Presence in the reading of literary narrative: A case for motor enactment

Semiotica 2012 (189):23-48 (2012)

Abstract

Drawing on research in narrative theory and literary aesthetics, text and discourse processing, phenomenology and the experimental cognitive sciences, this paper outlines an embodied theory of presence in the reading of literary narrative. Contrary to common assumptions, it is argued that there is no straightforward relation between the degree of detail in spatial description on one hand, and the vividness of spatial imagery and presence on the other. It is also argued that presence arises from a first-person, enactive process of sensorimotor simulation/ resonance, rather than from mere visualizing from the perspective of a passive, third-person observer. In sections 1 to 3, an inter-theoretical argument is presented, proposing that presence may be effectively cued by explicit references to object -directed bodily movement. In section 4, an attempt is made at explaining which ways of embedding such references in the narrative may be particularly productive at eliciting presence.

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