Empirical Aesthetics in Brighton
Powerful Literary Fiction Texts
What do we mean when we call literary texts "powerful"? What are these texts "doing" with us, what effects can they produce in readers?
These and similar questions were discussed by scientists from various disciplines at the international conference "Powerful Literary Fiction Texts - A Stylistic, Empirical and Performance-based Approach" held at the University of Brighton (U.K.) from 19 to 21 June 2019.
R. L. Victoria Pöhls from the Department of Language and Literature suggested this exchange together with her co-organizers Mariane Utudji (Sorbonne Université) and Craig Jordan-Baker (Brighton University). By bringing together humanities scholars and empirical researchers from psychology, medicine and linguistics, it was possible to shed light on the profound effects that reading literature can have from different perspectives.
Thus, emotional experiences during and after reading, identification with fictional figures, as well as values taken on from the texts and integrated into the reader’s worldviews were discussed both regarding their psychological consequences and their meaning from a cultural studies perspective.
The empirical contributions showed the extent to which such effects can be generalized, but also the range in experiences and strength of phenomena that can be found in readers. Common to all contributions was the strong connection to the literary texts themselves, their aesthetic characteristics and reception contexts. The literature examined included a broad variety: children's and youth literature, trauma and political literature, so-called trivial literature such as Shades of Greyand demanding texts such as David Foster Wallace's Pale King.
The successful conference has shown that "powerful" works and passages of text can emotionally move, create identity and form ideologies. In order to better understand and predict the mechanisms and effects that cause a text to be a powerful work in a reader’s eye, an interdisciplinary approach seems particularly fruitful. The conference series "Powerful Literary Fiction Texts - A Stylistic, Empirical and Performance-based Approach" will be continued in 2020.