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Motor representation in literary narrative reading: grasping immersion
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Literature and History of Ideas.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9309-2343
2009 (English)Conference paper, Presentation (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

During the past two decades, converging evidence has been accumulated within cognitive science and related disciplines pointing toward an embodied and situated view of cognition, including abstract conceptual thinking. Moreover, researchers have begun investigating and acknowledging extensively the crucial role of motor activity, be it overt or covert, in both cognition and perception. With the gradual discovery of mirror neurons, accompanied by a reemergence of grounded theories of mind, the once so sharp dividing line between lower and higher cognition, as well as between action and perception, has become considerably blurred. Complex phenomena such as consciousness, selfhood, empathy, language production and language comprehension are currently being discussed in terms of motor imagery and represented movement. This body of research, largely supported by neuroimaging studies, not only questions accepted concepts of human psyche. It also opens up new ways of elucidating aesthetic, and most notably literary, experience. By narrowing down our notion of unmarked experience as such, it stipulates a fruitful revision of distinguished key terms in narrative theory – realism, representation, immersion, to name just a few. Elaborating on some of the expanding yet still little known empirical research in embodied language processing, as well as on studies carried out by its precursors in discourse research and on recent work in phenomenology and cognitive neuroscience, this paper aims to briefly outline a theory of motor representation in literary narrative reading. It will be argued that reader immersion stands in direct proportion to certain forms of encoded bodily movement, and that the reader's feeling of being physically present in a literary world is enhanced or suppressed by the narrative favouring the motor or sensory mode, respectively. Demonstrated throughout the paper by the example of quotidian artefact embedding in early modern (Flaubert), late modern (Robbe-Grillet) and contemporary (Toussaint) French novel, the motor vs. sensory distinction will serve as a point of departure when new theoretical concepts are introduced, such as ”pragmatic” vs. ”semantic” description, or ”egocentric” vs. ”allocentric” narrative perspective. In addition, a few more diffuse, larger text unit and world knowledge factors assumed to affect motor representation, e.g. narrative prominence (”linguistic” vs. ”literary” foregrounding of movement) or context dependence (”volatile” vs. ”scripted” movement), will be discussed, with continuous reference to relevant results in empirical narratology and stylistics. The particular emphasis on quotidian artefact embedding in narrative accounts of states and events will be motivated by the unique position artefact manipulation occupies in human motor repertoir, and thereby also in the simulation processes and agency and intentionality judgements determining all human-world and social interaction. Stimulating several utterly private sensorimotor faculties other than bodily movement, above all proprioception and touch, and addressing most directly the reader's procedural memory, artefact nouns – when embedded in the literary narrative in a particular manner – will be argued to arouse a strong Barthesian ”reality effect”.

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URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-123163OAI: diva2:872016
Minds and Narrative, Catholic University Leuven
Available from: 2015-11-17 Created: 2015-11-17 Last updated: 2015-11-17

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Kuzmičová, Anežka
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Department of Literature and History of Ideas

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