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Forthcoming PresentationsIGEL, 2010: International Society for the Empirical Study of Literature and Media. July, 7-11, 2010, University of Utrecht, Holland.
Symposium: Articulating the ineffable: Strategies for approaching aesthetic experiences.
Coordinator and Discussant: Don KuikenAaftink, Cathelein. Beauty and Existence
Symposium Abstract: In studies of aesthetic experience, developments in understanding across a series of scholarly studies are difficult to articulate because such studies often reflect the confluence of disciplines and because the related conceptions of research “method” or “approach” differ dramatically. In this symposium, contributors will attempt to articulate the relations between their prior, ongoing, and future studies, with particular attention to how individual studies within a long-term research program contribute to the accumulation of understanding.
Heidegger’s work on art and Lingis’ reflections on life exemplify an experiential intimacy, sensitivity and richness not often encountered in (empirical) research on reading (and/or aesthetic) experiences. Having broadened my research orientation from aesthetic experience to the more inclusive phenomenon of beauty, my current work proposes an existential consideration of beauty inspired by continental philosophy and respondents’ and theorists’ stories of personal experiences with beauty.
Campbell, Paul. As Only Saints Have Listened: Learning the Call of Poetry.
My work arose from a sense that an unarticulated realm of human experience underlies both art and religion. Humanities and social sciences methods, taken separately, seemed insufficient for this investigation, prompting me to combine them in a phenomenological program. Literary-mystical experience in T.S. Eliot and Rainer Maria Rilke is my present focus. I imagine expanding this work into a program linking poetry to personal exploration, extending to communal and pedagogical experiences of the spiritual-aesthetic.
Fialho, Olivia. Linguistic Basis for Numerically-Aided Phenomenology: a Study on Self-modification in Literary Response
This study consists of an investigation of the phenomenon of self-modification in literary response. To this purpose, I am currently developing a version of numerically-aided phenomenology (Kuiken & Miall 2001) that enables inductive examination of readers’ first-person experiential accounts in which repetition with modification of themes becomes central to analysis. Based on lexical analysis, the method allows for dynamic descriptions of the phenomenon. This study will possibly result in the articulation of a typology of transformative reading experiences and the establishment of a model of self-modifying reading which can be predictive of readers’ responses.
Miall, David S. What is literary about foregrounding?
When foregrounding has a literary effect on a reader, what is at stake? Neuropsychological evidence suggests that foregrounding is processed rapidly, within the first 400 msec of onset, and that this necessarily preconscious and precognitive response inaugurates some specific, particularly affective, outcomes that can be characterized as literary. Preliminary evidence of the distinctive role of foregrounding in general terms has been shown by its association with longer reading times, more intense feeling, and other phenomena.
Sopcák, Paul. The Holzwege to Existential Reading and Beyond
I will discuss how an array of themes, which my research has focused on in the past, are in retrospect attempts at articulating aspects of my current project, existential reading. Empirical studies I conducted of literary reading and its relation to foregrounding, free indirect discourse, violence, and empathy have challenged me to reflect on the relationship between methodology, and the investigated phenomena. I will talk about some of these challenges and how I envision my research developing in the future.
Campbell, Paul. “I felt first like angels”: Marking the Crossroads of the Poetic/Mystical
I present the third in a series of studies investigating the presence of mystic experience in the reading of modernist poetry. A session replicating a previous design allowed the 36 participants to be classified into pre-determined clusters. An interview the following week both confirmed and added depth to the initial classification. Exemplary members chosen from each cluster revealed interesting individual differences, and the capacity of the interview to engage non-cluster-typical self-implicating experiences.
Miall, David S. A neurophysiological approach to the elements of literariness
A neuropsychological model of the initial response to foregrounding is outlined, drawing primarily on recent studies of evoked response potentials (ERPs) to various features of language. Given that such responses are preconscious and precognitive, I will suggest how they may endow the encounter with foregrounding with that distinctive sense of strangeness that is a feature of literariness.
Miall, David S., & Kuiken, Don. Insight in literary response: The role of the right hemisphere
It is claimed that the right hemisphere is responsible for the distinctiveness of literary response. In an empirical study modeled on the insight paradigm of Jung-Beeman & Bowden (2000), we looked at the time-course of the response to foregrounding. Response in the right hemisphere but not the left was still active 15 secs following foregrounding onset, and associated words presented to the right hemisphere were rated higher in insight than those presented to the left.
Miall, David S. (Invited). The neuropsychology of literariness. Conference on Neuroaesthetics, September 24-26, 2009, Copenhagen.
If we are comparing Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with a Mills and Boon romance, what prompts us to see one as literary and not the other? Are there intrinsic signs of literariness to which we respond in the text? There appear to be two classes of features in particular to which we have an immediate response: feelings in response to foregrounded aspects of language (stylistic effects, such as metre, assonance, metaphor) and what I will call qualified empathy (taking on the feelings of a main character while remaining alert to the character’s potential for error). Both call on, and often serve to modify, readers’ feelings. In this paper I will review the evidence for an early response (< 500 msec) to both kinds of textual feature, prior to any conscious, cognitive construal. Although as yet we have no direct neuropsychological evidence for a distinctive mode of literary response, I suggest how this early phase of response in reading may motivate our sense of literariness through contrasts and conflicts in feeling. More specifically, such feelings constitute what I will term intention variance effects, moments during which complexes of feeling promote alternative responses prior to awareness.
Miall, David S. (Invited). Thinking with the body: Feeling in literary reading. Cognitive Poetics: A Multimodal Approach, June 9-14, 2009, University of Toronto.
A second cognitive revolution has recently been underway, impelled by new research on emotion and feeling, the discovery of mirror neurons, and other advances in neuropsychology. In this presentation I consider how our view of reading is challenged by such research. I point to the priority of feeling in cognitive processes central to reading, such as imagery, memory, and empathy, and how this involves bodily participation in literary reading. Among the implications for literary aesthetics that I review, I consider the immediate effect of foregrounded features on readers (what Tsur terms precategorial effects), the absence of agency in the first phase of feeling, the sense of disinterestedness that contributes to the feeling of literariness, and the kinaesthetic processes that underlie our empathic powers as readers.
