Wednesday 8 July 2009

Fiction as Waking Dream

The International Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA, click here for the society's website) is holding its 2009 conference at Roosevelt Academy, Middelburg, The Netherlands, from 28 July to 1 August. The title of the conference is "The art of sytlistics." The conference program, with a schedule and and a book of abstracts, is available at the conference website (click here). The abstracts give an excellent sense of current research in poetics and linguistics, a good deal of which is relevant to the writing and reading of fiction. The conference has four parallel sessions over most of five days, and six plenary speakers, who are listed below with the titles of their talks.

Peter Verdonk. A cognitive poetic reading of rhetorical patterns: The literary critical controversy about Ted Hughes’s ‘Hawk Roosting’

Keith Oatley. Such stuff as dreams: The psychology of fiction

Charles Forceville. Stylistics in comics: pictorial runes

Rob Pope. Extreme English – the art of pushing limits

Michaela Mahlberg. Corpus stylistics and textual analysis

Gerard Steen. How to do things with M-words:Metaphor in cognitive linguistics, discourse analysis, systemic-functional grammar, and relevance theory.

Here is the abstract for my talk.
Although Aristotle’s Poetics combined literary theory and psychology, these two aspects have not always been close in our understanding of fiction. I make a case that they should be integrated. Although one meaning of Aristotle’s term mimesis is imitation, the primary meaning in Poetics is world-making, or imaginative construction, which is equivalent to the modern cognitive sense of simulation. Shakespeare called it “dream.” With this idea, a question for the Art of Stylistics is how can an author enable this kind of simulation or dream in the reader? I present a theory of fiction as simulation of selves in the social world. I show how fictional simulations run on our minds so that we are moved by them, so that emotions occur: not the characters’ emotions, but our own. I report some new empirical findings. Just as we expect someone who learns to pilot a plane to benefit from time spent in a flight simulator, so we expect people who read a lot of fiction to develop better theory of mind and empathy. Recent studies by our research group (Maja Djikic, Raymond Mar, & Keith Oatley, see have shown such effects. We have also found that people who read a short story by Chekhov (as compared with people who read a text in a non-fictional format with the same information, the same reading difficulty, and same level of interest) changed their personalities in individual ways.
I am very grateful to be invited to this conference. I think it shows that interest in the psychology of fiction is growing. Preparing the talk enables me, moreover, to develop some ideas, two of which I aim to post on this site during the next two weeks.


Bill Benzon said...

I'll be interested in hearing what kind of reaction you get, Keith. As you know, most humanistic interest in the psychology of fiction has been in Freudian or Jungian explication. The sort of psychological investigation you do is quite different. That humanists are interested in that kind of psychology, that is encouraging.

Keith Oatley said...

Thanks, Bill. I am very committed to interdisciplinary cooperation, but it does not always happen. I guess what occurs is that many people have already made commitments to what they think is sensible and what they think is not. But given what you say about Freudian and Jungian explications, perhaps I should flash my membership card: I did a training in psychoanalytic/phenomenological therapy with Ronnie Laing (quite a while ago, when all that was going in London). But perhaps not ... what I say will be more like the stuff we discuss on this site. So, I will let you know how that goes down.

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