Miall, David S., and Don Kuiken. "A Feeling for Fiction: Becoming What We Behold." Poetics 30 (2002): 221-241. Summary Focusing on the role of feeling in literary response, Miall and Kuiken argue that "some feeling processes are distinctive to literary reading" (222). They identify four types of feeling generally associated with the reading experience, claiming that only one (self-modifying feeling) is distinctive to literary reading. The first type is evaluative feelings, which centre on the pleasure and satisfaction reading can provide. These help to sustain reading (223), but do not prompt readers to question their beliefs, and do not become implicated in textual interpretation (223). The second feeling domain is narrative feelings, which allow the reader to engage with the characters and the narrator in an exercise of sympathy and empathy. Aesthetic feelings form the third feeling category, and consist of a heightened interest brought about by foregrounded features of the text. These features may "initiate change in the reader's grasp of the text's meaning" (225), and prompt self-modifying feeling, the most important and distinctively literary feeling category of the four. This progression towards greater self-involvement is supported by evidence from Gerry Cupchik et al., who found that remembered feelings (where readers recognize and recall feelings from the past) occur most often earlier in stories, and fresh feelings (where readers realize new feelings) occur more frequently later (225). In the discussion of the O'Faolain studies that follow, the authors outline the process whereby aesthetic feelings colour the reading experience with a "diffusely heightened feeling tone" (227), which allows for narrative feelings to guide the reader across conventionally scripted boundaries. In other words, when readers are presented with highly foregrounded text, "feelings are more likely to elicit reactions that are not conventionally, but rather, affectively related to the text" (227). Because feeling is generally self-implicating, a reader's sense of self will sometimes be challenged (229). Remembered feelings may become fresh feelings as boundaries are crossed, taking the reading experience from merely "pleasant" to self-modifying. The creation of metaphors of personal identification is an important part of the generation of self-modifying feelings. These metaphors "create an ad hoc class that is exemplified by a figure from the text and also includes the reader" (232). They are enacted by the reader, who takes on the "embodied perspective of a figure in the text" (232). Since more than one feeling often pervades a reading experience, it is possible for one feeling to modify another (233), resulting in a more complex and nuanced response. Catharsis is sometimes the result of this interplay of feelings, and this is among the most characteristic effects of literary reading (238). Critique Although the professed focus of this paper is on the role of self-modifying feelings in the reading experience, an entire theory of affective literary response underlies it. The theory is plausible, but it is necessarily a preliminary one that sets out a tentative structure which must be augmented and corrected by further empirical work. The model makes only limited claims for its own range and completeness, and the authors admit that even their central thesis "is clearly contentious and far from being empirically well established" (222). However, the work does make some claims which need to be more closely scrutinized before they can be accepted. The proposed reading model strives to describe the diverse affective aspects of a literary experience, and adduces evidence from studies of a short story in support. However, the essay seems to be taking "short fiction" and "literature" as synonyms. In making general claims about the unique elements of literary reading, the authors have based their claims on analyses of fiction, and so the generalizability of their findings is limited. A strikingly similar bit of terminological imprecision weakens Jonathan Culler's essay on literary competence, where he wraps together the terms "literature" and "poetry" in making a case about literature in general, ignoring prose completely. In both cases, the dangers of founding a general theory of reading on a single type of literary production is underlined. Miall and Kuiken's claims may well hold for both poetry and prose, but there are several aspects of their model which seem likely to limit its applicability to poetic reading. Most notably, the role of narrative feelings could be remarkably different during readings of poetic texts, especially those which have no narrative structure. Narrative feelings are alleged to have an important function in helping readers engage in "feeling-guided boundary crossing" (230), which is vital to the formation of metaphors of personal identification. Since these metaphors are of the utmost importance in the generation of self-modifying feeling, the absence of a narrative structure in much poetry might well prevent or limit narrative feeling, significantly altering the reading experience. Or, perhaps readers will generate narratives for poems even when such a structure does not seem to be present. Further study needs to be done before any such claims can be confirmed or denied, but suffice it to say that the identity of the reading experience between fiction and poetry cannot be taken for granted. Even within the scope of the O'Faolain study, there are some important considerations which are not clearly articulated. For example, in one section it is difficult to determine whether metaphors of personal identification proceed from or cause self-modifying feeling. The authors state that "modifying feelings are self-implicating and generate metaphors of a particular kind" (232), which seems to suggests that self-modifying feeling precedes metaphors of personal identification, contradicting the order established throughout the paper. The difficulty, however, adheres mostly in the terminology employed, rather than the model itself. The "modifying feelings" mentioned above should perhaps be renamed "self-implicating feelings," since they help readers immerse themselves in the story. This is a more preliminary part of a reader's experience with the text, while the generation of self-modifying feeling comes later on. Another aspect of the reading process which is mentioned, but never integrated during the elaboration of the model, is the role of evaluative feelings. Narrative feelings and aesthetic feelings are implicated in the explanation of self-modifying feelings, but evaluative feelings are left out entirely. If they are worth mentioning at all, their role in the reading experience should be examined, even if it is in a preliminary way. References Culler, Jonathan. "Literary Competence." Reader Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post- Structuralism. Ed. Jane P. Thompkins. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980.
Document created March 4th 2005