Miall, David S. (Keynote). Narrative feelings and their cognitive implications. Conference on "Cognitive Approaches to Narrative, Embodied Simulation, Metaphor and Complex Tropes." May 21-24, 2008, University of Vienna.
Recent thinking among psychologists and neuropsychologists has witnessed a significant shift in understanding of the relationship of cognition and emotion, with the primacy of emotion now being widely accepted. Whereas it used to be considered that a prior cognitive appraisal was required for an emotion to occur, a cognitive process without emotion is now understood to be deficient, lacking direction, as has been demonstrated in cases of patients with frontal lesions that sever cognition from the emotion centres. Moreover, we often deliberately set out to cultivate emotional experience through reading: we use literature to raise our levels of engagement and interest through empathy with a protagonist or through pleasure in the stylistic aspects of a text. However, the implications of this new perspective on emotions has as yet made little difference to our psychological understanding of literary reading. In this paper I consider evidence for the role of feeling, including some of the salient empirical studies in literary reading, and show how they raise significant implications for our cognitive accounts of the process of reading. The aspects touched on include the early processing of literary features such as foregrounding (i.e., the first 500 msec of processing), the anticipatory power of feelings, their analogical power, and their evocation of action imagery.
Miall, David S. (Keynote) Cognitive Poetics: from Interpreting to Experiencing what is Literary. September 24-26 2007, Anglistentag, Münster, Germany.
Cognitive poetics has brought a number of interesting tools to the analysis of literature, and seems well positioned to become an important new, interdisciplinary paradigm in literary theory. But it has also imported several unresolved problems, partly inherited from its origins in cognitive science. First is the ambivalence of many scholars over the status of literariness, i.e., whether it is tenable to regard literary response as distinctive compared with other types of reading. Second, despite the remarkable recent growth in interest among psychologists, neuropsychologists, and philosophers in emotions and feelings, few scholars seem able to integrate this domain into their investigations. Third, the aim of cognitive approaches is often the interpretation of texts, an aspect that is probably of little relevance to the reading processes of ordinary readers. Fourth, cognitivist poeticians, with a few notable exceptions, take no account of the reading processes of real readers, nor do they seek to investigate these empirically in the light of their theoretical premises. In this paper I will outline some prospects for realigning cognitive poetics to resolve these problems. I show how it might take advantage of empirical method to examine experiences of reading among all types of readers; I suggest that interpretation is only one among several possible outcomes of a literary reading; and I argue for an approach that will allow us to assess the evidence for literariness in readers' responses. Above all, I propose that emotions and feelings are central to literary response, and that our understanding of the cognitive processes involved in reading will flow from this.
Miall, David S. (Keynote) Literary meaning: The challenge of feeling. Fourth Conference of the International Association of Literary Semantics. October 12-14 2006, The Jagiellonian University of Kraków, Poland. (conference website)
To state that feeling has received little attention from literary scholars is a truism; for example, the new discipline of cognitive poetics has largely ignored it. Yet a number of important features of literary response appear to depend on feeling. Feeling has been shown to correlate reliably with stylistic and other foregrounded features in texts (Miall & Kuiken); it increases the "depth of response" to literary texts (Eva-Wood); feeling is implicated in the absorption or "transport" that enables readers to imagine themselves in a scene or as a given character (Gerrig; Green), with consequent influence on some readers' ethical understanding (Hakemulder); and feeling for certain readers can be self-modifying, a wider concept than catharsis, bringing renewed understanding of the self and its social context (Miall & Kuiken). In addition, feeling presents us with some puzzling paradoxes that point to its independence from cognitive functions: we feel real feelings for characters whom we know to be fictional (Yanal, Carroll); we often feel as vividly on second or subsequent readings (including "anomalous suspense": Gerrig); and we appear to seek out and take pleasure in experiencing negative emotions, as in tragedy (Nussbaum). Finally, the processes activated by feeling may contain the distinctive features that constitute literariness (that elusive and much disputed concept). Thus, if we consider how literary reading influences the ordinary reader, feeling must be central to any serious account of what it means to experience literature rather than interpret it.
I will sketch some of the principles that a feeling-based analysis of literary response might comprise, drawing on psychological and neuropsychological approaches, including recent arguments that feeling provides the platform on which cognition and consciousness depend (Prinz, Ellis). I will also outline empirical studies that have examined the role of feeling in readers' responses to literature. Such a study has practical import: in a time of declining readership in North America (NEA report, Reading at Risk, June 2004) and elsewhere, the study of feeling may lead to a better understanding of literature in the classroom, and help recover literary experience for readers of the future.
10th International Conference of IGEL (International Society for the Empirical Study of Literature and Media), Chiemsee, Germany, August 5-9 2006 (for abstracts see the conference website):
Miall, David S. Defining narrative episodes: An empirical study.
Kuiken, Don, David S. Miall, and Cathelein Aaftink. Reading that Gestures Toward What Cannot Be Said: Sublime Enthrallment and Sublime Disquietude.
Gao Wei, David S. Miall, and Don Kuiken. Translating foregrounding: A Comparative study of Chinese and English readers.
Fialho, Olivia. Assessing Literary Education: An Empirical Investigation of Students' Conceptualizations of Literature in a Canadian Setting.
Sopcak, Paul, Don Kuiken, and David Miall. Meta-Language or Dialogicity? The effects of free indirect speech in George Eliot's Middlemarch.
Weed, Janelle. Cross-media studies and the specificity of influence.
ESSE: Edmonton Symposium on Empirical Studies of Literature and Culture, 20-21 April 2006, University of Alberta (for abstracts see the conference website):
Aaftink, Cathelein. Astonishment and Release: Sublime Disquietude, Sublime Enthrallment.
Fialho, Olivia. Assessing Literary Education: An Empirical Investigation of Students' Conceptualizations of Literature in a Canadian Setting.
Kuiken, Don L. (Keynote). Expressive Reading following Loss and Trauma: Attaining a Sense of Depth at the Limits of Expressibility
Miall, David S. (Keynote). Defining Narrative Episodes: An Empirical Study.
Sopcak, Paul, Don Kuiken, and David Miall. Meta-Language or Dialogicity? The effects of free indirect speech in George Eliot's Middlemarch.
