a very plain one that is willingly exchanged for a more romantic mouthful—all these seem reasons good enough. Some of them perhaps no longer exist. Today, being a woman does not immediately disqualify one from being taken seriously as a writer, nor is writing as nearly as disreputable as it used to be. Yet still, writers love their pen names just as they always have done.

The reasons for loving the shade of another name need not be explicit or pragmatic. It is easy to guess at the relief and the freedom writers experience when allowed to be someone else. It is the same reason one imagines is the cause of such high traffic in anonymous on-line chat rooms. Except that for writers, this ability to transcend themselves is essential to their art, and not a game. A different name allows for different styles, genres, feelings, desires, personas—differentness that can transcend the contents that lie petrified and dusty under the aegis of one’s own name. It allows for the courage to push at the seams of one’s own skin, and risk an eruption into the unknown. It covers and protects the newborn forms and styles, indifferent to their quality, just as a good mother would protect her children, both ugly and beautiful.

With all that a pen name does, perhaps we should all have one.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Research Bulletin by Joan Peskin: Expertise in Reading

The development of expertise in reading poetry seems to be little different from the development of expertise in other domains. It involves incremental increases in knowledge that result from extended effects of time spent in deliberate practice (Ericsson, 2006). This allows experts to recognize meaningful patterns and thereby extract a level of meaning that a relative novice is not yet able to do. For instance, in a study in which experts (PhD students in English) were compared with novices (undergraduates and advanced high-school students), who thought aloud as they read "On a drop of dew" by Andrew Marvell, one of the experts used such patterns which then directed what she noticed in the text (Peskin, 1998). Noting that the poem (presented without the poet’s name) had “words like Manna, so it’s going to have a religious meaning," she contextualized the poem as “Metaphysical” and commented, "I’m seeing an imaginary transparency (over the poem) which has Donne’s name at the bottom with notes in the margin" (p. 243). This expert’s deep structure of knowledge provided a frame of reference that directed her attention.

Studies on expertise also look at how experts use ways of thinking that relative novices do not use. In this way, any systematic changes in the patterns of interpretation and the operations underlying the reading of poetic texts can be examined. For instance, the English PhD students in the above-mentioned study often looked for the meaning of a poem at the locus of the binary oppositions, the juxtapositions or dialectic. At least one theorist has argued that symmetry of the oppositional kind (e.g., darkness and light, creation and destruction) is the very basis of aesthetics in literature (Turner, 1991), and the expert readers allocated extra time to thinking about these contrasts. For instance, when reading difficult lines in a poem, an expert thought aloud:
One of the things that comes right away is the definite sense of polarity, of inside, outside, where elements are first established as something distinct and then at some point dissolve into each other (p. 248).
A relative novice, however, reading the same lines, observes the binary oppositions but rejects them as too confusing:
So you've got sort of an equation, or you've got a scale there, but it doesn't give me any sense of clarity. The one word seems to negate the other somehow, and it just jumbles everything for me. I don't like lines like these. They just jumble things (p. 248).
Not aware of the significance of the binary oppositions in constructing meaning in literary texts, this novice then ignores these lines. Interestingly, novices well understand the concept of binary opposites for oppositions are a basic tool of human cognition and a natural way of seeing the world (Egan, 1997). In children’s folktales, for instance, there are good and bad characters, brave and cowardly ones, and giants and dwarfs. Children also appear to have an implicit understanding of abstract binary concepts such as security and fear in Hansel and Gretel, and obedience and disobedience in Peter Rabbit. Yet, although oppositions are a signal to expert readers that they might be important in symbolic interpretation, relative novices do not have this explicit awareness as they try to make meaning.

More experienced readers of poetry not only demonstrate superior knowledge of interpretive patterns and methods, but research suggests that when given poems to read they enjoy them more. Compared to undergraduates, the PhD students found the poems they were given more pleasing as a whole, and they also more-frequently commented on their delight in specific images. Similarly, in a study of students reading poetry at school, I found that students in Grade 12 not only demonstrated superior interpretive strategies to those of students in Grade 8, which was to be expected, but they also enjoyed the poems more, and experienced a greater emotional response than the less experienced Eighth-graders (Peskin, in press). When reading poetic texts, students appear to enjoy what they feel they understand. It seems that more experience and deeper knowledge brings greater reading pleasure. There is every reason to think that the same principle would hold for reading prose fiction.

Kieran Egan (1997). The Educated Mind: How cognitive tools shape our understanding. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

K. Anders Ericsson (2006). The influence of experience and deliberate practice on the development of superior expert performance. In K. A. Ericsson, N. Charness, P. J. Feltovich, & R. R. Hoffman (Eds.) The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (pp. 683 -704). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Joan Peskin (1998). Constructing meaning when reading poetry: An Expert-Novice study. Cognition and Instruction, 16, 235-263.

Joan Peskin (in press). The development of poetic literacy through the school years. Discourse Processes.

