This essay suggests that separating emotionally immersed and reflectively rational ways of experiencing fiction on the basis of ontological structures and spatio-temporal metaphors is hampering our understanding of the experience of fiction. Beginning in a rhetorical approach, I argue for a model where engagement with fiction is seen in terms of joint attention. Using joint attention rather than knowledge of ontological realms as a reference point has two distinct benefits: it refocuses attention on literature as a rhetorical mode, and it takes mental action to be a system of parallel processes, thus giving an alternative to the back-and-forth movement between the interior and exterior of imagined worlds. My focus is on Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000), a memoir that embeds an autobiographical narrative within self-reflective commentary, and which explicitly calls attention to the issues of emotional sincerity and rational distance.
About the author
Merja Polvinen is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Modern Languages, University of Helsinki, and a research fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies. Her dissertation Reading the Texture of Reality: Chaos Theory, Literature and the Humanist Perspective came out in 2008. She is co-editor of Cognition and Literary Interpretation in Practice (2005) and Rethinking Mimesis (2012), as well as a steering-committee member in the international network “Cognitive Futures in the Humanities” (AHRC 2012-14). Her current research focuses on metafiction, cognition and the experience of literature.
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