Uli Ng. The Literary Shadow: Reading and Death Reflection.
Miall, David S. Workshop: Literary reading and feeling; lecture: Experimental approaches to studying literary readers. Cultural Research: Challenges for the 3rd Millennium II. International Conference, May 1-6 2005, Kyiv National Linguistic University, Ukraine. (announcement)
Miall, David S., and Don Kuiken. Reorienting the self: Psychological dimensions of the sublime. Conference "Text and Cognition," Tel Aviv University, Israel, May 15-18, 2005.
Miall, David S. Literariness: Are there neuropsychological indicators? International Congress on Aesthetics, Creativity and Psychology of the Arts, Perm, Russia, June 1-3, 2005. (conference website)
Kuiken, Don, and David S. Miall. At the limits of expressibility: The felt sense of the sublime. International Congress on Aesthetics, Creativity and Psychology of the Arts, Perm, Russia, June 1-3, 2005. (conference website)
Miall, David S. Keynote: Beyond interpretation: The cognitive significance of reading. Cognition and Literary Interpretation in Practice. University of Helsinki, Finland, August 27-29 2004.
The 9th International Congress of The International Society for the Empirical Study of Literature (IGEL). Edmonton, Canada, August 3-7, 2004 (conference website):
- Mohsni, Lilia, David S. Miall, Don Kuiken, and Michelle Gregus. How readers respond to ambiguity
- Miall, David S. Foregrounding and the sublime: A proposal
- Eng, Tracy C., Don Kuiken, Krister Temme, and Ruby Sharma. Navigating the Complexities of Two Cultures: Bicultural Competence, Feeling Expression, and Feeling Change in Dreams
- Gao Wei, David S. Miall, Don Kuiken. The receptivity of Canadian readers to Chinese literature
- Miall, David S. Presidential address: A future for literature?
Miall, D. S. Reading hypertext -- theoretical ambitions and empirical studies. The State of the Art in Humanities Computing. University of Munich, Germany, December 11-12 2003. Online: Jahrbuch für Computerphilologie 5 (2003): 161-178. [http://computerphilologie.uni-muenchen.de/jg03/miall.html]
Recent discussions of hypertext fictions have at times suggested that conventional print literature is now superseded, that a computational approach to understanding is required, or that the principal source of influence on the reader is the material embodiment of the literary text whether its medium is print or digital. Such arguments overlook the sophisticated array of reading processes that help direct a reader's engagement with any fiction text. Empirical and theoretical studies of reading show that these include narrative expectations about character, plot, and setting, and four types of feelings: evaluative feelings, feelings about narrative aspects, aesthetic feelings, and self-modifying feelings. Yet readings of hyperfictions so far have been limited mainly to aspects of plot. In an analysis of one section of Caitlin Fisher's hyperfiction Waves of Girls, the effect of the design of links, graphics, sounds, and other elements on reader's feelings and narrative expectations is examined. This analysis suggests that readers of hyperfictions can be both immersed and interactive, but that a better understanding of the reading processes that facilitate this is required.
Miall, D., Kuiken, D., & Gifford, J. Why do students choose to study literature? European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction, EARLI, University of Padua, Italy, Aug 26-30, 2003.
What incentives do students find in studying literature at university? We have been participating in a cross-cultural examination of this question in collaboration with Achim Barsch (Germany) and Sonia Zyniger and Olívia Fialho (Brazil). For the research in Canada we have employed three questionnaires. Analyses of the data so far show that Canadian students tend to discriminate literary from other texts on grounds of style, their ability to invoke the imagination, and to challenge the reader. When asked if literary texts were distinctive, typical comments were that literature "offers new perspectives," "gives insight into character," "provides different viewpoints, including other cultures," "evokes emotions," and "encourages deeper interpretation." A significant proportion of students reported reading literary texts for pleasure, and they did not distinguish this strongly from reading for study as German and Brazilian students appear to do. Overall, in comparison with genres such as popular fiction or fantasy, literary texts were judged to promote intellectual understanding and experiential involvement; in particular, we found that students who choose literary reading believe that it involves more profound emotions, and provides insight into the self or others of a kind not available from other reading (some contrast it with electronic media in this respect). In our report we will outline the analyses that support these conclusions, describe the factors that motivate students to read other genres, and discuss the reasons that students provide for studying literature. We will also compare our findings with those from the other two countries studied.
Kuiken, D., & Miall, D. S. Withdrawing to engage: How literary reading penetrates consciousness. Workshop: How Literature Enters Life, University of Utrecht, June 26-28 2003.
According to aesthetic attitude theory (e.g., Bullough, 1912; Stolnitz, 1960), the reader of a literary text suspends concerns with practical objectives to engage the world of the text more fully. This formulation suggests that a form of withdrawal from everyday concerns actually enhances response to the expressive possibilities offered by the text-and increases the likelihood that such expressive reading will influence the reader's sense of self. We assessed this model in a research design that experimentally varied aesthetic attitude and attention to style, while also assessing individual differences in reading orientation.
We found that readers who adopted the aesthetic attitude were more likely to report "resonance of [their] own feelings with those in the story," F(2,84)=4.899, p < .010. Also, readers who had been explicitly instructed to attend to literary style were more likely to report "an objective impression of the feelings expressed in the story," F(2,84)=3.654, p < .030. However, readers who adopted the aesthetic attitude-and who had not been instructed to attend to literary style-were more likely to report an experiential shift through which they became "aware of feelings that [they] typically ignore," especially while reading passages toward the end of the story, F(2,84)=3.581, p <.032. Moreover, readers within the aesthetic attitude/no style sensitization condition who reported such shifts were more likely to describe themselves on the Literary Response Questionnaire (Miall & Kuiken, 1995) as inclined to experience vivid imagery, F(1,39)=4.939, p <.010, and to read for insight, F(1,39)=3.281, p <.043. They also indicated sensitivity to bodily feelings on a measure that has previously been used to predict self-perceptual depth following impactful dreams (Kuiken, Busink, Dukewich, & Gendlin, 1996), F(1,39)=4.154, p <.019.