Mark Turner (1991). Reading minds: The study of English in the age of cognitive science. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

For the Love of the Book

An aspect of our experience with fiction literature that has not received a great deal of attention from psychologists is the book as an object. For many ardent readers, the book itself, its cover and pages, can be almost as important as the words within. The allure of long out-of-print hardcover editions beckoning those unsatisfied by current paperback releases. For many, there is something so pleasing about cracking open a brand new hardcover for the first time, about the jagged pages of a first edition, the texture of its spine and the heft and feel of it in your hand. Readers differ greatly, however, in their approach to books. Some treat them like sacred objects, to be gently lifted from the shelf and cradled in one’s hands. While others seem to ignore the physical book itself, absentmindedly worrying away at the corners of each page before turning. It is my impression that this emotional and reverential feeling toward books is more likely to exist in readers of fiction. Nonfiction readers seem more likely to view the book as an opportunity for dialogue, quickly filling the empty margins with their own notes and reactions. In contrast, the thought of writing on a book would offend many fiction readers. For both, however, the book itself is an important object, and one that cannot be easily replaced by an MP3 file, or electronic book reader. I imagine that those who study the history of the book, how books have been made throughout history, would have some interesting things to say about our relationship to the physical properties of books and how new media are beginning to alter this. This article from the BBC provides an interesting starting point for discussion.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Research Bulletin: Free Indirect Style

The term style indirect libre was first published about a hundred years ago, although the style itself was introduced into fiction a hundred years before that. It is a form in which a thought seems to float free of narrator or fictional character. An informative reference is Banfield (1993). Here is an excerpt about the style that we have written (Oatley & Djikic, 2008, p. 19).
Lodge (2002) says, “most novelists today would probably not recognize [the term 'free indirect style']” (p. 45), but the style has become widespread. Lodge describes it as giving the reader access to a character’s consciousness. The example he offers is from Jane Austen’s Emma (1816/2003) in which the protagonist’s attempts to match-make for her friend Harriet bring about, instead, a proposal of marriage to Emma herself: “The hair was curled, and the maid sent away, and Emma sat down to think and be miserable.—It was a wretched business …” (p. 106). If a writer were to express the last part of this in a first-person narrative such as a letter, it might be rendered: “I sat down and thought: ‘It is a wretched business.’” At its most typical, free indirect style dispenses with quotation marks, transposes the present tense of direct speech into past tense, and changes first person into third person (cf. Banfield, 1993). The effect is that: “We overhear Emma’s thoughts,” and because some sentences lack main verbs, there occurs a “further blurring [of] the distinction between author’s voice and character’s voice” (Lodge, p. 48).
Do ordinary readers experience this style as distinctive? An approach to this question was made by Violeta Sotirova (2006). She found a passage in D.H. Lawrence's Sons and lovers (p. 342) with the following in free indirect style.
Miriam shuddered. She drew him to her; she pressed him to her bosom; she kissed him and kissed him. He submitted, but it was torture. She could not kiss his agony. That remained alone and apart. She kissed his face, and roused his blood, while his soul was apart, writhing with the agony of death. And she kissed him and fingered his body, till at last, feeling he would go mad, he got away from her. It was not that he wanted just then—not that. And she thought she had soothed him and done him good.
Sotirova gave her participants this passage, divided into eleven parts (sentences or clauses). Her research question was whether each part could have just one perspective or more than one. She found that, when she asked participants to say for each part whether the perspective was of the Narrator, or Miriam, or "him" (Paul), or more than one of these, they sometimes designated parts as having multiple perspectives. For instance the first sentence was read by 14 of Sotirova's participants as from the narrator's perspective, by 37 as from Miriam's, and by 22 as from both.

We (Maja Djikic and I) would like to go further with this idea. In the hands of some writers, Jane Austen being an example, free indirect style sometimes achieves three-way ambiguity: a thought can be the narrator's, a character's, and also the reader's.

Jane Austen (2003). Emma. Oxford: Oxford University Press (Original work published 1816).

Ann Banfield (1993). Where epistemology, style, and grammar meet literary history: the development of represented speech and thought. In J. A. Lucy (Ed.), Reflexive language: Reported speech and metapragmatics (pp. 339-364). New York: Cambridge University Press.

D. H. Lawrence (1944). Sons and lovers. London: Heinemann (Original work published 1913).

David Lodge (2002). Consciousness and the novel. In D. Lodge (Ed.), Consciousness and the novel (pp. 1-91). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Keith Oatley & Maja Djikic (2008). Writing as thinking. Review of General Psychology, 12, 9-27.

Violeta Sotirova (2006). Reader responses to narrative point of view. Poetics, 34, 108-133.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Neither Nasty nor Nice

Why is it that artists, who often dedicate their lives to creating beauty and exploring truth, do not necessarily seem an inch closer to beauty or truth in their own lives? Have not we all been a little surprised by crassness, maliciousness, petty nastiness, leechiness, and hatefulness our favorite artists sometimes seem to exhibit? We are quick to forgive, for they are people, and all people have flaws, and because we love their work, yet uneasiness remains. If beauty and truth are not enacted in their lives, are they real in their work? How piercing is their exploration, if it cannot penetrate the surface of their everyday lives? Is their work truthful and beautiful if they themselves are not? How can we become more truthful and beautiful through their work, if it does not move them?

All of these questions lean toward a longing, a longing for ideals, a longing to have a creator and creation both illuminated with the same light. We see them reaching, and want them to have reached that which we all long for. But their kind of exploration is open-ended, like a question with no ready answer. It is, in fact, perfectly understandable how a painter can have a malicious row with his wife in between gentle brush strokes at his easel, how a poet can write a verse of unearthly beauty, only to go to the kitchen, put her head into the gas oven, and turn the gas on. They are reaching, as we all are, and we have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that the beauty of their work could bring us the very gifts that it failed to bring them.
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