Enacting the Other: Towards an Aesthetics of Feeling in Literary Reading

David S. Miall

in The Aesthetic Mind

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199691517
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731815 | DOI:
Enacting the Other: Towards an Aesthetics of Feeling in Literary Reading

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I begin by reviewing some conflicting views on what empathy is, how it can occur, and if it is even possible: the scholars mainly discussed are Currie, Carroll, Walton, and Oatley. I conclude that something called empathy does indeed occur – readers tell us that is does – but that it involves psychological processes that involve some properties of feeling: its precognitive, rapid onset; its prototypical aspects; and its powers to modify or qualify other feelings. I discuss some neuropsychological evidence, in particular insights from accounts of mirror neurons, including the process of simulation that seems to underlie empathy, and the question of agency. I focus on empathy and the body, with empirical evidence from readers of a short story. If empathy occurs at the bodily level, it is possible that in amplifying such meanings feeling evokes the reader’s identity, memory, and valuations. I conclude by proposing that empathy is an aspect of our larger capacity for animism.

Keywords: empathy; feelings; neuropsychology; agency; animism

Chapter.  7001 words. 

Subjects: Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art

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