The results of this study are generally consistent with aesthetic attitude theory. Suspending concerns with practical objectives enabled resonant engagement with feelings embodied in the text and enabled shifts in personal feelings during reading, but only when readers were not attempting to comply with instructions to attend to style. Also, these feeling changes occurred only among readers who were predisposed to (1) vividly imagine the world of the text, (2) capture and represent feelings, and (3) derive insights from literary reading. Perhaps adoption of the aesthetic attitude can be understood as creation of a shelter, a psychological space within which to engage and transform personal feelings and the accompanying sense of self.
Miall, D. S. The landscape of feeling: Re-reading Romantic travel. Keynote presentation for conference: Literature and Emotions: Text, Ideology, and Conflict, The Netherlands Graduate School for Literary Studies, University of Utrecht, June 22-26 2003.
Historicist accounts of literature have tended to bypass the readerly dynamics of the literary text in favour of a supposed underlying set of political determinants, a process in line with what Ricoeur termed the "hermeneutics of suspicion." For example, critical readings of romantic writing about landscape have typically been disengaged from the writer's affective and embodied experience of landscape, this being treated as a self-deception liable to mislead the unwary or naive reader (e.g., Levinson's account of Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey"). In this paper I show how romantic engagement with landscape emerged from a series of earlier approximations to the natural scene: beginning with the loco-descriptive poem and the fashion for the picturesque, it culminated in the imaginative and participatory ethos of the romantic writer with nature. I suggest that a similar transit is called for now in order to reinvigorate our own awareness of the emotional determinants of literary reading. I point out that some participatory features of reading have been demonstrated by research in the empirical tradition, and that this will eventually both enrich and correct historicist understanding.
Gao Wei, Miall, D. S., & Kuiken, D. The receptivity of Canadian readers to Chinese literature. Culture and the State: Past, Present, Future. University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, May 2-5 2003.
The historical background of immigration has fostered a rich and colorful multicultural society in Canada. As there are more than one million immigrants of Chinese origin in this land, who constitute 3.5 percent of the total Canadian population, the receptivity of Canadians to Chinese literature is an interesting and appealing study, especially as China is well-known to be a country with a long and extensive history with a continuing influence from ancient oriental customs. This paper focuses on an analysis of the responses of Canadian readers to Chinese literature obtained during an empirical study recently completed at the University of Alberta. The participants were drawn from two groups, 30 second generation Chinese-Canadians and 30 Euro-Canadians, whose responses to writing by the Chinese author Lin Yutang will be compared and contrasted.
Miall, D. S. The third factor: Modelling the reader. The Second Annual Humanities Computing Graduate Conference, University of Alberta, Edmonton, December 5-6, 2002.
In considering how computers have been used in literary studies up to now, I argue that text analysis and text encoding provide a necessary but insufficient foundation for literary computing. To develop a model adequate to the task we must integrate these methods with the third factor: the reader. Empirical studies show that literary reading is characterized by a range of systematic features that are amenable to being analysed and modelled by computer methods. If we base literary computing on the experience of reading, we can build a genuinely powerful tool for computational poetics.
Three papers for IGEL 2002, The 8th Biannual Conference of the International Society for the Empirical Study of Literature (IGEL), Pécs, Hungary, August 21-24, 2002.
Kuiken, D., & Miall, D. S. Phenomenological approaches to the temporality of reading experience.
The evolution of Husserl's understanding of phenomenological methods occurred in three phases, which he called static, genetic, and generative phenomenology (Steinbock, 1995). Static phenomenology is a description of the properties, and their structure, by virtue of which a phenomenon is the kind that it is; in this approach, the structured co-occurrence of properties constitutes the phenomenon in experience. Numerically aided phenomenology (Kuiken & Miall, 2001), which we have used to articulate empirically different types of reading experience, is a static phenomenology in this sense. Although useful in the identification of different types of reading experience, numerically aided phenomenology does not effectively reveal the temporality of experience. To develop a genuinely genetic phenomenology, the procedures of numerically aided phenomenology require adjustments that more effectively reveal how a present impression emerges from prior experience and anticipates subsequent experience. In a demonstration of these procedural changes taken from our think-aloud studies of reading, we will attempt to show that, beyond mere succession, the repetitions of and variations on a theme reflect modifications in experience that are pivotal in understanding their aesthetic significance. In fact, within the temporality of these repetitions and variations there may be evidence of a certain telos, a movement within reading experience toward optimal richness and intricacy. The implications of these "optimalizing" aspects of reading experience for a generative phenomenology will be briefly considered.
Kuiken, D., Miall, D.S. (2001). Numerically aided phenomenology: Procedures for investigating categories of experience. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research [On-line Journal], 2(1). Available at: http://qualitative-research.net/fqs/fqs-eng.htm
Steinbock, A.J. (1995). Home and beyond: Generative phenomenology after Husserl. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Kuiken, D., Miall, D. S., Gregus, M., Phillips, L., & Sikora, S. Metaphors of personal identification: Forms of self-implication in literary Reading.
Literary reading can be deeply self-implicating, although the challenge remains to examine self-implicating reading both sensitively and rigorously. This challenge is complicated by the possibility that there are different forms of self-implicating reading, which wax and wane within the temporality of reading experience. We have begun to articulate the forms of self-implicating reading that are evident in readers' accounts of their own reading experience (Kuiken & Miall, 2001; Sikora, Kuiken, & Miall, 1998). We have found that, at times, readers feel implicated when the text evokes autobiographical memories that support explicit comparison with a figure in the text. At these times, readers speak as though reading takes the form of a simile in which they, in memory, are separate but explicitly compared with an imagined "other" in the world of the text (e.g., "I am like character B in what I do"). At other times, readers become implicated when the text evokes autobiographical memories in a form that suggests a partial merging with a figure in the text. At these times, readers imply that reading involves a metaphor in which they are an imagined "other" in the world of the text (e.g., "I am B-and we do such and such). Given the differences between simile and metaphor comprehension (cf. Glucksberg & Keysar, 1990), these contrasting autobiographical attitudes may be expected to offer different interpretive outcomes. Using readers' commentaries on their own reading experiences, we will contrast those showing simile-like and those showing metaphor-like identification with an "other" within the text. Also, we will present preliminary evidence that, for the metaphorically identifying readers, there is movement toward increased richness and intricacy of understanding.
