1 October 2012

Partners My Ass

Filed under: Fiction, Ktismata, Psychology — ktismatics @ 1:47 pm

If we take on the idea of mimesis as world-creating alongside its meaning as world-reflecting, our idea of what we do as readers and audience members can change. In this case, we don’t just respond to fiction (as might be implied by the idea of reader response), or receive it (as might be implied by reception studies), or appreciate it (as in art appreciation), or seek its correct interpretation (as seems sometimes to be suggested by the New Critics). We create our own version of the piece of fiction, our own dreams, our own enactment. We run a simulation on our own minds. As partners with the writer, we create a version based on our own experience of how the world appears on the surface and of how we might understand its deeper properties.

– Keith Oatley, Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction (2011), p. 18

See, this is what happens when you get too caught up in one particular psychological construct.

When I look around me, I’m looking at a 3-D simulation of the room generated by my brain. But it’s still a simulation of the room itself. That’s what the brain’s simulation-making perceptual apparatus is for: to generate a reliably accurate visual representation of what’s out there in the world.

When I try to understand someone else’s motivations in a particular circumstance, I might run a simulation of the other person so as to understand how I might respond if I were in his shoes, how I might feel, what I might think, what I might have in mind to do next, and so on. But my simulation of the other person is not the same as that person, nor do I become the other person by running a simulation of him. The simulation is a tool to help me understand the other person.

When I read a novel I run simulations. I can create a mental and emotional simulation of the fictional world in which the fictional characters are acting. But my simulation of that fictional world isn’t the same thing as the world as depicted in the novel; it’s a tool to help me understand that fictional world. In simulating the characters in the story, walking in their fictional shoes, I do it not in order to become the characters, but to understand them.

We create our own version of the piece of fiction… as partners with the writer

Don’t flatter yourself. If you read fiction, then be satisfied with understanding, responding, receiving, interpreting, and simulating it. If you want to create fiction, then write something.


  1. Oatley also extends his idea of simulation to reading from writing. Just as a written work of fiction both reflects the real world and creates an alternate world; so too does a reading of that fiction both reflects and creates, etc. So here’s something I wonder about while writing: am I constructing a fictional world out of words, or am I using words to describe a fictional world that somehow exists outside of the words? Certainly for me the world I invent emerges as I write, with the sentence or paragraph I just wrote opening up new possibilities for what I’m going to describe next. But there’s still this distinction between fictional world-building and world-describing.

    In a nonfiction world, words point to the things they describe; the words do not create the things they describe by virtue of describing them. But what if the things to which the words point are imaginary things? If I use the words that a novelist writes in describing a fictional world as the basis for building my own mental simulation of that world, and then if I describe my mental simulation in my own words, my description of the fictional world may differ significantly from the original author’s. But if the author is using the words to direct my attention to something he sees in his imagination, and if after reading his words I see this thing in my imagination too, must I always defer to the original author’s view of those imaginary things? This distinction between the fictional world and way in which that world is described comes up often in the adaptation of written fiction into a film. Did the director distort the world created by the author, or did he just see that world differently and use different ways of describing what he saw? Or, as Oatley contends, did the director, in partnership with the author, create a new world?


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 October 2012 @ 10:18 am

  2. Hahahaha! Aaaaaah. Yeah. Maybe this is the kind of new-age gobbledygook the OOP folk are so miffed about when they get all lathered up about correlationism? Stay the hell out of my world-building, beotches!


    Comment by CarlD — 9 October 2012 @ 1:02 pm

  3. The OOOists are going to claim that your reading of A Turn of the Screw is a different object from my reading of it is different from the textual object written by James. Per Levi’s latest iteration of the theory, your or my reading is a “translation” of the text into a different thing rather than a “representation” of that text in a different medium (e.g., in your or my head). I.e., Levi has become more of a Latourian over time, and thus might be approaching your processology more closely. Still, he’s going to insist on the withdrawn essence of your reading, of my reading, of James’ writing, making them each incommensurate and insular objects disconnected from each other. There I’m pretty sure you’d disagree.


    Comment by ktismatics — 9 October 2012 @ 1:15 pm

  4. […] thing, trusting you to work it out. Turns out they’re mostly not lazy either, they just don’t feel authorized to read between the lines. May even feel that it’s rude. Which in lots of everyday contexts, it […]


    Pingback by Text, subtext, and ‘accessibility’ | Dead Voles — 11 October 2012 @ 10:55 am

  5. […] thing, trusting you to work it out. Turns out they’re mostly not lazy either, they just don’t feel authorized to read between the lines. May even feel that it’s rude. Which in lots of everyday contexts, it […]


    Pingback by Text, subtext, and 'accessibility' | Attention Surplus — 7 December 2012 @ 3:48 pm

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