Academic journal article Style

Presence and Prediction: The Embodied Reader's Cascades of Cognition

Academic journal article Style

Presence and Prediction: The Embodied Reader's Cascades of Cognition

Article excerpt

Even if a literary theory is not expressly geared to reader response or the empirical investigation of what real readers do, every attempt to theorise interpretation models its ideal readers as it describes how meaning emerges from texts. Does the reader master a secondary system of literary expression on top of language, as the structuralists propose (see Culler)? Is the reader 'greedy,' her mindreading capacities gobbling up whatever mental states the narrative text offers, as proponents of theory of mind might suggest (see Zunshine)? Does he go along for a ride in the emotional rollercoaster of the narrative that speaks to his sentiments (see Warhol)? As second-generation approaches to narrative develop new models for the process of interpretation, partly on the back of empirical research into embodied responses to reading, the question of what a model for the 'embodied reader' might look like arises. At this point, no fully-fledged conceptualization of the embodied, enactive, embedded, and emotional reader has been attempted, but accounts of interpretation in a second-generation vein give us a glimpse: In Guillemette Bolens The Style of Gestures, readers responds to the gestures, movements and other kinesthetic features of the literary text. According to Marco Caracciolo, he lives vicariously through the embodied experiences evoked by the literary text. In this special issue, we have also seen this reader take different stances towards the embodied features of the text (Kuzmicova) and caught her adventuring on the traces which authors lay down for readers to follow (Bernini). In this article, I develop a model for the embodied reader, which draws on the insights of second-generation cognitive sciences into the embodied, extended, and embodied features of cognition. The model makes no empirical claims; rather, it combines empirical research and philosophical accounts of the experiential dynamics of presence with a consideration of the temporal and conceptual dynamics of literary text. (2) Whenever I speak of the embodied reader, this is shorthand for a model of the act of reading which takes into account readers' embodied responses.

Earlier critical reader models, such as Wolfgang Iser's "implied reader, have foregrounded the temporal and conceptual dynamics of anticipation and propositional meaning-making, but were not specifically interested in the embodied engagements of reading. Whenever I speak of the implied reader, this is shorthand for a model of the act of reading that sidelines the embodied aspects of reading and focuses on abstract, propositional meaning making. In what follows, I aim to devise a critical model of the embodied reader in dialogue with earlier reader constructs, in particular, Iser's "implied reader."

Let us start by tracing what the second-generation cognitive sciences allow us to conclude about the reading process of the embodied reader in the following passage from the 1753 novel The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom by Tobias Smollett. What are the textual features that might give the embodied reader a sense of being there in the fictional world? The protagonist Ferdinand has just had a brush with death and escapes with a potentially treacherous landlady as his guide to the next town and safety:

   Common fear was a comfortable sensation to what he felt in this
   excursion. The first steps he had taken for his preservation, were
   the effects of meer instinct, while his faculties were extinguished
   or suppressed by despair: but, now as his reflection began to
   recur, he was haunted by the most intolerable apprehensions. Every
   whisper of the wind through the thickets, was swelled into the
   hoarse menaces of murder, the shaking of the boughs was construed
   into the brandishing of poignards, and every shadow of a tree,
   became the apparition of a ruffian eager for blood. In short, at
   each of these occurences, he felt what was infinitely more
   tormenting than the stab of a real dagger; and at every fresh filip
   of his fear, he acted as remembrancer to his conductress, in a new
   volley of imprecations importing that her fife was absolutely
   connected with his opinion of his own safety. … 
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