Miall, D., Kuiken, D., & Gifford, J. Reasons for reading and studying literature.
How do readers in an introductory course in English literature at the University of Alberta explain their own reading proclivities? What reasons do they provide for the satisfaction taken in reading different types of text? How are their preferences for particular types of text related to their reasons for deciding to study literature? Our answers to these questions are based on the responses of 120 readers to three questionnaires: (1) Questionnaire for Students of English at the University of Alberta (adapted from an instrument developed by researchers at Siegen University and Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro: see companion report by da Costa Fialho and Zyngier), (2) the Literary Response Questionnaire (Miall & Kuiken, 1995), and (3) a Reading History Questionnaire that is in development at Alberta.
Analyses of the data so far show that Canadian students tend to discriminate literary from other texts on grounds of style, their ability to invoke the imagination, and to challenge the reader. When asked if literary texts were distinctive, typical comments were that literature "offers new perspectives," "gives insight into character," "provides different viewpoints, including other cultures," "evokes emotions," and "encourages deeper interpretation." A significant proportion of students reported reading literary texts for pleasure, and they did not distinguish this strongly from reading for study as German and Brazilian students appear to do. Overall, in comparison with genres such as popular fiction or fantasy, literary texts were judged to promote intellectual understanding and experiential involvement. In our report we will outline the analyses that support these conclusions, describe the factors that motivate students to read other genres, and discuss the reasons that students provide for studying literature. We will also compare our findings with those from the other two countries studied.
Miall, D. S., & Kuiken, D. A feeling for fiction: Becoming what we behold. The Work of Fiction: Cognitive Perspectives, June 4-7 2001, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel. To full text of paper.
Feelings during literary reading can be characterized at four levels. First, feelings such as suspense and amusement are reactions to an already interpreted narrative (Hansson, 1990). While providing an incentive to sustain reading, these feelings play no significant role in the distinctively literary aspects of text interpretation. Second, feelings that derive from perceived affinity with an author, narrator, or narrative figure are the outcome of an interpretive process by which a fictional representation is developed. Although important in the reader’s development of a situation model (Kneepens & Zwaan, 1994), these feelings, too, do not derive from distinctively literary aspects of text interpretation. Third, feelings of appreciation (aesthetic pleasure or interest) are an initial moment in readers’ response to the formal components of literary texts (narrative, stylistic, or generic). Although serving to capture and hold readers’ attention (Miall & Kuiken, 1994), these aesthetic reactions only anticipate the level of feeling that will be the main focus of our discussion. This fourth level of analysis involves the modifying powers of feeling that appear to be triggered primarily by the formal and narrative components of literary texts. We will argue that these components interact during reading to produce composite and interactive metaphors of personal identification that modify self-understanding, and that the familiar concept of catharsis (the conflict of tragic feelings identified by Aristotle) identifies one particular form of this more general pattern of response in which feelings evoked during reading interact to modify the reader. During this process, in Coleridge’s words, we "become that which we understandly [sic] behold and hear" (1804).
Miall, D. S. The first poetry? The stylistics of babytalk. IGEL 2000, July 31-August 4, Toronto. In Symposium: Evolutionary approaches to literature, where 7 papers were presented. See separate document for details.
Miall, D. S., & Kuiken, D. Reading expressively through "Tears of Light". IGEL 2000, July 31-August 4, Toronto.
Using systematic phenomenological methods (cf. Sikora, Kuiken, & Miall, 1998), we have identified a distinctive mode of reading through which literary texts, on occasion, attain expressive depth. Through this mode of reading, (1) an emergent affective theme is progressively transformed; (2) these transformations occur through synaesthetic engagement with textually grounded imagery; and (3) readers become implicated in the existential concerns embodied in the text. This kind of reading blurs the boundaries between the reader's and the narrator's perspectives and precipitates a form of self-perceptual depth, which readers describe as increased sensitivity to aspects of their lives that they usually ignore.
Although instigated by readers' engagement with stylistic features of the text (cf. Miall & Kuiken, 1999), reading with expressive depth is not wholly determined by them. Instead, readers' life circumstances moderate their self-implicating and transformative effects. Some research indicates that these moderating factors are dispositions, i.e., stable orientations toward reading such as can be measured using the Literary Response Questionnaire (Miall & Kuiken, 1995). And yet, such dispositions may exert their influence on expressive reading only under certain circumstances, such as when the reader is explicitly instructed to adopt an "aesthetic attitude" toward the reading experience. We have previously reported precisely this person by situation interaction in an experimental study of self-perceptual depth through literary reading (Kuiken, Miall, Busink, & Cey, 1996).
But dispositional accounts of expressive reading, perhaps especially if these dispositions exert their effects only under certain instructional conditions, are vulnerable to the social constructionist critique: the ideology of the "aesthetic attitude" and "expressive depth" may seem an historically and culturally relative set of conventions by which readers "discover" a text's illusory capacity to cultivate certain sensitivities. To counter this critique, it is important to identify life circumstances within which expressive depth "naturally" occurs through literary reading. To this end, we have undertaken studies demonstrating that the existential contingencies associated with bereavement provide conditions within which the narrative imagination, made manifest in dreams as well as literary reading, attains expressive depth. We will review research, some presented for the first time, articulating the circumstances that enable literary reading to penetrate the life world.
Miall, D. S., & Kuiken, D. Becoming what we behold: A feeling for literature. IGEL 2000, July 31-August 4, Toronto.
Feelings during literary reading can be characterized at four levels. First, feelings such as suspense and amusement are reactions to an already interpreted narrative (Hansson, 1990). While providing an incentive to sustain reading, these feelings play no significant role in the distinctively literary aspects of text interpretation. Second, feelings that derive from perceived affinity with an author, narrator, or narrative figure are the outcome of an interpretive process by which a fictional representation is developed. Although important in the reader's development of a situation model (Kneepens & Zwaan, 1994), these feelings, too, do not derive from distinctively literary aspects of text interpretation. Third, feelings of appreciation (aesthetic pleasure or interest) are an initial moment in readers' response to the formal components of literary texts (narrative, stylistic, or generic). Although serving to capture and hold readers' attention (Miall & Kuiken, 1994), these aesthetic reactions only anticipate the level of feeling that will be the focus of this presentation. This fourth level of analysis involves the multifaceted and even conflicting tendencies of feeling (Griffiths, 1997) triggered by the formal components of literary texts. We will argue that (1) the formal components of literary texts provide composite and interactive metaphors of personal identification that modify self-understanding (Cohen, 1999); (2) the outcome of textual re-interpretation at this level is the accentuation of intimacy and intricacy in the reader's experiential self; (3) the points at which textual re-interpretation exerts this modifying power are those at which individual differences between readings are most apparent and important; and (4) the familiar concept of catharsis (the conflict of tragic feelings identified by Aristotle) identifies one particular form of this more general pattern of response in which feelings evoked during reading modify the reader: in Coleridge's words, we "become that which we understandly [sic] behold and hear" (1804).
