Wednesday 15 October 2008


In our conception of literariness (Miall & Kuiken), defamiliarization has been a central construct. For example, how an object is described in a poem may oblige us to discard our customary concept for it, and to see it in a new light; or some aspect of the object may be described in ways that we have not considered before. In this way we may either be made to see something novel, or made to see something we already knew but had forgotten (a truth “so true that it lies bedridden in the dormitory of the soul,” as Coleridge puts it). This approach has several interesting consequences.

First, if a figurative or another poetic type of language (metaphor, alliteration, rhyme, metre, etc.) is employed, it must play a role in the meaning of the text; we must be able to feel some significance in it, even if (as is usually the case) we would have some difficulty spelling out what that significance may be. (Metaphors in a newspaper article are usually found to be an intrusion, as Steen found).

Second, what is defamiliarizing is also likely to arouse feeling, especially if our customary concepts are found inadequate: in other words, feeling provides the main vehicle for developing a sense of significance. In this context, many types of feelings have been found: bodily feelings, feelings from a remembered experience, feelings of empathy for a character, and the like. While reading a literary text, however, such feeling guides the reconceptualization of the object or event being described, hence the freshness of feeling that is often part of the literary experience.

Literariness, in this perspective, characterizes the experience of literature, not its possible interpretations; it is a way of regarding the text and its effects in itself, not in relation to some external reference to political, historical, or other issues (interesting though these may be).

We have also tried to conceptualize literariness, following the above insights, in relation to the reader’s response. While there are a number of different ways to read a literary text, we have described one style of reading in particular, expressive enactment, in which the reader identifies a personal theme in the text, to which he or she returns several times during reading, elaborating and deepening its expression. It is this type of reading that, from our empirical observations, seems the most responsive to the literary features and structures of the text.

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