Art, Narrative, and Emotion
Despite the great interest in the reception of art and media in recent years, little attention has been paid to the way in which narrative fictions, whether high or low, address the emotions of readers, listeners, and viewers. Instead, emphasis is generally placed on hermeneutics. Interpretation of what is loosely called the meaning of the work has preoccupied attention in the humanities. New interpretations, often called symptomatic readings, of what are generically identified as "texts" are still the order of the day in liberal arts journals. And even what some in cultural studies call "recodings," and what some feminists call "readings against the grain," focus on the putative interpretive activities of certain groups of readers, listeners, and viewers. What is not studied in any fine-grained way is how works engage the emotions of the audience. What I wish to deal with in this article is how we might go about doing just that.
It is not my contention that, in principle, hermeneutics is illegitimate. Rather, I think that our research into the arts should be supplemented by considering their relation to the emotions, especially if we are interested in audience reception. Moreover, the present moment is particularly propitious in this respect, since recent research into the emotions over the last two decades in fields like psychology and philosophy have made the possibility of interrogating the relation of art to the emotions feasible with a heretofore unimagined level of precision. 1