Miall, D. S. The first poetry? The stylistics of babytalk. Poetics and Linguistics Association, June 29-July 2 2000, London. PALA 2000.
The incentive to respond to poetic features of language may occur as early as the first few weeks of life. In this paper (prepared in part with the help of Ellen Dissanayake) I examine the nature of the mother-infant interaction commonly called "babytalk" and suggest that its stylistic features contain the precursor of later aesthetic response. Babytalk is spontaneously generated by mothers, using temporally-organized behaviors (special infant-directed vocalizations, facial expressions and gestures) to engage their preverbal infants' attention and to regulate their emotional state. For their part, preverbal infants appear to be innately ready to prefer and respond to these features. The mother's speech exhibits a systematic use of metrical stresses and other rhythmic features, and phonetic variations and contrasts, to facilitate the mutual regulation of affective and perceptual interaction.
In literary language such rhythmic and phonetic features are considered "aesthetic" and can be analyzed for "poetic diction." I consider how far the mother's speech patterns offer a prototype of such diction, serving to create an aural texture that enables foregrounding of features and coherence at several different levels, and how the infant's reception might anticipate and prepare for later poetic response. In a wider sense, the significance of babytalk can be seen within an evolutionary perspective that points to the power of the arts to dehabituate and retune cognitive and affective processes.
Miall, D. S. Reading Nature: Coleridge's Kinaesthetic Landscapes. The 7th Annual Conference of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR), August 12-15, 1999, Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Special session: Romanticism and the New Psychology)
In Nature all things are individual; but a Word is but an arb[itrary Character] for a whole Class of Things; so that the same description may in almost all cas[es be applied] to twenty different appearances. (Coleridge, Letters, I, 503)
Coleridge here suggests the deficiency of words for landscape description, in one of his letters from the Harz Mountains in 1799. In this paper I review Coleridge's evocations of landscape in his letters and notebooks. I trace Coleridge's development of a vocabulary adequate to the singularities (Stafford 1981) of what he saw, and locate this within Coleridge's understanding of the kinaesthetic foundations of perception and language. This continues an approach I suggested in October (Miall 1998), where I contrasted Coleridge's writing with the contemporary fashion for the picturesque. My argument is made in three phases.
First, as McKusick (1996) has recently pointed out, Coleridge develops a uniquely inventive vocabulary for responding to nature. In his account of Scottish landscape in 1803, for example, words such as "Twistures," "bulgy," "touchingly," "Embracement," or "scurvily," evoke bodily and affective processes whose effects tend to colour the surrounding descriptions, locating them within fields of energy and movement that are only partly sensed. In their resistance to completion they contrast with the aura of suggestion favoured by picturesque writers. For Gilpin, for example, "the grey obscurity of a summer-evening" on the Wye is an incentive to the imagination, "which often composes landscapes, perhaps more beautiful, if the imagination be well-stored, than any that can be found in Nature herself" (Gilpin, 64). Where Gilpin completes a landscape in imagination, it is to arrive at that arrest or repose that tends to characterize the picturesque: its energies are balanced and contained, and the observer is detached from what he sees. Coleridge's descriptions, in contrast, often bring an unsettling sense of process into the foreground, through repeated small shocks and defamiliarizations, relocating the observer affectively in complicity with the energies of nature.
Second, the immediacy of Coleridge's language for nature, whether from the Harz in 1799, on the Lakeland Fells in 1802, or in Scotland in 1803, depends on a set of phonetic and figurative resources that represent embodied forms of feeling. Coleridge's writings in this respect can be analysed for their iconic value as sound structures (e.g., Pinker & Birdsong, 1979), and in the light of the bodily metaphors (Johnston, 1987) they contain. As Richardson (1999) has pointed out, in Coleridge's lifelong meditations on psychological issues such as dreaming, the body is often configured as an expressive medium of thought and feeling, speaking to us in its own voice.
Third, the implication of such affective energies can be related to the laws of emotion sketched by Fridja (1988). Frijda's "Law of Conservation of Emotional Momentum" and "Law of Closure," suggest an underlying persistance of affect that makes the objects he describes singularities, resistant to integration with the landscape as a whole (especially after Coleridge looks elsewhere, or has walked on). At the same time, the "Law of Concern," which points to the underlying role of self-reference in an emotion, signals the resonance of Coleridge's concerns (usually inexplicit) with what he sees. In a larger perspective, Coleridge's writings show how a correspondence between natural and human processes is possible at the bodily and affective level, a way of reading the self in nature that we might consider ecological.
Frijda, Nico F. "The Laws of Emotion." American Psychologist, 43 (1988): 349-358.
Gilpin, William. Observations on the River Wye, and several parts of South Wales, &c. Relative chiefly to Picturesque Beauty: Made in the summer of the year 1770, 5th Ed. London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1800.
Johnson, Mark. The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1987.
Miall, David S. Beyond the Picturesque: An Affective Poetics of Coleridge's Landscapes. Paper presented to the American Conference on Romanticism, University of California at Santa Barbara, October 16-18 1998.
Pinker, Steven, and David Birdsong. "Speaker's Sensitivity to Rules of Frozen Word Order." Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 18 (1979): 497-508.
Richardson, Alan. "Coleridge and the Dream of an Embodied Mind." Romanticism, forthcoming (1999).
Stafford, Barbara Maria. "Toward Romantic Landscape Perception: Illustrated Travels and the Rise of 'Singularity' as an Aesthetic Category." Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, 10 (1981): 17-75.
