Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction

Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction

Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction

Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction

Synopsis

Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction explores how fiction works in the brains and imagination of both readers and writers.
  • Demonstrates how reading fiction can contribute to a greater understanding of, and the ability to change, ourselves
  • Informed by the latest psychological research which focuses on, for example, how identification with fictional characters occurs, and how literature can improve social abilities
  • Explores traditional aspects of fiction, including character, plot, setting, and theme, as well as a number of classic techniques, such as metaphor, metonymy, defamiliarization, and cues
  • Includes extensive end-notes, which ground the work in psychological studies
  • Features excerpts from fiction which are discussed throughout the text, including works by William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Kate Chopin, Anton Chekhov, James Baldwin, and others

Excerpt

This book is about how fiction works in the minds and brains of readers, audience members, and authors, about how – from mere words or images – we create experiences of stories that are enjoyable, sometimes profound.

The book draws on an idea developed by William Shakespeare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Louis Stevenson, and others, that fiction is not just a slice of life, not just entertainment, not just escape from the everyday. It often includes these but, at its center, it is a guided dream, a model that we readers and viewers construct in collaboration with the writer, which can enable us to see others and ourselves more clearly. The dream can offer us glimpses beneath the surface of the everyday world.

A piece of fiction is a model of the world, but not of the whole world. It focuses on human intentions and plans. That is why it has a narrative structure of actions and of incidents that occur as a result of those actions. It tells of the vicissitudes of our lives, of the emotions we experience, of our selves and our relationships as we pursue our projects. We humans are intensely social and – because our own motives are often mixed and because others can be difficult to know – our attempts to understand ourselves and others are always incomplete. Fiction is a means by which we can increase our understanding.

In the last 20 years or so, several groups of researchers have worked on finding out how fiction works in the mind, and why people enjoy reading novels and going to the movies. At the same time research on brain imaging has started to show how the brain represents emotions, actions, and thinking about other people, about which one reads in fiction. In the research group in which I work, we have started to show how identification with fictional characters occurs, how literary art can improve social abilities, how it can move us emotionally, and can prompt changes of selfhood. You can . . .

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