The words and worlds of literary narrative: the trade-off between verbal presence and direct presence in the activity of reading

In Lars Bernaerts, Dirk De Geest, Luc Herman & Bart Vervaeck (eds.), Stories and Minds: Cognitive Approaches to Literary Narrative. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 191-231 (2013)
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This paper disputes the notion, endorsed by much of narrative theory, that the reading of literary narrative is functionally analogous to an act of communication, where communication stands for the transfer of thought and conceptual information. The paper offers a basic typology of the sensorimotor effects of reading, which fall outside such a narrowly communication-based model of literary narrative. A main typological distinction is drawn between those sensorimotor effects pertaining to the narrative qua verbal utterance (verbal presence) and those sensorimotor effects pertaining to the imaginary physical world(s) of the story (direct presence). While verbal presence refers to the reader's vicarious perception of the voices of narrators and characters, direct presence refers to the emulated sensorimotor experience of the imaginary worlds that the narrators' and characters' utterances refer to. The paper further elaborates on how, by which kinds of narrative content and structure, direct presence may be prompted. The final section addresses some of the observational and historical caveats that must be attached to any theoretical inquiry made into the sensorimotor effects of reading. As a preliminary for further research, a few ideas about the model's potential for empirical validation are put forward. A brief, tentative history of the sensorimotor benefits of literary narrative reading is then outlined.

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Anezka Kuzmicova
Stockholm University


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