Miall, D. S. The Poetics of Babytalk II. "Micro"-Poetics. Conference of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, June 2-6 1999.
In this second paper [this paper complements a first, both prepared with Ellen Dissanayake] we examine mother-infant interactions ("babytalk") in which mothers use temporally-organized behaviors (special infant-directed vocalizations, facial expressions and gestures) to engage their preverbal infants' attention and attempt to regulate their emotional state. For their part, preverbal infants appear to be innately ready to prefer and respond to these features.
We show how the mother's speech exhibits a systematic use of "micropoetic" metrical stresses and other rhythmic features, and phonetic variations and contrasts, to facilitate the mutual regulation of affective and perceptual interaction. Because of their spontaneity these appear to be produced by the mother without deliberation, yet they reveal a rich structuring of the mother-infant relationship.
In literary language such rhythmic and phonetic features are considered "aesthetic" and analyzed for "poetic diction." We consider the mother's speech patterns to be a prototype of such diction, serving to create an aural texture that enables foregrounding of features and coherence at several different levels. We consider how the infant's reception anticipates and prepares for later poetic response, functioning in particular to initiate the orienting response that underlies adult literary reception. We argue for its significance within the context of an evolutionary perspective that centres on the power of the arts to dehabituate and retune cognitive and affective processes.
Miall, D. S. Beyond the picturesque: An affective poetics of Coleridge's landscapes. American Conference on Romanticism (Special Panel on Romanticism and Cognitive Neuroscience). University of California at Santa Barbara, October 16-18 1998.
Between late 1798 and 1806 in his notebooks and a few of his letters, Coleridge wrote a number of detailed landscape descriptions while travelling (e.g., in Scotland in 1803 or Malta in 1804). Raimonda Modiano has argued that Coleridge's accounts show him exploring the forms of the picturesque: he is said to share the fascination of Uvedale Price for psychological aspects such as variation and roughness. This can be examined in the light of an early example from the Harz tour of May 1799 which exists in a notebook entry and in a longer second version produced five days later in a letter to Sara. In comparing these I suggest that it is the second that Coleridge deliberately brings into line with picturesque convention, distancing his immediate responses through spatial elaborations and the introduction of what Alan Liu has called "metamorphic passions." The comparison suggests that the picturesque is not the ground of Coleridge's first perceptions but a later, cognitive evolution. Coleridge seems more attuned than other writers to the affective and physiognomic aspects of perception with their projections to mnemonic resources and self-concept themes. His accounts demonstrate response at a somatic level that also appears to underlie some of his most effective poetry. I will argue, with a glance at linguistic and neuropsychological theory, that an "affective" rather than a "cognitive" poetics provides the appropriate framework for understanding Coleridge's landscape writing.
VIth Biannual IGEL Conference, Utrecht, August 26-29, 1998. Our research group presented the following papers. For abstracts see separate document.
Alamir A. Corrêa, David S. Miall, and Don Kuiken. Response to environments and to literary texts: The role of national identity.
Don Kuiken, David S. Miall, Michael Bears, and Laurie Smith. Defamiliarization in dreaming and reading: Eye movements and attentional disengagement.
David S. Miall and Don Kuiken. What is literariness? Empirical traces of reading.
Shelley Sikora, Don Kuiken, and David S. Miall. Enactment versus interpretation: A phenomenological study of readers' responses to Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.'
Teresa M. Dobson and David S. Miall. Orienting the reader? A study of literary hypertexts.
David S. Miall. Hypertextual reading. What's the difference? To full text
David S. Miall,1 Thomas Fröhlich,2 Peter Henningsen.3 In the convergence zone: A neuronal model of literary response. Forum of European Neuroscience, Berlin, June 27-July 1 1998.
1Department of English, University of Alberta; 2Pediatric practice, Bammental, Germany; 3Clinic of Psychosomatic Medicine, University of Heidelberg.
Higher order processes in literary or aesthetic response include transformations of existing sensory and ideational materials as well as integrative mechanisms: these may be modeled on Damasio's suggested convergence zones. Co-occurring or time-locked neuronal firing can be schematized within a matrix of differently weighted probability vectors. The sum of these processes serves to create a "somatic marker" that guides response to literary texts (Miall, Poetics 23, 275). Empirical reader response studies with poems or narratives verified stable and predictable response patterns with respect to text features and response variables at the somatic, affective and cognitive levels. The aesthetic context is a significant vehicle for empirical testing of convergence type models of brain functioning.
T. Fröhlich,1 R. Haux,2 P. Henningsen,3 D.S. Miall,4 P. Roebruck.5 Attention based neuronal processing: A probabilistic model of non-hierarchical neuronal convergence. Forum of European Neuroscience, Berlin, June 27-July 1 1998.
1Pediatric Practice, Bammental, Germany; 2Institute for Medical Biometry and Informatics, University of Heidelberg; 3Clinic of Psychosomatic Medicine, University of Heidelberg; 4Department of English, University of Alberta;5Faculty of Medicine, University of Heidelberg and Department of Medical Informatics, Fachhochschule, Heilbronn, Germany.
A new framework for investigation of attention-based neuronal processing will be outlined, which enables the tracking of transformational processes of the kind exhibited in basic psychosomatic interactions and within narrative structures. Firing probability of a given neuron or set of neurons is determined from internal and external features. The target of these features’ determination is described as a receiver causing activities to focus on it. Synchronous firing with passive antenna type convergence hence can be regarded from a set of views each corresponding to one of a set of centres. Multicentre interaction is discussed with respect to the convergence zone concept and to example applications previously published. Our model may serve as an analytical tool to describe neuronal multicentral interactions. Applying corresponding data processing the model does not need either to hypostatize non-verified effects or serial hierarchies, nor does it require discriminating interoceptive and exteroceptive processes.
Miall, D. S. (1997). The resistance of reading: Romantic hypertexts and pedagogy. Paper presented to the 5th Conference of The North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR), McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, 23-26 October 1997. (Special Session: "Teaching Otherwise: Romanticism and Digital Pedagogy.")
Presenting Romantic texts and contexts on computer might seem like decanting old wine into new bottles. Whether it makes a difference, I will suggest, depends on what theory of textuality you implement. My approach, during these "last days of the book," is to resist the unmargining of text proposed by theorists such as Jay David Bolter or George Landow, while indicating the matrix of intertextual relationships in which the texts can be situated. This is as true of students' work as it is of the texts that we study. My main focus has been to develop tools for the use of students, through web course pages and Romanticism: The CD, an anthology of texts and graphics. I discuss the design principles involved in this work and illustrate with examples of students' work and their evaluative comments.
Miall, D. S. (1997). Romantic construction of the reader: implications for reading and teaching. Paper presented to the International Association of Literary Semantics (IALS), Freiburg, September 1-3. (Session on "Literary Education: Focus on Form and Instruction Methods")
As a part of their drive to reform poetry, the Romantic poets attempted to situate their work within a set of realities endowed with new empirical relevance: the processes of nature, the phenomena of the mind. A central issue became the power of feeling and its transforming role in reshaping the self. In this paper, I consider the implications of this perspective for the study of literary reading and its institutional settings. In particular I ask what changes in classroom practice are required by shifting focus to feeling and the self.
Miall, D. S., & Kuiken, D. Relativism revisited: Traces of actual reading "performances." Session 681: Real Readers; Convention of the Modern Languages Association, Chicago, December 27-30, 1995.
Miall, D. S., & Kuiken, D. Shifting perspectives: Readers' feelings and literary response. International Conference on Narrative Perspective: Cognition and Emotion, Zeist, The Netherlands, 1-3 June 1995. To full text
The following three conference papers are available in Gebhard Rusch, Ed., Empirical approaches to Literature: Proceedings of the Fourth Biannual Conference of the International Society for the Empirical Study of Literature -- IGEL, Budapest, August 1994. Siegen: Siegen University, LUMIS-Publications, 1995.
Kuiken, D., & Miall, D. S. Procedures in think aloud studies: Contributions to the phenomenology of literary response. (pp. 50-60).
Miall, D. S., & Kuiken, D. Feeling and the three phases of literary response. (pp. 282-290)
Miall, D. S., & Kuiken, D. Aspects of literary response: A new questionnaire. (pp. 359-367)
The XIV Congress of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, Prague, August 1-4, 1996:
David S. Miall, & Don Kuiken, Forms of Reading: Recovering the Self as Reader (follow this link for the full text).
Don Kuiken, David S. Miall, Ria Busink, & Robert Cey, Aesthetic Attitude and Insight-oriented Reading: the "Realization" of Personal Meanings in Literary Texts
The 5th Biannual Conference of the International Society for the Empirical Study of Literature (IGEL), Nakoda, Alberta, August 21-26, 1996:
Don Kuiken, David S. Miall, Empiricism Without Positivism: Methods in Studies of Literary Response
Don Kuiken, David S. Miall, & Ron Meunier, Loss, Depression, and Feeling Realization during Reading
David S. Miall, & Don Kuiken, Personality Differences, Reading Patterns, and the Literary Response Questionnaire
Miall, D. S. Experimental Approaches to Literary Reading. Strode Lecture series in Renaissance literature, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. October 11, 2004.
Miall, D. S. Textual ambiguity and emotions in literary texts. Kyiv National Linguistic University, Ukraine, May 7 2004.
Miall, David S. Towards a psychology of neoformalism: Empirical studies of literary response. University of California at Santa Barbara, October 20, 1998. Evolutionary and Behavioral Social Sciences Speaker Series. See revised extract from this paper.Although postmodern accounts of literature have denied the distinctiveness once thought to belong to literary experience, literary texts continue to be written and read in every part of the world. Literature in our modern sense also appears to be continuous in important respects with several millenia of oral literary experience, having in common with the oral such features as play with language and narrative form. It seems worthwhile asking whether literature fulfils some long-standing function or set of functions that has evolved in the human species, given the ubiquity of literary experience across time and cultures. In the light of this approach we are able to generate specific hypotheses that can be tested against the evidence of reading. In other words, an evolutionarily informed theory will enable us to promote the empirical study of literary response and to view this as the foundation of a reconceptualized theory of literature.
In our empirical research we (i.e., Miall & Kuiken) have focused primarily on the attempt to understand the role of formal features of literary texts in shaping the response of readers. Although interpretations of texts appear to differ widely across individuals (despite Stanley Fish's claim to a conformity enforced by the so-called "interpretive community"), readers appear to be systematically influenced by such formal aspects of texts as foregrounding (striking stylistic features) and such narrative features as shifts in time or space, or changes in focal perspective. We hypothesise that the formal structures we can identify in texts serve to evoke issues in readers that are distinctive to the concerns of the individual. In this paper I briefly outline some of the relationships we have identified between formal features and the constructive role played by readers' feelings and their self-concept issues. In particular I situate our research within the framework of evolutionary psychology, raising two key issues: first, whether there is anything distinctive about literary response that has made it adaptive; and second, in what long-standing psychological capacities should we look to find the roots of literary response.
Miall, David S. A feeling for foregrounding: Why conventionalism isn't the whole story. University of Munich, June 25 1998. To full textI make a critical examination of the well-known claim that conventions create the literary object and determine how it is to be interpreted, using the writings of Eagleton and Fish. I claim that literary response is, on the contrary, based in part on some pervasive and important psychological "universals." Some evidence for these is apparent in the systematic effect of formal features of literary texts on the process of reading. With reference to some recent empirical studies in our lab, I will sketch the relevance of this evidence to understanding the response to foregrounding in literary texts and its implications for the self concept of the reader. I will propose that literary studies should focus on the process of response, not on generating more interpretations.
Miall, David S. Towards an ecology of literary reading. Curriculum & Pedagogy Institute Faculty of Education, University of Alberta, November 10 1997. For a fuller version of the empirical section of the paper, see Forms of Reading (above).
Developing an understanding of reading by postmodern scholars has until recently been a theoretical project, as in Culler's competent reader or Fish's interpretive community. In this presentation I describe some empirical studies of actual readers that have led us to question such postmodern accounts. The act of literary reading, as we have observed it, may modify the self concept of the reader and her view of her environment and culture. I will argue that this view of reading offers greater ecological validity.
Document created April 17th 1998 / Last revised April 15th 2010